(TW: possible ableism(?)) This may be a bit of a strange question, but I am an older non-neurotypical person who has a hard time being taken seriously or seen as the adult that I am, and it makes me very insecure and upset when I am talked to, by my coworkers, in a patronizing manner or as if I am a child when I have shown myself to be their equal when it comes to the work we do. Would you happen to have any tips, if it’s not too much of a bother?

This might be something readers have more insight about than I do.

It’s also a bit abstract for me, because there are a number of ways that people fail to treat others like adults. I’m not sure which form it is.

From the way you’ve asked your question, it kind of sounds to me like maybe you feel like you have to prove that you deserve to be treated like an adult. I think it helps to realize that this is not actually something you have to prove. People who treat you like a child are doing something wrong.

And it would be wrong even if you weren’t good at your job. Your adulthood should not be on trial here.

Keeping this in mind makes it harder for people to mess with you.

As far as changing what they actually do, here are some thoughts:

  • You probably can’t convince them that they’re doing something wrong, and explaining it to them is unlikely to help
  • Because they’re likely to make it into a conversation about your feelings, and explain to you in patronizing tones why you’re imagining it and being too sensitive.
  • There might be things you can do unilaterally that help. For instance, it’s ok to interrupt them when they’re speaking to you in a patronizing tone
  • For instance, if you ask them where a file is, and they launch into a patronizing explanation of the filing system, it’s ok to say, “Yes, I know that. But I’m not sure which category this particular file goes into because [reason], do you know?”

Also, changing the way you dress might help:

  • If you’re dressing less formally than most people in your field, wearing more formal clothing might be helpful
  • If you are a man, Men’s Warehouse can explain the default rules of professional attire and help you find something to wear that’s considered appropriate to your body type.
  • I’m not sure how to do this if you’re a woman, though. The rules of female attire are really complicated
  • If you’re in a field in which formal attire isn’t expected, changing some things about your clothing still might help
  • For instance, if everyone wears t-shirts, it might help to avoid t-shirts that have pictures of things associated with childhood (eg: Care Bears, pictures of cartoon characters (including things like Adventure Time or My Little Pony that are also popular among some adults).
  • This is not guaranteed to work, and might make matters worse if it means you feel like you’re stuck trying to prove your adulthood
  • In any case, it’s not a moral obligation and not a precondition for being an adult. It’s something that may or may not be advisable in certain contexts, and it’s a personal choice

If you use stim toys, it might help to change the ones you use:

  • Toys that are also used by children are more likely to be perceived as childish
  • Eg: silly putty, beanie babies, legos, beads, marbles
  • Neoballs (little neodium magnet spheres you can build things with) are specifically not for children. The silver, gold, or nickel balls are more likely to be accepted than the brightly colored ones.
  • Tangle Toys can look professional in some contexts
  • This is not guaranteed to work, and might make matters worse if it means you feel like you’re stuck trying to prove your adulthood
  • In any case, it’s not a moral obligation and not a precondition for being an adult. It’s something that may or may not be advisable in certain contexts, and it’s a personal choice

It also might be time to look for another job with people who treat you better. Not all jobs are created equal. Not all working environments have the same culture. There might be other people who would respect you and your professional accomplishments more.

Do any of y’all have further suggestions? (Or think I’m wrong about any of this?)

I went from starting at a library as a student page while in highschool, to working there as an actual adult librarian, with people who’d been working with me since I was 14. That’s definitely a jump, in terms of perception. I wasn’t treated not-seriously but I might have some tips.

First off, I was good at my job and knew what I was doing, and felt comfortable in that sense. Maybe reminding yourself of that will help- remember that you’re a capable, rad person doing a great job and you are capable of doing that even around coworkers who seem to not be able to do a good job. That’s important, too- remember that your coworkers are showcasing their inability to behave professionally (by not giving you the respect you deserve). I find reminding myself of how great I’m doing helps me in lots of situations like this, where the fault is totally not my own, but other peoples’.

If it’s a thing you feel like you can do, maybe talk to a higher-up/HR about how you are not being treated professionally by fellow coworkers, with specific examples (maybe write these down when they happen, keep a record). Again, this is a professional work setting and they’re showcasing their inability to behave professionally.

If not- be polite, curt, and don’t be afraid of interrupting them or correcting them when they behave this way, as suggested by realsocialskills. You don’t owe them no resistance if they’re treating you unfairly, and it is within your right to stop them in their tracks when they start. I didn’t get much of this from my corworkers, but older patrons did often try to treat me as a young child, and I was polite but firm and didn’t let them finish when they tried. Again, knowing I was doing my job well helped.

I always dressed the most “formal/fancy” out of my coworkers- as the youngest, I wanted to visibly show I was serious, but I also just really enjoy dressing that way. I wore lots of high-waisted pants and skirts with button-downs and cardigans (so many cardigans!), brogues or ballet flats. I had a septum piercing but dressing up kind of overpowered it. I also wore lots of statement necklaces and always had my nails done, but that was because I enjoyed doing those things. 

I kept my desk organized, neat and tidy. It definitely had my personality in it- embroidery hanging on the wall, for example- but this doesn’t have to be in conflict with being professional. I’m fairly good at maintaining a balance of my own personality and “professional”, mostly because they’re not at odds with one another. Just like dressing up for me- I could make it both work-appropriate and quirky.

I’m a fairly no-bullshit person and quite strong in my convictions, and I think this translates in a work setting. I changed a lot from 14 to 20 and my coworkers had to adjust to seeing me as an adult, but they didn’t seem to have too much trouble or struggle to treat me as such. Patrons were worse and often thought of me a young kid instead of an adult librarian, but by being damn good at my job, polite but firm, dressed like I was serious, and vocal when they attempted to not respect me, they realized they were wrong.