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

My Autistic Fight Song- Rosie Weldon

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

As many of you may know, I love to read, and so I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read an advanced copy of ‘My Autistic Fight Song‘ by Rosie Weldon.

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This enticing memoir charts Rosie’s journey through higher education, her autism diagnosis and her struggles in the workplace as she strived to achieve her dream of becoming an accountant.

You can find a trailer for the book here on Rosie’s Youtube Channel:

 

So what did I make of the book?

Reading this book was a very interesting experience for me as someone who has yet to engage with another female autist in the flesh. I’ve read many abridged accounts and watched many interviews with other female autists, but this was the first time I really was given a raw insight into the mind of someone other than myself.

In some ways I could have been reading my own story. My experience of autism has been significantly milder, but yet many of our experiences align. Both diagnosed in our twenties, both encountered challenges with social anxiety, both found comfort in music, Harry Potter and the confines of a secluded bathroom stall. It was fascinating to see into Rosie’s thought process, her thinking so often mimicking my own- growing up, it would have been nice to have come across this book to let me know that I wasn’t alone, that I wasn’t so different after all.

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Perhaps most interesting was Rosie’s experiences of the workplace. As I have discussed previously, only a small percentage of autists find full time employment. Rosie’s perseverance in the face of adversity in the workplace was inspiring. She was fiercely determined not to be another statistic, and this determination made her dream of being an accountant a reality.

It was also most heartening to see the support that Rosie received from her employers along the way- they did not see her autism as a challenge and instead found ways to work within her comfort zone, such as moving noisy machines to a different room. Having struggled in the workplace myself in a role where I was not adequately supported, I’m glad to see that not all employers see autism as a burden.

For anyone looking for an insight into the mind of a female autist, “My Autistic Fight Song” is the perfect bedtime read ๐Ÿ™‚

Rosie also has her own blog where she talks about autism which you can check out here: https://www.rosieweldon.com/

If you’d like to read ‘My Autistic Fight Song‘, the book will be available to buy from April 1st (conveniently timed for Autism Awareness Month) ๐Ÿ™‚

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! ๐Ÿ˜€

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

Finding and Maintaining Employment

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

In continuation from my blog post about autism in the workplace, this week I’m going to give some of my tips and tricks for finding and maintaining employment for autists.

Finding employment:

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Job seeking can be a daunting prospect for anyone, but for autists in particular, this can be quite the overwhelming experience.ย Navigating career search engines, filling out applications, preparing for interviews, coping with rejection- itโ€™s a lot to handle.

When it comes to applying for jobs, there are a few important questions that an autist should consider:

  • Is this job a good fit for me?
  • What areas may be challenging for me in this role?
  • Is this an equal opportunities employer?

It’s important that you apply to jobs that cater to your strengths with an employer that will support both you and your needs ๐Ÿ™‚

Top Tip: Glassdoor is an excellent online tool for job hunters. It allows you to look up different companies, read employee reviews and interview experiences, giving you invaluable insight into what life could be like for you within that company.

Next comes the dreaded interview- a real struggle for autists, butย it doesnโ€™t have to be ๐Ÿ™‚

Fun Fact: According to career experts, 95% of interview questions can in fact be predicted and prepared for in advance! And there’s nothing we love more than predictability ๐Ÿ˜‰

There are a number of organisations out there that are dedicated to advising, training and preparing people with autism for the workplace. For example, Specialisterne is an international organisation dedicated to creating jobs for people with autism through partnership with several companies in the science and technology sector. Specialisterne coaches people with autism and Aspergerโ€™s syndrome to prepare them for the workplace and additionally provides employers with training so to best support their employees.

There are also numerous career coaches and communications agencies out there which can sit you down and help you to prepare for an interview, run through mock questions, give you tips on body language etc.

Here are a few tips that I’ve found helpful to get you through an interview:

  • Preparation is Key– research the company, prepare answers to common questions, look up your interviewers on LinkedIn (donโ€™t worry, you can use a private setting so they wonโ€™t know youโ€™ve looked them up! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) etc. A mock interview can also be very useful. The more you prepare, the more comfortable you will feel in the interview.
  • Keep your answers relevant to the question– I know it sounds obvious, but if youโ€™re anything like me, beware of tangents!
  • Ask for a moment to think– if a question throws you, drink some water and ask for a minute to think. Itโ€™s perfectly acceptable to ask for this. It gives you time to gather your thoughts whilst remaining in control.
  • Aoife says ‘Relax’!ย – Easier said than done, I know, but it was only when I began to relax in interviews that I was finally offered a job ๐Ÿ™‚

Maintaining Employment:

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Congratulations-youโ€™ve gotten through the interview stage and the job is yours! ๐Ÿ˜€ However, a number of people with autism will struggle to maintain this job. The workplace can be quite overwhelming as I’ve discussed, and we often do not receive the support we need from our employers.

So what can you do?

If you feel comfortable disclosing your diagnosis to your employer, steps can be taken to help accommodate your needs. For example, autism training can be arranged so that other members of staff can better understand and support you.

Having a work mentor or job coach to talk to and advise you about your workplace can also be helpful. This person can advise you on workplace ettiquette, social skills, interacting with co-workers and the unwritten rules of your place of work.

