Autism and Gender Identity

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about autism and sexuality, this week I’d like to discuss an emerging area of research interest- autism and gender dysphoria.

In recent years, research is mounting that suggests that there is a higher prevalence of gender dysphoria and diversity among autists compared with the neurotypical population i.e. they don’t identify as the sex they were assigned at birth. It has even been estimated that transgender individuals could be 3-6 times more likely to be diagnosed as autistic! ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

As a cis-gendered woman I cannot personally comment on this issue (apart from thinking it would be a great idea to switch gender at will to avoid dealing with womanhood as a preteen ๐Ÿ˜› ), but based on these statistics I would just like to draw some awareness. Life can be hard enough as an autist or an individual with gender dysphoria alone, but when you marry the two, rates of depression and anxiety are reported to be much higher.

While the reasons for gender dysphoria are wide and varied, for autists, there may be a larger biological component as to why many may feel they have been born into the wrong bodies.

As I have discussed previously, MRI scans of autists brains have shown that men with autism have anatomically similar brains to neurotypical women, and women with autism have anatomically similar brains to neurotypical men which could lead to gender confusion. In addition to this, high levels of foetal testosterone in utereo have been linked to the development of autism in recent years. This exposure has been proposed as a possible reason that autistic women may suffer from gender dysphoria, but this does not explain why autistic men may wish to transition. Interestingly the current evidence does indeed support a prevalence of autistic traits among trans-men vs. trans-women. Research is ongoing to investigate the link between gender dysphoria and autism.

Whilst the current evidence suggests that gender dysphoria and autism may be linked, it is important to remember that they are not mutually exclusive. It is useful to know that there may be a link, but bear this in mind when seeking support.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Night Clerk’

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to take a look at the portrayal of autism in the 2020 crime-drama film ‘The Night Clerk‘ starring Tye Sheridan, Helen Hunt and Ana de Aramas.

Watch The Night Clerk | Prime Video

So what’s the movie about?

The Night Clerk tells the story of Bart, a 23 year old with Asperger’s Syndrome who works as a night clerk in a local hotel. Bart secretly films the guests in the hotel through a number of hidden cameras he has installed in order to observe people and learn social cues to help him navigate the world, becoming embroiled in a murder investigation as a result.

If you haven’t seen the film you can see the trailer here:

So how did the film fare in it’s portrayal of autism?

The film generally get’s a lot of the classic traits right such as struggles with eye contact, colour sensitivity, lack of filter, social awkwardness, stimming, coordination issues (in particular Bart runs awkwardly with his hands flapping at his sides) and echolalia. I particularly enjoyed Bart’s response when people asked him “How are you?” and he replied with “That’s a very complicated question!” As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I have often found in the past that this is one of the worst questions to be asked and it’s great to see that portrayed on screen.

Bart’s voyeurism on the other hand, while well intentioned, does portray the community somewhat negatively and further adds to the wealth of negative portrayals of autism. Interestingly though, it does sort of in a weird way shake things up a bit- yes it’s not the best look for autist’s, but it does highlight that just because you’re on the spectrum, doesn’t mean you can’t also be a bit of a creep ๐Ÿ˜›

Overall however, the depiction falls into the stereotypical pit showing us a lot of the same tired autistic tropes like Bart’s primarily monotonous tone of voice. Just once I’d like to see an autist show a little bit of varied inflection on screen- every single autist I know uses a variety of tones when speaking; monotonal speech is clearly not as common as film makers would have us believe.

The Night Clerk Review: Tye Sheridan's Thriller Is a Dud | Observer

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Periods

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Continuing on from last week’s post about autism and puberty, this week I’d like to talk about autism and periods. I know, I’m about to alienate about half of my readers (sorry guys!), but this is a very important topic to cover for the often overlooked autistic female demographic.

