Hello All, I am a female civil engineering technician from the East Midlands with over 16 years experience of highways, rail, drainage etc. and I have recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) aged 39.
My journey began when I was signed off work with anxiety and depression in the summer. Things hadn’t been going well with the job. There had been a number of fall-outs with others, misunderstandings and so on. In fact, I have struggled to keep a job all my working life.
While I was off, one of the associate directors where I work suggested that I use the time to reflect on what triggers my stress/anxiety. Instantaneously, I said ‘noise’ in reply and mentioned that my desk neighbour’s constant, vibrating, push notifications were reverberating through my arms and driving me to despair.
Anyway, I began to research online and as one of the many things that I have been criticised about by my managers is being overly sensitive, eventually I came across some research by Elaine N. Aron concerning the use of fMRI scans to measure empathy and her theories concerning “highly sensitive persons” “affected by sensory processing sensitivity that makes them more emotional” in the Daily Mail.
I completed the questionnaire on her website and scored very highly and then when reading the FAQ section afterwards, I came across this question: How does sensitivity differ from Autistic spectrum disorders (Asperger’s Syndrome, etc.)?
In the meantime, my employer wasn’t satisfied with the two occupational health professional’s reports they had previously commissioned so they arranged for me to see a neuropsychiatrist who eventually diagnosed me after an appointment that I made privately as my employers didn’t want to pursue it any further once told after their initial probe that ASD was more than probable.
Once ASD had been alluded to, my employer attempted reductionism by means of soliciting the advice of an ergonomist, someone who would normally deal with display screen assessments and seated posture, interestingly, also behavioural safety in relation to the design of nuclear plant control panels and software interfaces - just not autism.
I am grateful to my employer in that I now know why I am a serial leg bouncer and chair rocker. In fact, my earliest memory is looking down on a pair of socks pulled right up to my knees and the obligatory pair of 1970’s t-bar shoes and having my legs smacked by a well-meaning aunt who insisted that I must behave and keep still!
However, I have encountered an awful lot of ignorance and prejudice at work having been accused of trying to use my disability to my advantage in order to see the psychiatrists reasonable adjustments concerning a quiet working environment implemented.
I have engaged with ACAS to try and get my employer to compromise over my environment but they say that letting me work out of one of their 4 x quiet rooms which are empty 99% of the time would be too disruptive to the business.
Also, I made a business case for flexible working from home by means of a statutory request following the Stevenson and Farmer review of mental health at work on the basis that I wouldn’t need time off with anxiety and depression if I were allowed to work in an environment conducive to my needs but to no avail.
I am currently signed off by my GP researching employment law precedents and waiting for the employer to conclude its deliberations and inform me of their decision in writing.
Yes, that's about the extent of it Oktanol! Thanks for replying!
Hello DongFeng5, I wrote a statutory request for flexible working extolling the benefits of flexible working to reduce sickness absence and reduce overheads but I will take your advice on board and check out the links you have kindly sent me - thank you very much for your time!
Thanks for the advice, I bought some ear defenders off Amazon and wore them for five weeks when I returned to work for 5 weeks but they amplified my tinnitus and so I said that I didn't think they were the long-term solution for me. HR got really mad at me and said I just kept adding to things and that they couldn't work out what was just personal preference or because of my autism. The HR woman is a bully which doesn't help things very much.
Hello Lonewarrior! Great to hear back from someone in my line of work! I have been shoved, threatened, bullied and called names and experienced some shocking sexism including being touched but I love my job with all my heart and I think I am pretty good at it. I am with a huge design consultancy and I am considered to be an Autodesk Civil 3D/Infraworks 360 expert.
I help people in my company from all over the world on the Yammer forums and I am good on the phone although I have caught myself slipping my shoes off and rubbing them to self-sooth when I am put on the spot about something!
It is very elitist at the company I work for and when I sat my EngTech with the ICE one of the reviewers even said the firm was arrogant!
I really identify with what you said about just wanting to work and make a good job of things. I just wish that my employer and I could work things out and make a fresh start with some simple adjustments like letting me work out of one of the empty quiet rooms or to come in and be briefed and take a chunk of work away to do at home.
