I am postgraduate student and I am working on a project to understand about
difficulties faced by autistic adults in their day to day life particularly in workplace.
By research, I came to know that autistic adults are facing a lot of problems in workplace,
but I am not clear about what exact problems they face. I want to create awareness
about their problems in offices so that they get maximum support at workplace. By doing so,
the gap between autistic adults and their colleagues may disappear.
Hopefully, everyone will start understanding them better. If anyone knows about it,
could you please help me in understanding about their problems?
The problems I have/have had in work are as follows:
1) Difficulties in ‘fitting in’ and forming relationships with colleagues e.g. I had colleagues in the past who thought I was being sarcastic when I wasn’t, and they thought I was being smug when I was actually distraught, they thought I was being cheeky when I was just being honest... I think it came down to me not displaying the expected body language, but the stupid part was they knew I was autistic so shouldn’t have expected the usual body language in the first place. As you can imagine though, it really eats away at you to be told you’re behaving in rude ways that you are not intending in the slightest.
2) Telephone communication. I can do this best when I am in a room on my own and not being overheard by other people, as that makes me extremely self-conscious. Either way though I find it very anxiety provoking - I’m never sure when to speak,what to say, how to handle unexpected topics being raised, how to handle angry people...it’s just all too unpredictable!
3) Sensitivity to noise/lighting/temperature within the office environment - I have very sensitive hearing so by the time we have two conversations and the radio on in the office, I can no longer concentrate on my work and I just want to cover my ears or leave. Flickering or very bright lights are also a terrible distraction and will give me a migraine. Also, I’m always way too cold at work (though I’m not sure if that’s to do with my Asperger’s or not).
4) Being expected to go to other areas or do tasks I am unfamiliar with, without any prior warning. I get really anxious about going to unfamiliar places without being accompanied the first few times. Also, I get anxious if I have new work tasks just shoved onto me without a full explanation of what to do.
5) Constantly changing expectations/instructions between a manager and a colleague. As I say, I like to know exactly what I am doing, so if a colleague gives one instruction then the manager gives a contradictory instruction, it’s a recipe to drive me mad!
6) Car parking - as the journey to work can be stressful as it is, then I get really anxious if there is no parking space at work when I arrive. I am very conscientious and I won’t just dump my car anywhere, so I start panicking over where I can viably park my car and that people are watching me from the office and probably thinking ‘just park it on the road in’ (even though we are not supposed to, and I can’t break rules just like that).
7) Eating and drinking in front of other people. This has always made me anxious, and it is so bad I work that I invariably go all day with no food or drink until I get home, which isn’t very healthy and makes me feel unwell all the time.
The things that help me in work are as follows:
1) Having control over how I organise my own work, and what order I do things in on a day-to-day basis.
2) Being able to work flexible hours so that if I am having a bad day then I don’t feel pressured to go to or stay at work (which could lead to panic attack/meltdown), and I can just make the time up when I’m having a good day. This also avoids having to record a lot of sick time, and is particularly helpful if, like me, you are struggling with mental health problems too.
3) Not having a phone on my desk, and using emails/letters as the main form of communication instead. I do still make the odd phone call, but it’s at a time, in a place I chose (usually my manager’s office as it is more private there) and I make sure I am fully prepared beforehand.
4) Working for an organisation that understands autism, and is therefore willing to make any reasonable adjustments I ask for without fuss.
5) Not having to share a desk or work, which means that everything is where I expect it to be from day-to-day, which also helps to lower my anxiety levels.
6) Working in a small office with not too many other people, which allows me to feel more able to communicate with my colleagues verbally, and give me opportunities to speak to them one-to-one (which is the best scenario for me when communicating verbally).
7) Having friendly and sympathetic colleagues who only care for you if you are having a bad day, and do their best to assist, instead of mocking you for it or moaning to others behind your back about it (which I have experienced in the past). The latter only serves to break a person and ensure they have no confidence left to be able to do their job properly.
That’s the main things for me personally (there are others, but I didn’t want to waffle on too much, and these are the most important issues for me). I hope that’s helpful to you.