Autism Interview #88: Morgan Giosa on Freelancing, Music, and Art

Morgan Giosa is a 26 year-old web developer, blues guitarist, photographer, and visual artist from Connecticut. Morgan says his music and visual art ultimately come to him from his “unique and unconventional intuition and emotions, and his quirky, idiosyncratic view of the world.” This week he shared his experience as a freelance web developer, musician, and how he recently learned to embrace his Autistic identity.

Your documentary Outside the Box offers viewers a glimpse of your incredible achievements as an Autistic musician, artist, and web developer. What inspired you to create this and what do you see as the primary benefits of its publication?

I was inspired to create the Outside the Box project by my best friend Frankie Bristol. Initially, he told me I could just put a band together and ask my local public access TV station to film it, to promote my music, without acknowledging anything about autism or Asperger’s at all. Then, I started to think about a documentary project, and in thinking about how I would describe my life to an outsider, I instantly became more aware of my Asperger’s diagnosis. This had been a major part of my life since I was five years of age, but in being high functioning, of high intelligence, and having decent social skills, I never really thought much about it.

Eventually, I made the decision to create a documentary film that focuses on my triumphs in music, the arts, and technology, but that also incorporates the autism component with the hope to inspire others with similar interests who are on the spectrum. Ultimately, I think this will be the benefit of its publication. I think I can inspire fellow autistic and Asperger people to never give up on their dreams, and can inspire neurotypicals to be less judgmental of something they don’t necessarily understand. I become incredibly infuriated at the mindset that Aspergers is an intellectual disability, and I don’t like people talking down to me or use a tone of voice like they are speaking to a child. I hope that the way I articulate in the film might remove some of those judgments from my life.

What kind of work do you enjoy doing most?

Music, easily. I enjoy playing my guitar, harmonica, and singing. In 2017, I wrote a few songs, and I put together a band of session musicians including my guitar teacher Frank Varela who arranged the songs, and we recorded an album together. The greatest high I’ve ever felt in my life was being in the recording studio bringing my original music to life. I felt some serious anxiety at first which inhibited my ability to properly play the songs, but eventually, they just came together. Now, I have an album coming out under the band name Fake News Blues Band, and it feels like a major achievement.

I will say, though I enjoy music most, I’m probably a better web programmer by now than a musician. I don’t have the greatest fine motor skills, so I’m not the most technically inclined guitarist. So, I focus more on the melodies and the musicality than on being a masterful, expert guitar player. As a web developer, however, it’s just about mastering the intellectual side of things. There really isn’t a fine motor component to it.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of working as a freelancer?

The main benefit of being a freelancer is that I only have to work when the work comes to me. I am not chained to a 9-5 schedule and not chained to working every single day. Instead, I only work when I need to do something for a client’s website. I suffer from manic-depression as well, and there are some days where I’m just not up for working at this point in my life.

Working as a freelancer enables me to just take on projects and create them on a deadline that my clients and I determine is suitable rather than on a deadline that a boss determines is suitable. Maybe when I’m into my 30s or 40s, something will change, and I will crave the structure of a corporate job, but right now, I think it would create unneeded stress for me.

The drawback of working as a freelancer is that I’m essentially dirt poor right now. I don’t currently have as many clients as I have had in the past, so money is very tight.

You are young and hardworking, with a lot of potential. What are some of your life goals/ambitions at the moment?

I can tell you of a few goals I have that I would like to achieve in my life, and these are just the more immediate goals:

  1. I would like to record another album. I have a few more unrecorded songs that I’ve written, and I would like to get the band together and do it all over again.
  2. I would like to start my own web development firm. I have a logo, business name, and domain name picked out. I previously had a “firm” called MG Web Design, but it was just me taking on clients as a freelancer. Essentially, MG = “Morgan Giosa,” so it was just me taking on clients and doing all the programming, all the design, all the maintenance, the hosting, the billing, emailing the clients, et cetera. With my next firm, I want to find a business partner who is equally savvy as a technologist, but has more business and marketing skills, so I can think about taking on larger clients for more pay by putting two heads together.
  3. I want to do a few gigs with a band. On New Years Day, I did my first paying gig as a guitarist, but it was just me playing at a house party with prerecorded rhythm tracks. I want to put together a band – 2nd guitarist, bassist, keyboardist, drummer – and do a few gigs
  4. I want to do an art show, either to exhibit some of my paintings or maybe some of my photography, or both.
  5. For a long-term goal, I just want to achieve financial independence and autonomy. Right now, since money is tight, I’m still living with my mother in my childhood bedroom. I feel stressed about that. I feel a stigma about living with my parents at 26 years of age, regardless of how much I continue to achieve and how hard I continue to work. I want to work toward greater autonomy.