There are also some steps that you can take to better cope with the pressures of working life:

  • If you struggle with organization as I often do, making use of lists, diaries and Google Calendar can help you to stay on top of things
  • As I’ve said before, talk to someone about your problems with work- let it all out!
  • Take a breath- if you feel overwhelmed or a meltdown coming on, take a moment away from your workstation. Go to the bathroom, step outside the door (if possible), grab a coffee or a glass of water- do anything to distract yourself until you feel well enough to return to work ๐Ÿ™‚
  • Try to maintain a good work- life separation. At the end of the day, we all need to leave work at work. It can be hard to switch off at the end of the day, especially for autists, so try to relax! Why not take up a hobby that will engage a different part of your brain such as art, exercise, music or gaming? Do what you have to do to unwind!
  • Take care of yourself- Keep snacks nearby, stay hydrated and get to bed early! Sleep tip– Blue light from screens interferes with the hormone that induces sleep, Melatonin. So ditch the laptop before bed; read a book instead!

Finding and maintaining employment as an autistic adult can be challenging, but remember, you have just as much to offer as any other candidate out there ๐Ÿ™‚

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Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Aoife

 

Should I tell my Employer I Have Autism?

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

In continuation from my previous post, I’d like to discuss a very important question for autists in the workplace: should you tell your employer that you are on the spectrum?

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This is a tricky one to tackle.

On the one hand, your employer can better support you and help to adjust aspects of your role to suit your needs; on the other, many employers are poorly informed about autism. As a result of this, you may be misjudged and your true potential overshadowed by the big bad ‘A’ word.

In my career, I have had both positive and negative experiences when informing my employer. One employer was highly supportive- my diagnosis was openly discussed and viewed as an asset. In another position, my abilities were overshadowed by my diagnosis. Having Asperger’s was seen as a problem, and my career was reluctantly diverted down an entirely new road (which thankfully was fruitful). As a result of this, I chose not to reveal my diagnosis to my current employer in order to allow my work to speak for itself without an autism filter.

So what should you do?

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There is no right or wrong answer to this question; the answer is entirely individual. In my case, thankfully my needs are minimal (a bottle of water and some snacks go a long way towards managing my more eccentric behaviours, and the occasional cake will help distract from foot-in-mouth tendencies ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). I am in the lucky position where I can pass for neurotypical,ย however, there are many autists out there that may struggle in the workplace if not adequately supported by their employer.

Ultimately the “right” answer is what is right for you.

Assess the situation- Do you need the extra support? Would you feel more comfortable/uncomfortable if your co-workers were aware? Is this the kind of company that will support you if you choose to tell them?

At the end of the day, it’s up to you.ย  You are under no obligation to reveal this information if you are no comfortable doing so.

And remember- whatever your decision, it will all come right in the end. If an employer doesn’t want you, then you don’t want them.

There are much better opportunities waiting out there for you ๐Ÿ™‚

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Aoife

Autism in the Workplace

Greetings Earthlings! ๐Ÿ™‚

Did you know that between 75 and 85% of people with autism cannot find/maintain employment, despite many being highly educated?

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Shocking statistic isn’t it?

But why is it so?

Most of us have a strong desire to work and the qualifications to boot, but what we lack are the skills to navigate the workplace and or the interview process.

For many people with autism, the interview is perhaps the most difficult part of the employment process. Unexpected questions can throw us, social niceties can go over our heads, eye contact is a struggle and repetitive movements are often hard to control. We like structure and routine, things we can control and predict; interviews take us out of our structured comfort zones. All these difficulties coupled with the mere mention of the ‘a’ word sadly may see your CV dropped to the bottom of the pile.

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Of those lucky enough to get over the hurdle of the interview, further problems may lie in navigating the workplace itself.

The workplace can be overwhelming for the best of us, but for an autist, this can be even more so. Noise levels and repetitive sounds, the pressure to reach deadlines, the unappetizing smell of your co-workers lunches (whenever someone has fish at work it’s a real struggle for me to hold back my gag! ๐Ÿ˜› )- it can be a sensory smorgasbord, not to mention the potential social issues! Some days it just takes all your strength to hold back a meltdown.

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Most employers do not understand the needs of an autistic employee, and as such we may easily fall off the career ladder- and not just for reasons of poor coordination! ๐Ÿ˜› ๐Ÿ˜‰

However, the tables are beginning to turn for the better in terms of making the workplace autism friendly- in fact many companies are now specifically seeking to employ autists to mine our oftentimes untapped skill sets.

But while we wait for the rest of the working world to catch up, here are a few things that you can do to better help you to thrive in the workplace:

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  • Talk about your struggles– shoving it deep down isn’t going to do any good! Talk to someone when you’re feeling under pressure at work- trust me you’ll feel all the better for it
  • Know your limits– if you feel a task is getting on top of you, or you want to jump out of your seat with antsy frustration, take a break- have a snack, go to the bathroom, have an early lunch, or if the company allows it, a quick scroll on your phone. When you feel that overwhelming tidal wave approaching, get out of it’s way; don’t let it take you down
  • Take care of yourself– get enough sleep, stay fed and hydrated. In my experience the combination of exhaustion, hunger and or thirst with the added stress of a tough work task can run the risk of meltdown. Get to bed early, keep snacks and a drink nearby and work will be much easier to cope with
  • Get involved in the work social scene– now I know this one can be troublesome when social anxiety rears it’s ugly head, but making the effort to engage with your co-workers will really help. Many times I’ve forced myself to go to social work gatherings entirely out of my comfort zone and barely knowing the people that would be there, and you know what? It helped me make some brand new friends and put a fresh spring in my step ๐Ÿ™‚

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I’ll delve into more of my tips and tricks for finding and maintaining employment in a later post ๐Ÿ™‚

Enjoy the weekend everyone, be sure to get that Christmas shopping done on time (I may or may not have finished mine a couple of weeks back…#organized! ๐Ÿ˜› )

Aoife

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