Periods can be challenging for lot’s of women, however, for autists the experience can be somewhat of an ordeal. There can be a lot of overwhelming sensory issues where periods are concerned- new smells, sensations, and sensory issues related to the use of feminine hygiene products. Autists struggle greatly with change, and periods can be quite unpredictable over the course of our lives due to stress, hormonal changes, childbirth and eventually menopause (which I will discuss in a separate post at a later stage). As a result of this, female autists can develop a number of behavioural issues related to menstruation such as increased aggression and repetitive behaviours, not to mention changes in mood and mental health. Throw in a side of cramps and it’s no picnic!

In addition to the mental and behavioural toll, research has shown that periods are biologically much tougher on the autistic body. Studies have shown that women on the spectrum have higher levels of testosterone than their neurotypical peers (likely caused by dysfunction in the hypothalamus in the brain), leading to a number of menstrual related issues such as severe acne, hirsutism, irregular periods, polycystic ovary syndrome and dysmenorrhea. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is also highly prevalent in autistic women. Autists are also known to have high levels of inflammation in the body, which can further aggravate menstrual symptoms. Periods can even cause an increase in seizures in autists who also suffer from epilepsy due to hormonal fluctuations.

So what can you do to help a young autist through her period?

  • Educate them clearly about their changing bodies– autistic women can be particularly vulnerable, so they need to know exactly how their reproductive system works and the importance of consent. Use clear language that can not be misinterpreted or taken too literally. Understanding their body will also help them to better normalize menstruation so it is far less scary. As discussed in my last post, autistic women enter puberty much earlier than their peers, so it is essential that they are educated sooner rather than later about their changing bodies.
  • Check out autism friendly books about puberty/periods– there are a number of books available targeted at growing autists to help them navigate this challenging time. There are even books specifically about periods for young autistic women that may help.
  • Chat about different feminine hygiene options– as no two autists are the same, so no one option is better or worse when it comes to feminine hygiene products. There are far more options available these days to young women than just sanitary towels and tampons- they even make absorbent period underwear which could be very helpful for girls with sensory issues.
  • Setup a calendar/diary to track periods- the unpredictable nature of life and unexpected change can be particularly frustrating for autists. While periods can oftentimes be unpredictable and don’t always run on time, a calendar can nevertheless be very helpful to prepare an autist for upcoming periods and establish a routine. Knowing that an event is approaching can help to offset the scariness of it.
  • Break the taboo– reassure them that periods are a normal part of life and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Periods may be overwhelming for autists, but they are by no means alone in their menstrual struggles.

Hope my female Earthlings at least enjoyed this week’s post! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Have a lovely weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

Autism on Screen- Backstreet Dreams

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about the representation of autism in the 1990 drama film ‘Backstreet Dreams‘ starring a young Brookie Shields and Jason O’Malley.

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So what’s the film about?

The story follows a young hoodlum named Dean as he navigates fatherhood. Things become complicated when Dean’s son Shane get’s diagnosed with autism, causing his marriage to fall apart, and making Dean a single father. With the help of Shane’s therapist Stevie, Dean forms a connection with his son, finding the strength to leave his backstreet activities behind him.

You can check out a trailer for the film here:

So how did this film fare in it’s portrayal of autism?

Filmed in 1990, this was one of the earlier film portrayals of autism, and as such is very stereotyped in the autistic traits discussed. There’s a lot of mono-tonal speech, lack of eye contact, repetitive behaviours and stimming so nothing really out of the ordinary in this film. That being said, for a child actor in a role this young, it’s tricky to accurately depict the realities of autism unless the actor is themselves autistic. The story also tended to focus more on the impact of autism for Dean rather than Shane, which further distracted from the issue.

Cineplex.com | Movie

On the other hand, it was heartening to see the impact that appropriate interventions and support were having on Shane’s development, something that wasn’t always highlighted in these early films featuring autism. Most early films focus on accepting autism or how burdensome the condition can be, but this film showed a turning point in how it’s not all doom and gloom, and how proper interventions can really improve symptoms and outcomes for autists.