How did you learn about your Autism diagnosis? How did you learn to embrace your Autistic identity? 

I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age 5. Recently, I was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder, PTSD, and a separate anxiety/phobia disorder, because I had a bit of a nervous breakdown in 2018 and needed to sift through some things in my mind to get to the root of why I was suffering so much.

My past wasn’t always easy. I had some serious physical health difficulties as well as a lot of anger and difficulty coping with my environment. My parents got divorced and that hurt as well. So, with all I’ve been through, autism just becomes a part of me. People at the open blues jams I go to just think I’m shy and socially awkward. They just see me as a geek who plays a mean blues guitar. They are older people who play there, so they likely don’t know anything about the autism spectrum.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that part of embracing my autistic identity entails socializing with neurotypicals in conventionally neurotypical social settings. I think it’s a mistake a lot of therapists make to put autistic people into social groups with autistic people. I think autistic people have a lot to offer the world and should be given the chance to interact with each other and put their minds together, but I’ve found I thrive socially because I’m given the opportunity to socialize with neurotypicals so often.

By spending so much time socializing with neurotypicals, however, I hid from my autistic identity for a while, because no one really suspected anything, and I blended in fairly well. I finally learned to embrace my autistic identity in 2017-2018 when I was making my film. The “Outside the Box” filming and editing sessions really led me to becoming more comfortable in my own skin and embracing my Asperger’s as a strength rather than a flaw. I came to terms with my sexuality during my teenage years, and it felt like “coming out” all over again.

What advice do you have for Autistic individuals who are struggling to find or keep meaningful employment?

I may not be the most qualified person to speak on this subject, because working as a freelancer with very few clients, there are many days I simply don’t work and just daydream instead. However, my advice would be to be persistent. In the past, I worked for an established Drupal web development firm. I applied for a lot of jobs before landing that one. So, my advice is that if you send out your resume and don’t hear back, don’t give up. Applying for multiple jobs means that your chance of landing one of them is greater.

As far as interviewing goes, it personally makes me very anxious, but just be yourself. Answer the questions like you’re talking to your friend, but your friend has never met you, so they’re trying to get to know you–not like you’re talking to a complete stranger. I say this because I had an employment coach at one point, and he said the only thing a company cares about (since they assume you have the skills if you’re applying for the job) is “do they like you” and “can they work with you?” They care about your personality, that is, so try to loosen up and just be yourself if you’re anxious in the interview.

As far as being unable to retain a job is concerned, this may not seem like the most productive advice, but if a job is making you miserable, there’s always another one out there. I was working for a Drupal company and my bosses were nice people, but the work slowed down, and they eventually just had me proofreading content rather than actually doing any exciting, creative work as a web developer, and the pay wasn’t there. It was a contract job and the pay simply stopped being enough for me to justify continuing to work there with how miserable I was.

I quit the job, initially with no backup plan but to be spending more time focusing on my guitar playing. I focused on my guitar playing for a while, and then in 6 months, an individual I had worked with years prior on a project came back into my life with another project, and his paying rate was so much higher than my former job that I earned as much in about 1 and a half to 2 months of work working for him that I did in a full year working for the other company. So, the point is, there’s always another opportunity out there.

What mistakes do neurotypical autism advocates make?

There are a few mistakes I would like to address that I see being made by neurotypical autism advocates:

  1. This one should be obvious, but I don’t think it’s appropriate or realistic to focus on finding a “cure” for autism. I understand that life can be difficult for parents of autistic children, but it’s not feasible to cure it. How would that even be possible? Euthanizing autistic babies? So, the Autism Speaks rhetoric really upsets me. I also view autism as a blessing at times. My mind is very detail oriented. I doubt I would be a computer programmer or guitarist without my Asperger’s. I wouldn’t want someone taking it away from me.
  2. I also think autistic people shouldn’t be forced to do things the neurotypical way, as if it’s the “right” way. I think completing tasks should be able to be done in any way, as long as the task gets completed. For example, at the last company I worked for, they wanted me to cut back on the verbosity in my day-to-day communication, but I was still getting all of the work done, and I was doing it well. I don’t see how a bit of verbosity hurt anyone.

As a side note, I think there is a lot neurotypicals can learn from autistics and a lot that autistics can learn from neurotypicals. I firmly believe that it isn’t a one-way street, so to speak. As I mentioned in reply to another question, my social skills aren’t really inhibited at all, especially for someone on the spectrum, and my mother’s approach to teaching me social skills was to throw me into social contexts with neurotypicals, regardless of whether or not I fell flat on my behind. So, now, I’m reading original poetry and playing original music at open mics, in crowds of neurotypicals, interacting with other musicians and artists, most of whom are neurotypical. So, I’ve learned a lot from neurotypicals, and I hope they can learn from me as well.

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