As someone who is autistic, I know I don’t cope or thrive well in an office environment. If the office is open plan, noisy and is decorated with lot of patterns, colours and furniture this makes things even worse for me because it is too much of a sensory overload. I can’t concentrate, and this leads to me being extremely unproductive, which I hate.
However, I’m lucky in that I work from home in my own environment and office that I have set up specifically to help me work as productively as possible. And in this environment, boy am I productive! However, there are times that I must attend face to face meetings or work from an office, and I can’t avoid it.
I understand that at times I might come across as standoffish, difficult and reactive when I shouldn’t be. I also realise that this might be very confusing to those who I work with. So, I’ve put together this list of 10 things that anyone who works with me needs to know:
- I’m nice – really, I am. I worry that I come across as aloof, to the point and standoffish. But I’m not – really, I’m not. I’m nice, kind and thoughtful and once you get to know me I hope you will see that. I am also extremely loyal, probably more so than others, and this at times has been to my detriment.
- I’m very creative. If you deal more with figures, technical matters and science rather than words and images, you might find my creative side a bit too much to deal with. But I can take your technical copy, jargon, figures and scientific insights and turn them into easy to follow plain English and visually present it for you. I hope this makes me an ally rather than a threat.
- I have feelings too. On the surface I am aware that it doesn’t look like I feel anything. This is because I have spent all my life masking my autism and trying my best to fit in when I knew all along that I was different. I do have feelings, even if I find it very hard to show them and I am human just like you.
- I’m naturally anxious. I will spend hours and hours analysing something you said to me in a meeting or in a work situation, so please make yourself as clear as possible when interacting with me or when you are giving me a task or instructions to follow. The clearer these are, the better the end results from me will be.
- Be honest with me. If my work isn’t up to standard, tell me. If you find me reactive, aloof and standoffish, tell me. If you think I need to improve things, tell me. I would rather you are honest with me rather than keep things to yourself about me which will only fester, as I cannot deal with confrontation well.
- If I am busy, do not disturb me. If I have my headphones on, please do not interrupt me. To do my best work I need to cut out as much background noise as possible and having music that I like playing while I work helps me to be as productive and as creative as possible.
- I’m sorry if I repeat myself. If I say the same things over again, I don’t mean to. For my brain to retain information, I will often say things multiple times. I realise that this is likely to be very annoying, and for that I’m sorry.
- Don’t give me curveballs. Once I know what you want from me, and what is expected of me, I will give you my very best work first time, every time. But if you change what you have given me or change the goalposts for what you want from me, I cannot deal with this, and it sends me into an internal frenzy even if I don’t show it through masking. I understand things change, and that they sometimes must change, but please try to deliver these changes to me with tact and understanding.
- I’m not a social butterfly. My worst nightmare is getting invited on a night out for my work where lots of drinking is involved. One, I hardly ever drink bar the odd glass of white wine socially or a Nastro Azzuro beer on a very hot day, and two, I get very uncomfortable having to make small talk or socialise in this way. If I turn down an invitation or decide not to come on a night out with you, please forgive me, this is something I really can’t deal with.
- Eye contact and fidgeting. If I am not making eye contact with you or if I am fidgeting while you are talking to me, this does not mean that I don’t find you interesting or that I am bored. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Doing this comes at great personal emotional and physical cost to me and doesn’t come naturally, so I have to work much harder to maintain eye contact with you. I find this physically draining so I may retreat into myself for a day or two to recover. I know this is extreme, and I wish I could change it.
It has taken me a long time to look at myself and acknowledge what is right for me rather than trying to “fit in” with everyone else. I hope to be able to work from home as much as possible, and hopefully this guide will help anyone I work with and any of my colleagues to understand me, how I work and what I need from them.
It has certainly helped me understand myself better as someone who is neurodiverse, to stand up for myself and say, “this is what I need”. It has been very empowering for me, and I hope that others who are neurodiverse will be inspired by this and create their own guide to help them in the workplace.
If you would like to share your "working with me" guide, please get in touch.