All in all, it was a fairly poor offering both in terms of autism and cinema, but by all means give it a go if you think you might like it!

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism in ‘The Rosie Project’

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a book that was recommended to me by several people around the time of my diagnosis (most notably by my grandmother, the name pressed into my hand on a folded piece of notepaper as if my diagnosis were a state secret!๐Ÿ˜‚)- Graeme Simsion’s ‘The Rosie Project.’

You reading group: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion | Daily ...

The Rosie Project‘ tells the story of Don Tillman, a genetics professor that struggles with social interaction, who creates a questionnaire to determine the suitability of potential female romantic interests (something that he calls ‘The Wife Project’). In the process, he meets Rosie, a completely “unsuitable” candidate with whom he strikes up a friendship, helping her to track down her biological father (“The Father Project”), and falling in love along the way.

Fun fact about the book- a former colleague of the author did in fact create a “Wife Project” questionnaire just like Don (however, as far as he knows this worker was never diagnosed as autistic)!

You can find a trailer of sorts from the author here where he talks about the book and the challenges of translating it for other countries:

 

It’s an endearing, unconventional love story, but how does it’s depiction of autism fare?

Unlike ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time‘, the book was never explicitly linked to autism in the blurbs, however, many agree that Don is on the spectrum. His logical thinking, strict routines, social awkwardness, his intellect (here we go again ๐Ÿ™„) and struggles with emotions are highly indicative of Asperger’s syndrome, albeit somewhat stereotyped traits. Moreover, Asperger’s and it’s symptoms are directly discussed by Don multiple times throughout the book, but Don never explicitly reveals whether or not he has been diagnosed with it- a clever move by the author as it infers the diagnosis, without accountability for any potential misrepresentation.

Graeme Simsion completes his mega-selling Rosie trilogy

ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย  ย Author Graeme Simsion in 2019

Nevertheless, the book delivers the highly positive message that autists are not just capable of love, but of also being loved in return- and by neurotypicals no less (shock, horror! ๐Ÿ˜› ), and I would highly recommend a read of it ๐Ÿ™‚ .

In preparation for this post, I recently discovered that this book is part of a trilogy, so I will definitely be checking these out and will write about them in the near future.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Face Masks

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Leading on from my recent post about autism and COVID-19, I’d like to focus in on the issue of face coverings and autism.

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With the debate raging in the media as to the true efficacy of face masks, there has been little discussion as to the impact that face coverings may have for autists. Face masks are not fun for anyone (except for maybe playing dress up), but for autists, they can pose a serious sensory challenge. Overheating, irritating materials against sensitive skin, the uncomfortable sensation of elastic bearing down on your ears, and last but not least, the feeling of suffocation from the mask pressing against your nose and mouth.

Thankfully in many countries such as Ireland, guidelines have been issued for people with sensory needs that do not require them to wear a face mask if they are unable to do so, however, if you can, it is recommended that you should. Unfortunately, we’ve all seen viral videos of anxious people berating those who do not wear face coverings, which can further compound anxieties for autists should they be targeted.ย  In these difficult times, whilst I know it can be hard not to judge people when they don’t wear a face mask in public spaces, try to spare a thought for autists. Autism is an invisible disability after all; when you don’t see a mask, consider what else you may not be seeing.

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It is also worth noting that face masks can create further issues for autists as they act as a communication barrier. As autists struggle to read nonverbal cues and facial expressions, wearing a face mask can make communicating all the more difficult- especially given struggles with eye contact. So don’t judge us too harshly if we completely misread social situations with greater frequency than normal ๐Ÿ˜‰

Interestingly, in my own experience, I have discovered that face masks have an unexpected advantage in that they have actually helped to suppress meltdowns and have kept me from getting overwhelmed! When you hyperventilate (as I often do during a meltdown), the carbon dioxide levels in your blood drop as you are over-breathing. This can also cause your oxygen levels to drop. The restrictive nature of the mask creates a seal around the face causing you to inhale more carbon dioxide when you hyperventilate which will help to re-balance your blood gas levels and calm you down- just like breathing into a paper bag.

