I’ve been asked, “How do I connect with other co-workers at work”? Many people on the autism spectrum have difficulty communicating with others, but fail to realize that work environment needs to come first.
Work Environment: Take Care of the Basics
I’m training for a marathon. At the beginning of my training, I couldn’t believe how much my feet hurt! The pain got to the point where I could hardly walk. Someone suggested I go to a running store. Not K-Mart or Walmart, but rather a specialized running store.
While there, they told me to get on the treadmill. They analyzed my run, and based on the way my feet hit the treadmill, they could tell that I tend to over pronate my right foot, which causes plantar fasciitis. It’s too technical to go into, but suffice it to say, had I had the right shoes selected to begin with, I wouldn’t have sore feet.
First things first. I need to take care of the basics. Before trying to succeed in a marathon, I needed to take care of my shoes!
Asperger Experts describe the sensory funnel, and why taking care of sensory overwhelm is so important, before trying addressing anything else (like connecting with co-workers, communicating effectively, or performing at your best)
Take Care of Your Sensory Needs, so Work Success Can Follow
Just as I needed to choose my running shoes carefully and with the right help, you need to consider a) your sensory needs and b) your work environment.
Assess Your Own Sensory Needs
What overwhelms you most? Too much light? Too much noise ? Or too much touch (or lack of it)? Perhaps you suffer from a combination of light, noise, or touch.
Use Sensory Strategies to Meet Your Sensory Needs
Ashley Stanford, author of Business for Aspies: 42 Best Practices for Using Asperger Syndrome Traits at Work Successfully, talks about the following solutions:
- If you’re sensitive to light, try dimming the lights near your desk. A black poster near your desk may also help block out the light.
- If you’re overwhelmed by too much noise, look into wearing noise canceling headphones.
(Read my article, What Everyone Ought to Know About Autism and Noise Sensitivity for several headphones options to help you filter noise in your work environment)
- Wearing an inconspicuous weighted vest can help you get deep pressure touch that will offset work stress you may absorb into your body while in your work environment.
Assess Your Work Environment
Kate Collins-Wooley, Ph.D., talks about the ideal work environment for someone on the autism spectrum in her article, Asperger Syndrome, Employment, & Social Security Benefits –
According to Dr. Collings-Wooley, the ideal work environment:
- is quiet and predictable, and allows for sensory retreats.
- is low in social demands.
- provides a great deal of explicit supervision from an informed, compassionate boss.
- in the job, a special, more technical or concrete skill or interest is employed. there is less need for exercising “common sense” or
- engaging in conventional thinking.
- has relatively low time or productivity pressures
You may need more or less of these “ideal” work environment characteristics, depending on what sensory challenges you face: whether with touch, sound, or light.
Ask For Accommodations, If Needed
Perhaps you’ve tried your own sensory strategies, but still find the work environment overwhelming.
If so, it’s time to consider whether you need a) whether a different work environment, b) a different type of job, or c) reasonable work accommodations.
If you have access to financial resources, please consider talking with Barbara Bissonnette, from Forward Motion Coaching. During a free consultation session with her, you can decide whether she can help you with any of the above questions. (You can also listen to my interview with her).
Read her free guide, Workplace disclosure: Strategies for Individuals with Asperger’s Syndrome and NLD, which helps you decide if, when, and how to disclose to your employer (about Aspergers) and request accommodations.
Here’s Barbara’s description of her guide:
It features a review of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and explanations of key terms such as reasonable accommodation, qualified employee, and essential job functions. The Guide outlines a 3-step process for identifying accommodation needs if you have Asperger’s or NLD, and explains the pros and cons of disclosing at various stages of the job cycle. Examples of successful disclosure strategies are included.
Wrapping It Up: Create Your Ideal Work Environment
Consider the following action points:
- Educate yourself about your own sensory sensitivities. Read Cynthia Kim’s series of articles, and think about sensory strategies you can use to help yourself cope with your work environment.
- If, after you’ve implemented your own sensory strategies (review my section above for strategies to help you with sensory issues related to light, touch, and sound), you still struggle to get things done at work, consider whether a) you need to change your occupation or b) you needtorequestworkaccommodations.
- If you need to request work accommodations, read Barbara Bissonette’s free guide, and consider hiring her as a coach. (not an affiliate link).
- Maybe the type of job you’ve chosen requires core work functions that don’t fit with your particular sensory sensitivties. For example, if you’re overwhelmed by too many people talking around you, you may not ever be able to adapt to being a customer service representative, talking on the phones all day in a crowded room with other people. Again, Barbara Bissonnette or another career coach can help you identify the best job fit for you based on a combination of your particular neurology, skills, and ideal work environment.
Suggested Reading and Resources:
Business for Aspies: 42 Practices for Using Asperger Syndrome Traits at Work Successfully
Penelope Trunk, an Aspergers woman who has started companies and writes about career advice, shares her experiences in her article, Asperger syndrome in the office: How I deal with sensory integration dysfunction.
photo credit: Jeff Shelton on Unsplash
Have you taken steps to design an ideal work environment? Please share your experiences below!