At 16 I fell in love with business finance and accountancy. Then at university everyone kindly decided to inform me that my education was of little use when I couldn’t hold a conversation, who wants an accountant that can’t talk to people? Who can’t use the phone?
Today I am employed as an accountant at Exchequer Accountancy Services. My career has been dependant on companies accommodating me being autistic through reasonable adjustments. Without reasonable adjustments I could not work. My experience with these adjustments can hopefully shine some light on the incredible companies that are out there and give hope that this can absolutely work.
Bank of America Merrill Lynch
When I was approached by the bank to interview, I point blank said I am autistic and could not work in an investment bank. The bank didn’t miss a beat with their response, they assured me that my disability would not be a problem. I was at the bank for just over a year and they never once faltered from this promise. The bank took the worst of my transition into work and there were certainly some bumps in the road. The management team worked with me to build an environment I was comfortable in and worked for my own needs. Some of the adjustments they provided:
Headphones – My desk was one of hundreds in an open plan office. I fought sensory overload daily until my manager suggested I wear headphones. Music is hugely important to me and a stim that I use to calm myself down. I began listening to my addicted songs and immediately regained better control over overloads.
Working hours – The bank did what they could with their long hours by altering my core contracted hours to 7:30 - 4. This meant I was first in the office and had a couple of early quieter hours.
Phones – Phones were my biggest concern with entering the workplace. I cannot begin to count the amount of people who told me I would never find an employer who didn’t expect me to use the phone. The bank never questioned it, never made me feel guilty. I relied on emails and instant messaging, very rarely needing to phone a trader and if I did a fellow colleague did it with no questions asked as to why.
Team meetings – Companies love a team meeting! ‘Why don’t we go around and say a little bit about ourselves?’ were the dreaded words. At the bank my manager would do my introduction. No fuss, no embarrassing me, he casually did his, mine, and then set it going around.
Work tasks – The bank quickly realised that the tasks I loved (repetitive and structured) were the ones the rest of the team hated being given. My workload altered to reflect this, and I spent my mornings in a very structured manor, leaving mainly my afternoons open to subjectivity.
Communication – The manager that supported me through the first 6 months went out of his way to ensure I was comfortable at work. He knew I wouldn’t speak up, he even started realising when I was just placating him to be free of a conversation! He set up a process that if you are familiar with the spoon theory was essentially asking me my level of spoons for the day. I would email him a number first thing in the morning, 10 being I couldn’t be in a better place mentally, 1 being the lowest. A low number could simply be because the bus didn’t turn up and I’m just on edge today because of the change. Equally a high number would mean I could push myself further than I normally would.
Exchequer Accountancy Services
The bank was so great to me I was pretty sure I was the luckiest Autistic out there and wouldn’t get that lucky twice. Then I interviewed for Exchequer. I was again open from the outset and the first interview highlighted I wasn’t suitable for a client facing role. Instead of dismissing me the management worked with me to identify a role that fitted my skillset and my needs.
Sensory - The first few weeks at Exchequer I was having sensory overload once a week because of a process that involved the franking and letter folding machines going at the same time. I mentioned this to my manager, that perhaps I could take my lunch early when this process happened. The next day I went in and the machine had moved to a different room.
Processes - One of the processes at Exchequer involved having to stand up and ask people if they had received a code. It quickly became a huge barrier for me completing my work and I started avoiding tasks that needed it. Upon mentioning this to my manager she altered it to become an email circulation process. This showed how a different perspective on a process can unveil more efficient methods.
Phones - Once again Exchequer proved my biggest fear of working to be wrong. There has never been any pressure to use the phones, my colleagues happily take on the very rare phone calls I would need to do.
Managing disabled employees
A self-doubting employee is an inefficient one. It is in an employer’s best interest to build their teams confidence. Most disabled people will have doubted their self-worth, especially in a work environment at some point. Shortly into starting at the bank I relapsed badly with depression. I felt I couldn’t do what the rest of the team could, I felt like a burden. My manager supported me and was adamant that it could work, he repeatedly told me I was a valued member of the team and he would support me in anyway possible.
I left the bank a completely different person than when I started. The managements belief in me resonated into my whole life, professional and personal. The biggest thing my manager does for me now is make me feel like she is on my side, that whatever problem I come across we can work together to find a solution for it. I wouldn’t be able to turn up to work each day if I did not trust my team, trust that if I did go into sensory overload (fire alarms!) or had a meltdown (it sucks but it has happened) that I would be given space and understanding.
I wholeheartedly believe that for an autistic the job role is less important than finding a manager who believes in you, not because they want to include disabled employees, but because they know that every single employee will need supporting in some way. The managers that refuse to see disability as a burden and instead see it as one unique aspect of that employee, those are the managers worth turning up every day and working hard for.
Reasonable adjustments aren’t a box ticking exercise for the government, they are a company believing in a disabled person, believing they can achieve what they want to.
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