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.
It sounds to me that you are lucky that your employer is trying to make reasonable adjustments to your working environment.
As for the leg bouncer and chair rocker that looks like socially acceptable stimming. Keep it up.
Thank you very kindly for replying Robert123! My employer won't make any adjustments and they have ignored all the advice from occupational health and the psychiatrist thus so far in terms of phased returns to work and the like so please don't think that I am behaving like a spoilt child who can't get it's own way here - I have really worked hard to mount a successful return to work without the prospect of any further time off that would damage the business and cost more overheads. I shall take your advice and keep on loving the stimming! It is in my family - my late father leg bounced no end and he was a brilliant engineer. My Cousin on Dad's side spent the first 5 years of life mute and in hospital. Kindest wishes,
Making reasonable adjustments is an open subject and often difficult to quantify. You know a good environment when you're in it. And vice versa.
Back in 1984, before autism was recognised I was on a six month student working placement where the office I was in was just impossible to work in.
I just found it difficult/impossible to concentrate. A few weeks later the ajar window blew out in an overnight storm. And for three days I was moved into a different office, down the corridor and on the opposite side of the building. What a difference!!! It was like heaven, I was relaxed, productive and happy. Then I was told to move back after the window was replaced. My protests were ignored and back I went to the nightmare office.
So if you know what environment is good for you. Stick to your guns and don't be pushed about.
Thank you so much for sharing and being so kind to me Robert123!
From what you've said it does sound like your current employer has been following their own processes / the law so that they don't get sued. They will be attempting to demonstrate (to a hypothetical future court case) that they have done in good faith "what could be reasonably expected of them" in order to support your return to work, whilst trying to balance their outlay against their perceived value of your performance.
[Note that I said "attempting to demonstrate". I didn't say that they were sincerely doing what could be reasonably be expected, although for all I know they might earnestly believe that to be the case.]
You've said yourself that things hadn't been going well with the job, so your employer could well be looking to cut their losses. At the end of the day, businesses really do worry about setting precedents that can then be exploited by individuals who are far less honest than yourself. Facilities staff are often told to simply cram staff in somehow, because office space is expensive, instead of being given a goal of attempting to maximise staff productivity whilst minimising costs to the business. As a result, you get a local optimisation for the facilities people, because of the yardstick that is being used to measure their effectiveness.
It could well be too late now to change tack with your current employer because the cat is out of the bag, but have you ever read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peopleware:_Productive_Projects_and_Teams ?
That book contains a section on the importance of "flow". If you just can't wait, try http://hotcashew.com/2014/02/lessons-peopleware/ to get a flavour.
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...).
Maybe you need to find a company that prioritises a quiet work environment as part of its culture.
I once worked in an open plan office where some new staff had a thoughtless habit of leaving their mobile phones on their desks whilst they wandered off somewhere. If the phone started ringing and vibrating, one of the managers in a neighbouring group would hunt the phone down, and pointedly consign it to the depths of the owner's desk pedestal drawers, to murmured cheers from staff that had been repeatedly disturbed. I even saw him do this when the offender wasn't in his own department!
You're in civil engineering, so what could you do to "hack" your work environment to make it more conducive? I suppose I'm thinking about using erasers from the stationery cupboard, jammed between/under desks to limit the transmission of vibration from your neighbour's phone, or wearing headphones to play music you know inside-out, to drown out a noisy office environment?
What could work for you?
I'm hypersensitive to noise too. Two of the adjustments I have are fixed time in a private office to carry out admin. I also have a working from home day each week to help me manage my anxiety. I work in HE and private space is very hard to come by but I've found if an employer wants to implement these things they'll find a way. Although I have worked in very supportive environments, I've also worked with some numpties who go out of their way to make things difficult.
I tried wearing bose noise-cancelling headphones and also wore earplugs underneath when working in an open plan office. It didn't work for me as it simply minimised the noise where I needed no noise but it could be something to try.
Cadurge Daily said:My employer won't make any adjustments and they have ignored all the advice from occupational health and the psychiatrist
Sounds rather familiar - they picked one sentence from the OH doctor's report, changed it to fit what they wanted and ignored the whole rest...
Hi there just wanted to say hi!
I am a civil engineeer, I would be the one to carry out the work you design or keep tabs on. I am ex labourer, ex machine operator, now Ganger/ Forman, site safety supervisor, etc, so less manual work, more admin, the pressure to keep up is mounting, I never enjoyed paper work, I am on the dyslexic spectrum, I can read and write it is mostly my memory or lack of that causes issues,
I can perform when needs be, act like a boss, but I just want to work and know I have done a good job that gives me satisfaction.
quite how you survive in the construction industry I shall never know, The majority of men I lead or work with are leaning towards less tolerant types, fixed stereo types, bigotted, homophobic, racists, demean women. I struggle to adapt to a less than perfect idol. Well I don’t! I just try to co exhist, it hurts my mind to do so.... but I get to be my own boss, my timing, my decisions, my way,,,,well mostly.
Hope your bosses do the correct thing for you,
Noise cancelling earphones (other brands are available, find a shop to try out https://www.richersounds.com/goldring-on-ear-closed-back-noise-cancelling-headphones.html, for example), are very good at what they were designed to do - block out a largely constant level of background noise, such as the ear-bashing you get on an aeroplane on a long-haul flight in economy.
If you use them in the office, they'll cancel the constant background hum of (say) the air conditioning, making it easier for your ears to pick out the less predictable clackety-clack of keyboards, your colleagues chatting, the person at the desk next to you drumming their fingers on the desk... i.e. noise cancelling phones are likely to MAGNIFY your perception of these distracting sounds.
What I think you are desperate for is to simply not hear anything from the wider office.
Try using headphones with a closed back. They'll muffle all sounds anyway for starters. Now play whatever music you like to listen to. It needs to be something you know so well that your brain won't get distracted, so pick the kind of thing that you learnt all the words to ages ago.
Don't turn it up so loud that you damage your hearing from protracted use. And try not to sing out loud in the office.