In honour of #AutismAwarenessWeek we sat down with a Carers Bucks staff member who has recently been diagnosed with Autism, to talk about what working life is like with Autism.
How did you tell Carers Bucks about your diagnosis?
I was lucky that Carers Bucks knew that I was in the process of finding out if I was on the Autistic Spectrum. Once I received my official diagnosis I organised a confidential 1 to 1 meeting with my manager, where we discussed strategies for me in the work place and how we can work together. As my diagnosis doesn’t change anything about me, only that I now have an understanding of why my brain works differently, this was a very easy discussion to have and my manager then felt she had a better understanding of who I am.
What adaptions did Carers Bucks put in place to help you carry out your job?
As some of my main issues with my autism are sensory and routine based, I have been unofficially allocated a parking space in the office so I don’t get confused having to ‘improvise’ a parking system each morning. I also have auditory sensitivity so I am allowed to wear bass reducing ear plugs while I am in the office. These mean that I have less of a reaction to the everyday noises which are tolerable to others but for me could send me into shut down. It means that while I’m at work I have as little disruption as possible while still being able to do my day to day requirements of the job. I can also take little breaks from my desk if I get overwhelmed and go find somewhere quiet for a few minutes to get myself back to functioning.
How do you feel with everything now in place to help you during your day?
Everything is massively helpful. While being in an environment where not everything is in my control can be difficult, everything possible has been done to make it easier for me. Of course, some things are unavoidable. There will always be situations that can’t be planned for in any environment, home or work. This is something that I have been working on getting used to more. While the help I receive at work is massively helpful, I also need to make the effort to help myself.
What do you have to do in the morning to prepare yourself for the work day ahead?
My morning routine isn’t very different to anyone else’s, it can just take a little longer. I have to mentally prepare myself for every step, and getting dressed can be difficult as my sensory sensitivities can make certain clothing difficult for me to wear if it is a low-functioning day. I am unable to wear anything with buttons on it, and on a bad day I find I need loose fitting, soft fabrics as this is a comfort for me. If something is tight fitting I can find it distracting.
I do things in a certain order, and to save energy I do as much sat down and in my comfortable clothes as possible. Summer presents some issues, as I get reliant upon my coat and winter shoes, and find it difficult to leave the house without wearing them as the weather warms up. The brightness of the sun also means I need to allow myself time to adjust to the sunlight, but my sensitivities mean I find wearing sunglasses unbearable. In my house, the blinds remain shut as much as possible!
How do you cope during the day at work?
I use my ear plugs from parking at the office until I get into the car to drive home. This means that I am less likely to enter into sensory overload and need help to cope. I keep the blinds by my desk closed to help with my visual requirements as well. My manager has always been very helpful, allowing me time away if needed. I can also go and talk to her if I get confused about anything, or if I start to feel myself slipping as the day goes on.
It can be difficult to keep my focus sometimes, but this I work on myself. I’ll go and make a cup of tea, or hand write on occasion if I can to give my eyes a break from the screen.
What recommendations do you have for adults with Autism when it comes to telling their workplace about their Autism diagnosis?
Being honest and open is one of the best tips I can give. By explaining exactly how your Autism can affect you throughout the day, you give your manager an opportunity to work with you on your needs. Communicating what can cause a meltdown or shutdown for you will give your manager more understanding. There is a lot of information out there for everyone who is affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but it is a very individual condition. My experiences may be similar to some but not to others. Simply put, be frank with them and work with them to make your work environment as friendly as possible. Reasonable adjustments can be made, and they have been in my case. This allows me to function well at work, with minimal mental disruption.
Of course, one of the main problems that many with Autism, myself included, struggle with is communicating and social cues. My way to go has been just to say what’s on my mind and ask questions if I find someone’s body language, facial expressions or tone confusing. This sometimes does extend the time of a meant to be quick discussion, but it means there are no crossed wires.