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So ironically whilst the face mask may trigger a meltdown, it can equally help to offset one! ๐Ÿ˜‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Have a nice weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Hair

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

This week, I’d like to talk about the topic of autism and hair. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a weird post about people with autism having an excessive amount of hair or something!๐Ÿ˜‚

Cousin It GIFs - Get the best GIF on GIPHY

Hair can however be a an issue for autists on a sensory level when it comes to getting a haircut and is also tied to many behavioural issues.

Thankfully in my case I have no issues with hair cuts (in fact I actively look forward to them!), however, for many autists, the simple act of sitting in the hairdressers chair can be a completely overwhelming experience. Sensitivities to touch can make a hair cut extremely difficult- hair washing and touching, head tilting and hair styling could be painful or overwhelming. Moreover, the noise of the scissors, clippers and styling equipment like hairdryers can equally trigger a meltdown. You can find some useful tips for navigating visits to the hairdressers here: https://www.autism.org.uk/about/family-life/everyday-life/hairdressers.aspx

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In terms of behaviours, trichotillomania (TTM) has been linked to autism. Trichotillomania is a hair pulling disorder marked by a compulsive urge to pull out your own hair, often resulting in noticeable baldness. The condition can occur in response to stress and anxiety where the pulling action provides a calming sensation. MRI studies have shown that people with trichotillomania have more grey matter in their brains. As MRI’s of autists brains have also shown increased grey matter, this could explain why autists can tend towards this type of behaviour. Treatments for this behaviour include CBT and in some cases the anti-depressant clomipramine. In addition to trichotillomania, some autists with pica eat their hair known as trichophagia (also known as Rapunzel syndrome).

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On a scientific level, hair has interestingly been used to identify autism in some patients! In a recent study, researchers noted that children with autism also had abnormal hair whorls (tufts of hair that were growing in the opposite direction to the rest) in addition to prominent foreheads and an asymmetrical face suggesting that these features could be used for diagnostic criteria. Makes me wonder about the shape of my own face/direction of my own hair growth! ๐Ÿ˜‚

Hope you enjoyed this post!

Have a good weekend dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

What I Wished I Knew About Autism

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

This week I’d like talk about some of the things I wished I had known about autism when I was first diagnosed. There’s so much to learn about the autistic spectrum, but here are just a selection of things I personally wish I had known:

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Autism is neurological not psychological– This is something that really stems from a lack of proper education about autism in the world. Because autism is so behaviour orientated, there is often a lot of onus on the psychology of the condition, and as such, people can be very dismissive of it. “If you just did this..”, “if you just tried to fit in…”- it’s not that simple. The autistic brain is wired completely differently to the neurotypical brain. There are chemical differences, differences in multiple structures in the brain, even differences in the number of brain connections. Behavioural changes can be made and coping strategies developed, but we need to be aware of the biological aspect- you can’t just swap out your brain for another. I wish I had understood that my own brain was hardwired to drop me into unfortunate situations growing up!

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Autism is a different way of thinking– The autistic brain is built differently, so therefore it thinks differently. It doesn’t mean that autistic thinking is not “normal”, just different.ย 

Autism is a spectrum- I know this one may seem silly as we’ve all heard of the autistic spectrum, but I wished I had known what being on the spectrum really meant. I had often heard the phrase “oh so-and-so is on the spectrum”, but took it to be a catch all term for people who were a bit odd, didn’t quite learn like everyone else, didn’t quite act like everyone else- basically people who weren’t quite “normal”. I never understood the minutia of the spectrum, that there were high functioning and lower functioning forms of autism. I wish I had known that traits were highly variable, that not everyone with autism is the same and that every case is unique. Perhaps if I had known this, I would have been far more understanding and less dismissive of my fellow autists growing up.

