I have a degree in Computer Science.
I play the guitar and ukulele.
I enjoy weightlifting and CrossFit.
And I am autistic.
The National Autistic Society says autism is "a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others".
At the most basic level, autism is a difference in my brain works compared to the majority of the population. It is characterised by difficulties with communication, restricted interests and often sensory processing difficulties.
Although there are things that many autistic people will have in common, there are also many ways in which we differ. For the remainder of this post I will be talking about my personal experience as an autistic person.
(This is something that definitely differs from person to person)
You may have noticed that I have referred to myself as an autistic person, rather than a person with autism. This is known as identify-first language, and is common with a range of identities. For me, it makes sense to say I am autistic, like a gay person would say they are gay. It would sound strange if someone said they had gay. To me, the same goes for autism (though I do accept that saying you have autism is grammatically correctly, unlike saying you have gay).
I work far better when what is expected of me is communicated in a clear and concise way. I am not bothered by the social norms of "Hey Amy when you get a minute would you mind looking at something, no rush, just when you get time could you ...". All those words and you still haven't told me what you want me to do.
I feel like I have a million thoughts a minute, from my brain having lots of tabs open, the fact that my thoughts are very visually detailed, the often overwhelming amount of sensory input (particularly in a standard office building). Every word you say can prompt a new thought. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it does take up room in my brain space. Did you pronounce a word differently to how I would, did your voice crack halfway through, did you sneeze at the exact pitch of the opening note of a song I have stuck in my head ...
I won't think you're being rude for being blunt and straight-to-the-point, I will be able to immediately start thinking about the work I need to do.
There are a few simple things, that may not be standard to have at work, that can make my life so much easier. I'm not going to bore you with loads of details as to why each of these things help, but hopefully you will be able to see that these things wouldn't cause a disturbance to my colleagues.
- Let me wear headphones while I work
- Having a (discrete) blanket or pillow for sensory benefits (think weighted blanket)
- Sitting near a window to make fluorescent lights have less of an impact
- Giving me clear and concise instructions
- Respecting my pre-planned schedule as much as possible
- Fidget toys (I'm partial to a tangle myself)