Wired for Warmth: My Experience as An Autistic Crisis Counselor
Being a Crisis Counselor & Entertainer
My name is Danielle Ryer and I am autistic. I became a Crisis Counselor at Crisis Text Line in November 2016. This opportunity helped me expand my career prospects in both clinical social work and entertainment!
I’ve also made a lot of connections, have been inspired by my work as a Crisis Counselor to take my secondary path in entertainment to the next level: radio! It also helped inspire most of my life in stand-up comedy. I built my weekly radio broadcast, Dr. Comedian’s The Best Medicine, based on my identity as a Crisis Counselor and a stand-up comedian. It’s also strengthened my background knowledge as an advocate for autistic people and people struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Some of you might ask, "Why is it relevant that you are autistic?” Depending on what you’ve been told about autism, you may have some concerns, such as, “I heard autistic people don’t have empathy!” In this world where freedom of the press does not mean everything is accurate, it’s always important to question everything. While I can’t speak for all, people on the spectrum generally do have empathy, though what tends to vary most is how it is expressed.
A Need for Autistic Crisis Counselors
As I touched on before, mainstream society identifies people on the spectrum as "without empathy." This stigma restricts to very specific roles in life and keeps them out of social justice and mental health movements. We should encourage more autistic people to enter the mental health field to combat this stigma and offer unique insight.
Although I don’t share identifying information about myself on the platform, I know that when someone tells me they are autistic, it gives me a sense of the struggles might be experiencing, and the strengths that those struggles stem from. It’s important to explore because no two people are alike, but being autistic gives me a frame of reference for terms commonly used in the autism community. Non-autistic Crisis Counselors might have empathy for autistics too, but if you have experienced life as an autistic person, you can often tap into insight from first-hand experience.
Addressing My Challenges Through Becoming a Crisis Counselor
I have learned to more efficiently manage my mental resources more than I ever thought possible. I once said that I had said that it was taxing to my energy resources to counsel people in person. However, I’ve found that working up to it through the Crisis Counselor experience has made it so that is not the case. I’ve built up the mental stamina to be able to effectively manage clinical work outside of Crisis Text Line.
Given my own experience, I’d say that any autistic person preparing to get into a mental health field should start by volunteering at Crisis Text Line, because it can expand your clinical skills in a sensory-friendly environment. It has been a good way to prepare myself for the challenge of working with people in person, as I learned to manage my resources to cope with the challenge of doing social work in physical institutions.
Training as a Crisis Counselor has taught me to be a more sensitive person than I ever was and taught me to really think about the emotions behind what people are saying. In addition, that everyone is trying to live their best life but may not know the steps they need to take in order to get what they want. Some do but aren’t ready to take the them. They may need help, reassurance, encouragement, or simply to be cheered up. Some aren’t aware of the options available to them. Regardless, everyone is worthy of dignified treatment.
A lot of autistics worry that they can’t work in mental health due to the demand of needing to read body language, which can be confusing to some. If you’re autistic and interested in becoming a Crisis Counselor, consider that when you’re texting with someone, there’s no body language to consider. There are just words, in their most natural form, which makes it easier to draw meaning from if body language confuses you. Over time, you might find that over time you begin to pick up on body language and other subtle cues.
Self-Improvement, Relationships, & Life Outside Crisis Counseling
I’ve held several other professional jobs while working at Crisis Text Line - from outpatient therapist intern, to middle school teacher, to exam proctor, to dementia and hospice care, and while not all of them require clinical skills 24/7/365, all of them require self-awareness, self-monitoring, and empathy, much of which has been bolstered by my work as a Crisis Counselor, and the patient, available mentorship from my supervisors at Crisis Text Line.
Being autistic may sometimes come with the challenge of learning how to know when to monitor oneself and how. This is something that comes with experience and patient friendship and mentorship. Through training, it’s helped me answer the question, “Why am I talking?” Previously, I would go on and on without really considering my audience. My friends, who love me dearly, are much happier reading more purposeful, succinct messages that convey my needs. It’s also helped me in my radio career, where you really need to think about how long you’re droning on, as well as consider the impact of how long it takes to get to a punchline. It really should be 160 characters or less.
I can say that even if you’re not sure what you want to do right now, but like to help others, Crisis Text Line is a great way to gain support, mentorship, and be surrounded by a community of caring people. I wouldn’t be competent at what I’m doing now, nor would I have had the inspiration to have my own radio show about being a counselor if not for Crisis Text Line.
Most importantly, my experience has taught me to never stop improving myself and always speak from the heart, and to be patient. Patience for me means giving people the chance to show you their true potential, but also unconditionally valuing exactly who and how they are in the moment.
Although it’s not perfect (what good in this world truly is?), I really can’t vouch for this experience enough, especially if you’re on the spectrum, or if you feel you can relate to what I’ve said in some way.
Danielle has two Bachelor’s Degrees in Psychology, and Philosophy & Religion from Rowan University, and began her work as a Crisis Counselor in undergraduate school. She currently attends Rutgers University as a Master of Social Work student. She is a stand-up comedian, radio DJ on 91.5 WDBK, and is interested in psychology, practicing martial arts, philosophy (especially Asian philosophy), yarn projects[, reading, writing, gaming, politics, and writing political satire. She is also a professional advocate and coach for autistic individuals and their families, as well as a public speaker. Her dream someday is to be on television or in a movie, especially if it involves comedy and politics. To learn more about Danielle, see her website.
Find Danielle on Facebook at www.facebook.com/danielleryercomedian.