Many autistic adults have difficulty tolerating certain noises. We may experience adverse emotional reactions or extreme pain when exposed to different sounds. Sometimes we can tolerate some sounds but find others excruciatingly painful.
Eg if you find it difficult to focus on one sound source when there are other background sources active at the same time - think busy cafe, speaking on the phone while work colleagues are chatting in the room, or attempting to concentrate while multiple streams of sound surround you.
Apart from being a really difficult sensitivity to cope with, this sensory sensitivity can make certain workplace settings a huge challenge, and not well suited to your neurology.
From staggered lunchtime breaks to private offices - the space you work in may make a big difference in empowering you to work at your best without the challenges associated with auditory sensitivities.
Consider using noise-cancelling headphones, requesting a private workspace, moving your desk to a quieter corner of the office, installing soundproofing or even working from home.
You may benefit from live and recorded captioning services. Transcribing services can transform audio notes into text. Communication by text: emails or text messages may be more beneficial to you than voice/video meetings.
Each person has their own unique mix of accommodations that will free them to work to their strengths.
An Occupational Therapist can help you to figure out what accommodations you need to work at your best.
A sensitivity shared by many autistic people is an aversive response to some light sources. Fluorescent light may often be one of the most difficult light sources to cope with, while some autistics find both the flickering light and high pitched noise coming from the light source to be extremely debilitating.
For some, getting into the habit of wearing sunglasses or tinted glasses can help. Others find blue-blocking glasses to be life-transforming for computer and screen work.
You may need your workplace environment changed so that your exposure to fluorescent light is minimised. Consider requesting the lighting to be modified, or for your workspace to be moved to where there is more natural light - or away from windows if natural light is challenging for you.
To discuss these strategies further and develop a bespoke plan for you, book a consult with an Occupational Therapist.
You may find it easier to communicate in any number of ways and adaptations could be very helpful to you in the workplace.
Some questions to consider:
Is it easier to communicate with your voice or by text?
If text is easier you could request more text-based communications, eg emails rather than phone calls or video calls.
Do you find online video calls helpful or distracting?
In this time of remote working for many of us, adaptations on video calls can include leaving your video off, using text in the 'chat box' instead of voice, hiding your image of yourself if you must have the camera on (tip - zoom has a self-hide button/other people stick post-it notes on their computer screen to hide their image), and taking rest and movement breaks.
Are you a literal thinker?
The majority of autistic people naturally process language literally. When conversing with non-literal thinkers there may be communication differences which cause miscommunication of concepts. Some of us may have developed the ability to assess the context in which the speaker has used words and then be able to translate their message, even still this extra translating burden costs mental processing energy and can cause a delayed response.
Do you prefer open or closed questions?
Many autistic people find open questions where we can imagine multiple potential answers very difficult to respond to in a brief timeframe. We often find it easier to answer 'closed questions' where the requested information is very specific.
Do you prefer live or asynchronous communication?
Many of us prefer asynchronous communication where we have time to process what is being said/requested and time to consider our responses. If this resonates with you, you could request more asynchronous communication in your team, or adaptations such as receiving information about meetings in advance, and then extra time and opportunity to feedback to the team either between meetings or at the beginning of the next meeting.
If you would like to discuss your specific communication needs and adaptations to free you to work at your best, contact one of the OT's listed on our directory for a free consultation to see how they can support you to self-advocate for your needs!