How I Succeed at Work as a Person With Autism
I am very lucky to work in an environment that understands autism, but it wasn’t always that way. Having an invisible disability can make working very difficult. People expect you to always live up to the same expectations as neurotypical people, which people with autism sometimes can’t do.
It can be really difficult to work in an environment that doesn’t understand autism. I’ve been told before that I was making my autism up to get “special privileges” because I didn’t match the definition of autism my boss found online. I have been bullied and made fun of by my employers as well.
I also have a condition called postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) that only allows me to work about 20 hours a week without getting exhausted or sick. This often causes employers to think I’m lazy or making it up so I can get accommodations. This has caused a pathological fear of calling off work, and I have put myself in situations that weren’t the healthiest for me just so my boss wouldn’t get angry at me.
A big debate is when, if ever, to disclose your autism. Personally, I don’t disclose until I am hired. It gives them one less reason not to hire me. Most people with autism I know do the same thing. Employers might hear the word “autism” and make assumptions about us or our ability to work. Once I am hired, I do end up telling them about my autism. It affects my communication skills, so I feel it is important for them to know. However, you do not need to disclose. Do whatever makes you feel the most comfortable in your work environment.
There are a few accommodations that work very well for me. Sensory breaks are probably the biggest one. Whenever I get overwhelmed or need to cry, I can step away from my desk and take a break. Sometimes it involves taking a walk or going to stim in the back room. Another easy accommodation is the use of headphones. I’m allowed to listen to music or podcasts, depending on my task. This is very useful, especially when the office is a little too loud.
The best tip I can give to employers is be patient. People with autism or any disability might take a little longer to process instructions. We might not always get things right the first time. That doesn’t mean we aren’t wonderful employees.
I think every workplace should have someone on the spectrum. I love repetitive tasks like filing and spreadsheets that most people find boring. My job utilizes my talents and appreciates everything I do. For the first time in my life, I’m happy to wake up and go to work. And that’s all anyone can really ask for.
Getty image by Anya Berkut.