As I write this article I am sure that many of my colleagues on the Autistic Spectrum are struggling to process the new ‘normal’ that has befallen our societies globally. For many of us on the Autistic Spectrum dealing with change in itself is a challenge that many of struggle with on a day-day basis. For many of us dealing with changes in routines of schedule can heighten anxiety and stress. Change for many of us, particularly at this uncertain time has put us out of sorts, because it interrupts our routine.
I particularly, like many others on the Autistic Spectrum thrive on routine. When I used to work in London I would always without fail catch the 7.17 train from where I lived into work. I knew that if I caught this train I could get to work for half 8 and be able to prepare and plan myself for the day ahead. Any disruptions to this routine would make me stressed, anxious or worried for the day ahead and this could often have an affect on my work performance as a consequence.
For many neuro-typical people they have the coping skills and mechanisms to deal with change in a way that many of us on the Autistic Spectrum simply don’t possess. However, for people such as myself on the Autistic Spectrum, dealing with change can be challenging to deal with and deeply unsettling, as our processing ability is often longer than our neurotypical counterparts. We often find it harder to accept that in the workplace, things do not flow in a natural order or in the way we expected.
For many of us on the Autistic Spectrum the world at times comes across as a myriad place of confusion and unpredictability, for which we lack the control and certainty which helps govern our lives.
I know of many stories of Autistic people who thrive on the consistency of a daily routine and minor changes to this routine can cause significant distress and anxiety. Just simple changes as I alluded to earlier in getting a later train or missing the bus that you intended to travel on can be a stressful and anxious process for many of us on the Autistic Spectrum. Even eating the same cereal can help insert some predictability into our working day.
Our need for routine and sameness at work can extend beyond this, triggering an extreme reaction to changes in surroundings, routine, and people. For example, an employee with Autism may be upset by changes to a physical environment, such as a different layout of office furniture or being moved to a different part of the building which may be unfamiliar to them. In previous jobs that I had done before it was always pressed upon me that I had to hot desk in the workplace. I absolutely hated doing this and when I found a space in the office where I felt comfortable and relaxed I tended to sit there for as long as possible without getting noticed by my line manager. Changes in personnel can also be a real problem for those on the Autistic Spectrum. For instance, in one role I did I had the same line manager for about 6 years and we got on really well. When he left I struggled to build a relationship with the new manager because in part I struggled with the change of having a new manager to report too who wasn’t my old boss.
However, supporting an employee with Autism with the change process need not be a complex process if handled correctly.
· For schedule changes, give a person on the spectrum advance notice, if possible, and provide guidance on renewing priorities and adjusting their schedule accordingly.
· For last-minute meeting changes, provide a list of options that the employee can follow, dependent on the length of the delay, such as taking a few minutes of down time.
· If there is a more significant change such as a move to a different office or a change in manager, help the individual see what will remain the same, then explain what might be different and work together to address concerns.
· Allow the employee to ask questions about the change and address them, even if they seem trivial.
· Keep in mind that for an individual on the spectrum, the differences in small details may cause the most anxiety.
· Give them the opportunity to emotionally re-regulate by allowing them to go for a walk or a cup of tea to process the change.
· Take them on a visit to a new office to familiarise them with the change prior to the change occurring.
Thank you for reading today and please visit our website at www.advancethedisabilityconsultants.co.uk