Adjusting for autism

It’s world autism month. So, as an autistic person myself, I thought I’d give some tips on how to make a difference to the autistic people you work with. They’re things anyone can do – but they could change someone’s path through life.

Many autistic people have bad experiences at work. Their skills and abilities aren’t recognised or used, they’re given minor roles, blocked from promotion and socially left out. But there are some changes in the workplace that can help prevent this. These are called reasonable adjustments and they’re actually required by law – as well as being generally a good idea.

Some practical changes can be helpful for autistic people – things like low lighting, quiet desks and homeworking.  But the really useful things to adjust are how people think and behave.

Tweaking assumptions

It’s also important to remember that the way autistic people think and behave is different. It’s a bit like meeting someone from, Japan. Their ideas of ‘normal’ won’t be the same as those in England – and we adjust for that. Autistic and other neurodiverse people also see and experience the world differently. We have different brains, our values, behaviours and feelings are different. But that doesn’t mean we are wrong. In fact, autistic people have strengths in different ways of thinking. So, ‘reasonable adjustment’ just means tweaking your assumptions and ideas. It’s really not about trying to help a ‘faulty’ person fit in and more about making sure there’s a level playing field for everyone in the game.

What can you do?

Some examples of the kind of adjustments you can make are below.

Plain speaking. Autistic people are very direct. We ‘say it like it is’ and believe in truth and clearness. So try to be clear about what you want and feel, rather than dropping hints or talking ‘around the houses’.

Behaviour interpretation. Autistic people don’t usually set out to upset or attack, our brains don’t really work that way. We also don’t generally lie, we don’t see the point. Understanding that an autistic person doesn’t meant be rude or insensitive is therefore an adjustment you can make.

Questioning. Autistic people tend to see things in ‘black and white’ and things that are unfair or wrong stress us out, so we question them. Also, who’s more important than who isn’t something we really get. All this means we can be experienced as argumentative or unprofessional. Reasonable adjustment would therefore be welcoming rather than rejecting suggestions and challenges.

Communication. Autistic people find long meetings and face-to-face interaction tiring. We need to work harder to work out what’s going on and to maintain eye contact. Reasonable adjustment would therefore be to use email and messanger and keep meetings short and small.

Time and space. Many autistic people can have strong emotions, particularly when things change or they’re criticised. It’s often due to previous negative experiences and can lead to sensory overloads or ‘melt downs’. Reasonable adjustment would be to let us know in advance what’s happening, give us time to process and understand we need a bit of time to ourselves.

Training for understanding

All these adjustments are great, but they can’t be done if people don’t know anything about autism. So, training about autism and how to understand it also needs to happen in our workplaces.

These kinds of changes can make work much more enjoyable and accessible for autistic people. I hope you’ll think about trying a few of them out in your workplace. It would be much appreciated.

Useful links: Society for Neurodiversity

Some practical changes can be helpful for autistic people – things like low lighting, quiet desks and homeworking.  But the really useful things to adjust are how people think and behave.

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