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Autists do experience empathy– We just may not be the best at expressing it. In fact as I’ve previously discussed, research suggests that we feel emotions on an even greater scale than neurotypicals.ย 

Autists want love– Asexuality is often thought to go hand in hand with autism. As I’ve previously discussed, most autists want to be loved, we’re just not sure how to communicate that or navigate the complexities of romantic relationships. Yes, there are a number of asexual individuals on the spectrum (as there equally are in the neurotypical population), but as with the spectrum of autistic traits, there is also a spectrum of sexuality.ย 

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That I wasn’t alone– For much of my life I felt like I didn’t fit in, like the world just didn’t understand me. I was always saying or doing the wrong thing, regularly subjected to looks of disappointment and dismay followed by lectures about my behaviour. When I would meltdown, I was ridiculed or punished as I sat there baffled by my own reactions, unable to explain to myself or others what had happened. Everything changed once I got my diagnosis; suddenly my behaviour was not so abnormal after all. There were articles, books and blogs filled with thousands of similar stories to mine. There was a name, an explanation, a community- I never have to feel alone again.

That I was “normal” (whatever that means) – As a result of being undiagnosed and misunderstood, I was constantly berating myself for not conforming to the accepted “norm”. The world told me that I was weird, that I was “wrong”, where nothing I ever seemed to do outside of academics seemed to be “right”. Had I truly known and understood that there is no such thing as “normal”, had I, and the world, known that being autistic is “normal” for millions of people, my life could have been so much simpler.

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Hope you liked this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚ย 

Enjoy the weekend!ย 

Aoife

Late Autism Diagnosis

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

This week after reading that British comedian Johnathan Ross’s daughter received an autism diagnosis late in life, I thought I’d write about my own experience of receiving an autism diagnosis as an adult.

diagnosis

As you may know from my blog intro, I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome a few weeks shy of my 24th birthday. With autism diagnoses on the rise in recent years, it seems hard to imagine that a person would not be diagnosed until their twenties, but this was my reality. As it turns out, I was far from alone in my predicament with such notable autists as Susan Boyle, Anne Hegerty, Dan Aykroyd and Gary Numan all receiving adult diagnoses.

So why are so many autists only being diagnosed as adults?

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Leading autism experts have described a “lost generation” of autists who grew up during a time where autism was poorly researched and understood. Many high functioning autists did not fit the criteria for classic autism, and as such slipped through the diagnostic radar. It is only in recent years following the introduction of the spectrum concept that many previously undiagnosed autists are finally getting the diagnosis they should have received decades previously.ย 

In my case, I was both academic and social in school, so no one really batted an eyelid or questioned that something was amiss. My meltdowns were put down to stress (you would not believe the amount of school reports to my parents that said I needed to chill!๐Ÿ˜‚) or temper tantrums, or just plain being a drama queen- oh if my teachers/friends only knew that I wanted none of the attention that my meltdowns brought! ๐Ÿ˜› It was only after I failed to grow out of my quirks in college and worsening social anxiety that my family sought to diagnose me (you can read the full story here).

In fact, statistically speaking, the vast majority of women with autism do not get their diagnosis until they are adults, often going unnoticed due to our ability to socially mask, or in some cases, misdiagnosed with conditions co-morbid with autism. Moreover, as I have discussed in numerous posts, women often present with completely different autistic traits to men, but these differences went unnoticed by the medical community for decades as the original descriptions of autism were based on a largely male cohort of patients.

So you’ve got your autism diagnosis, what happens now?

For many, the diagnosis comes as a relief. It feels as though you’ve got the final missing piece of a jigsaw puzzle, like you’re just seeing the full picture of yourself for the first time. However, it equally takes a while to get your head around it all, and the experience often leaves you with more questions than answers. You’re handed this life changing diagnosis, but realistically there are little to no supports available for autists over the age of 18 in most countries. So where does that leave you?