Thanks for wishing my bosses do the right thing and thanks for your time!
I got the impression that Access to Work grants wouldn't pay for reasonable adjustments but I will look into it more. I had though about seeing if they would get me an acoustic pod and would wheel me about in the pod on castors where they want me! They don't have unions here and I tried the grievance and retracted it when it looked as though they were going to implement the ergonomists recommendations but then the next day I got shouted at and I regret not seeing it through. Thank you very much for your advice and for your time! I shall read through all the replies people have sent me and check the links out properly now.
Although you've retracted your grievance once you can start the process again. By retracting it the first time your employer may have gotten the wrong end of the stick and thought they could push you around. Employers can be sneaky sods. A previous complaint I made was pushed under the carpet by HR as they said my manager hadn't done anything wrong. Once I started the employment tribunal process they offered my a significant settlement fee which I took as an admission of guilt.
How much Access to Work will fund depends on the size of the employer. At a small college, they funded the technological and human support I needed. When I worked for a large uni they would only pay for the human support, which included the awareness training.
Just a word of warning about acoustic pods - I've used them before and they didn't help as some noise still got through and I could still see movement from my colleagues. Rather than getting your employer to buy things and then having to admit they don't work (if they don't) it might be better to push for the working from home and use of the private meeting rooms. if your employer believes they wasting money on you by buying things that don't work it could anger them further.
DongFeng5 said:What I am suggesting is that you reframe the discussion to be less about what you need personally, and more about what your employer should be doing if they want to raise productivity across the entire office. You need to persuade them that the changes you need are actually in their own self-interest (higher productivity, lower staff turnover, better quality...).
This is exactly what I was about to suggest as I read this. Making small, reasonable adjustments would make you more productive, which provides a better outcome for the company and better results for your boss. Your boss might not want to be seen as having someone different in their team, but you can show them what a strength that is, because you will have the ability to focus on work better than others, and can think about things in a different way, which will ultimately provide a better product/service offered by your company (equals more money and prestige for the company, which is what you're all working towards). Making reasonable adjustments isn't about getting your own way and getting extra 'perks', it's about allowing you the same opportunity as the others in your workplace who don't have an ASD.
You could suggest a trial of a week where you're allowed to work in the empty office, and you can work with your boss to form a plan of what work or specific project you'll do in that week, so that you can show it works (make sure you deliver something they find of value, and that you can achieve it in that week). They already know the level of skill you've been showing this year, and they must be happy enough with your output, so if you're able to demonstrate the difference, that could be useful. Make sure you record all your achievements somewhere; this is especially useful for your annual appraisal.
One of the services that the adult autism provider in my county provide is to come into the workplace to meet with your employer and discuss what ASD is, how it affects you, and what adjustments would be reasonable to make that would really help. Does your local provider offer something similar?
Sounds to me like you are doing above and beyond what you should be in order to facilitate your employer.
Please remember that the legal onus is generally on the employer to reasonably accommodate the employee, should they present with a medical condition that affects their ability to enjoy working hard, as you onbvioulsy do.
Your depression and anxiety sound very similar to that which I expereinced at work, for similar reasons.
Today, HR departments are trying deperatley to ensure middle managers exercise appropriate procedures when it comes to neurodiversity, so let them do the worrying.
As long as you get officially diagnosed, you should not have to justify yourself in any way and your company will be bound to treat you fairoy.
Agree re: collecting information for annual appraisals (which of course is an entirely misguided process).
Luckily, you can game the system by being proactive and soliciting a little bit of feedback from your colleagues every few weeks. If you spread the requests around and just ask for a couple of sentences each time, you'll quickly build a stack of evidence that your managers will be hard-pressed to counter.
On the other hand, if there are some problems, or merely a perception of problems in some quarters, by actively soliciting feedback you get to find out sooner, which gives you time to fix things before your actual appraisal. This is far better than assuming that the process is fair (it really isn't), and then getting a nasty shock by being told that you've been getting something wrong all year, but no one bothered to let you know.