The Importance of Workplace Accommodations for Individuals with ASD
Posted on 08/23/19 in Employment by Molly D. Dann-Pipinias
I am very lucky to work in an environment that understands autism, but it always wasn’t that way. Having an invisible disability can make working very difficult. People expect you to always live up to the same expectations as neuro-typical people, which sometimes people with autism 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, again, making it up so I can get accommodations. This has caused a pathological fear of calling off 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 work ability. Once I am hired, I do end up telling them about my autism. It affects my communication skills, so I feel that 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. Personally, I think every job should have someone on the spectrum. I love repetitive tasks like filing and spreadsheets that most people find boring. My job really utilizes my talents and appreciates everything I do. I’m happy, for the first time in my life, to wake up and go to work. And that’s all anyone can really ask for.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Nera Birch is a self-advocate with a passion for bringing awareness and advocacy to the Cleveland area. She comes to Milestones as a former volunteer and speaker, with a long history of public speaking alongside the Milestones coaching team about topics important to the autism community. She has a blog called I'm Not Drunk, I'm Autistic and is a regular contributor to The Mighty and other disability publications.
This article was written by a guest writer for Milestones Autism Resources. Views and opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own. Milestones strives to create conversation around important topics in the autism community and to provide members of the community with a platform to share their honest perspective. In addition, while Milestones Autism Resources’ policy is to practice person-first language, we encourage all self-advocates to identify themselves as they wish, so you may see language throughout the blog that does not align with Milestones’ internal person-first language policy.