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Here are some tips that I found helpful for dealing with a late autism diagnosis:

Educate yourself- I’ve always had a thirst for knowledge, so whenever I don’t understand something I hit the books. Learning about autism was one of the cornerstones to helping me to better understand and embrace my diagnosis, allowing me to be a little kinder to myself in my symptomatic moments.

Check out some autism blogs/diagnosis stories- I found that reading the stories of other autists was quite comforting as I was coming to terms with my diagnosis. You’re not alone in this ๐Ÿค—

Link up with local autism support groups/charities– there’s no better source of information and available supports than those who’ve gone through an autism diagnosis in your area. They will all have been through the same thing as you, whether as a recently diagnosed adult or as a parent to autistic child, and will be able to provide you with the best resources available in your locale.

Try CBT– as I’ve discussed in a previous post, CBT wasn’t really my thing for helping me manage my symptoms, but it was highly beneficial in those early few months after my diagnosis to have a professional there who knew about autism to talk things through and to help me to understand my behaviours better.

Talk about it with your friends and family– in many ways, an autism diagnosis is not a journey we walk alone; our friends and family walk it with us. They are on a journey to better understand you too and will want to be there to support you in every way you need.

At the end of the day, while it was not ideal receiving an adult diagnosis, the personal and mental benefits that I have attained in recent years have been completely worth it. I finally understand myself and feel comfortable in my own skin. At long last, I’m able to fully be me in all the weird and wonderful ways God made me to be ๐Ÿ™‚

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Stay safe!

Aoife

Autism and Working from Home

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

As the lockdown continues, this week I’d like to discuss the topic of working from home and autism.

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Although the prospect of working in a comfortable environment away from the social jungle of the workplace can be quite attractive, working from home may pose other challenges for autists. As discussed in previous posts, an ordinary working day can be difficult enough for an autist, but the lack of a regular working routine, the stress of remote video meetings/phone calls, and difficulty focusing on work when surrounded by home comforts, may spell trouble.

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Like many, I have spent the past few weeks working remotely from my family home. Thankfully prior to this crisis, I have regularly been afforded the opportunity to work from home, so this transition has not been as much of a shock to the system as it may have been for other autists.

Working from home isn’t always easy, but by putting the right structures in place you can easily navigate this minefield.

So here are some of my top tips for working from home:

Set aside a specific workspace: setup a corner of the house, a specific room or a desk space from which to work from. Remove any potential distractions from this space, setup your laptop/screen, add a few pens- get everything you’ll need for your working day ready. This will give you more structure and make it easier to work. Try to keep this space separate from where you spend your leisure time- you don’t want to feel like you’re in work mode when you’re watching Netflix late at night.

Work regular break times into your schedule: organize set break times throughout the day- coffee at 11, lunch at 1, a 3pm snack, whatever works for you. It can be hard for an autist to detach when you get into the zone (especially when working solo), but several hours of uninterrupted work are not good for your mental or physical health. Pick your break times and stick to them, giving further balance and structure to your day.

Get out of your PJs- I know it’s tempting to sit there in your comfy clothes (especially given many autists sensitivity to clothing), but you need to get up and get dressed. It will give you better routine and structure to differentiate between work and play- and it will also remove the stress of being caught in a state of dishevelment if an unscheduled work call catches you off guard ๐Ÿ˜‰

Try to schedule work meetings– Communication with colleagues is all over the place these days with entire companies working remotely, and the stress of unexpected calls and the stream of instant messages pinging in the background can be quite distracting for an autist. If you can, try to set aside set times for when work conversations/team catchups can be held- this will help give you further structure and routine

Ask if you can keep your camera off– If you’re really feeling shy and uncomfortable, ask if you can keep your camera off during a meeting. Lot’s of people are having issues with slow internet and will need to turn their cameras off, so don’t feel obliged to if you’re really uncomfortable with video conferencing. It’s not always an ideal solution for teams that need to visually gauge team mates responses, but if you explain your struggles to your employer I’m sure they will understand, especially in these trying times. Just try not to fall asleep on the job… ๐Ÿ˜›

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

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