Categories
autism Balkans decision making holiday hyperfocus loneliness masking social skills university

Balkans Roadtrip

I’ve just got home from a roadtrip across the Balkans with my two high school friends. We booked our flight to Budapest back in December so for a long time the trip was simply referred to as Budapest 2022. Then we went on a trip to Dublin at Easter and gained a trip mascot – Kevin the carrot. We created a Kevin the carrot Instagram page called Kevin’s crazy carrot adventures so spent a lot of the trip getting content for it. A group trip is something I never really thought I’d do but I really really enjoyed it.

This picture was taken in Bosnia at the Tara Canyon. It is the second deepest canyon in the world and we had a 6 hour rafting trip down it.

Countries visited: 7

Number of days: 18

  1. Budapest, Hungary
  2. Ljubljana, Slovenia
  3. Lake Bled, Slovenia
  4. Hochstuhl, Austria
  5. Belgrade, Serbia
  6. Sarajevo, Bosnia
  7. Tara canyon, Montenegro
  8. Split, Croatia
  9. Trogir, Croatia
  10. Zagreb, Croatia

This trip isn’t really something I ever thought I would do for a number of reasons:
It was very poorly planned
I get stressed when I have to spend to much time with people
We were constantly changing location

This is a view of Lake Bled in Slovenia.

A lot of these points are relating to my autism and I will explain further below. 

It was very poorly planned
For autistic people, lack of planning is a big issue. We like to know all the big W’s – who, what, when and where. We all had exams until 1 week before the trip though which is where the planning problem came from. It helped massively that I had exams to focus on first. I’m a very all or nothing/ black and white style thinker so whereas I used to need to know exactly what I was doing, I am now a very in the moment person and struggle to think ahead to the future – which provides a planning problem on the other end of the scale. Luckily, as we were travelling before school holidays, it didn’t matter that we were last minute. We did it all very systematically:

  1. Decided how long we wanted to go away
  2. Which countries we wanted to visit
  3. How long we wanted to spend in each country
  4. Which places we wanted to go to in each country
  5. How we would get between cities

We left the daily itinerary to when we got there but had a good basic plan. I really didn’t mind this because my main issue with lack of planning is wasting time and not having anything to fill a time slot however, I took my laptop meaning that in the time that the others spent faffing, I could work yet still be available to contribute to any decision making. In the past I think I’d have just got very anxious at the empty time spent unsure of what the plan was. 

I get stressed when I have to spend to much time with people
The main reason I don’t like spending too much time with people is because I get exhausted from socialising. Despite this, I found I was fine. I think this is because I went away with a group of friends who I have known for a very long time so can be myself around them and don’t have to mask. This relieves most of the strain of being with a group of people for a prolonged period of time. Additionally, a lot of the time we spent together was walking which is far less intense. 

We were constantly changing location
This is something that in the past I would have found very stressful because I like knowing that I have a ‘safe place’. Despite this, I find now that as long as I have my phone and laptop with me on a trip I’m fine. This is mainly due to the fact that it means I have a sense of normality in that I can work. It probably doesn’t make sense but it just provides a constant and something that I’m in control of. I am someone who likes to exercise as a way to relieve any stress so it really helped that most of the days were spent walking around. Our trip total miles were 255! I do think my friends got slightly frustrated that my solution to everything was walking. Lost? Don’t bother with Google maps, just walk and you’ll get to an important landmark eventually. Too hot? Just walk. Too tired? Walking will energise you. 

So overall, it was a great trip and I had an amazing time.

This was taken on the way up a mountain, at the border with Austria.

Top tips:
1. Don’t get night buses to save money, they are really busy, you won’t get any sleep and it’s much better to get an early morning bus. The bus from Sarajevo to Split was one of the most scenic rides I’ve been on and I had a whole row of seats to myself. 
2. If you are in a group of three or more, it’s often cheaper (and more pleasant) to rent an apartment. 
3. Splitwise is a great app for logging shared expenses. 
4. Most of the touristy attractions are quietist early morning and late afternoon. 
5. As long as you have access to a washing machine, you can manage with a small rucksack for 3 weeks. 
6. Using a monzo travel bank card means you won’t get charged for using a card abroad. 
7. Most cities have apps for buying tickets both for the airport shuffle bus and in the centre. 
8. Make sure you always have a snack supply. 


Categories
autism masking smalltalk social skills university

Social hangover

I was always someone who thought that being alone was when I was happiest – which makes sense. I would always choose being alone over anything else because socialising would have such a negative impact on me. I wrote this poem titled ‘social hangover’ to describe how it feels. 

Social hangover

The morning sun seeps in
Splintering clammy skin
A wave of humid heat
Through curtains paper thin

Sharp scatterings of narratives
Pangs to a sluggish mind
Burning larynx
Chords severed, left behind

Stuck stagnant in a dry throat
Static embers of last night
Reeling in an uneasy stomach
The acidic bite –

Of unheard words
Boiling turbidly in the brain
A throbbing,  aching
Social hangover pain

Whispers of memories
spiralling deep in my head
The soft comfort of hiding
Under the bed

Anticipation 
Participation
Rumination
Repeat.

I think this poem depicts how it feels to be autistic and navigate social situations.

You may get from this poem that the main issue I had with socialising was the overthinking that comes from it. I would always feel anxious that I’d said or done something wrong. I think that having time during lockdown to learn to accept myself and the way I am really helped me to embrace spending time with people without feeling guilty about doing things wrong and making social errors. It means that I can socialise now without overthinking as much.

So I’ve gone from someone who despised socialising to someone who actually really values social interactions. Obviously the whole sensory side of things can still be an issue but I’m quite good at managing that.

Categories
autism masking social skills Uncategorized university

What would I be, without my autism?

I’ve not posted in a while but I’ve been super busy with work, volunteering and Uni. I got the news that I passed my exams this morning which is great and I’m pretty happy with the way my life is going right now. I just thought I’d write a bit about something that I’ve been thinking about quite a lot recently.

I think once you gain an autism diagnosis, it’s a constant learning process. There’s always more to learn about it. After all, it’s a very complex condition that exists on a spectrum so there are many different ways that it can be experienced by other people. So the more and more I learn, the more and more I get these realisations of ‘ohhh, that’s why I’m like that/ behave that way’. And then on the converse, the more I think ‘wait a minute, is my ENTIRE personality and identity autism?’. Now you may be forgiven in assuming that it doesn’t matter either way – which is possibly true. However, do I really want my entire identity to be autism?

Personality is defined as:

The combination of characteristics or qualities that form an individual’s distinctive character.

While identity is:

A person’s sense of self, established by their unique characteristics, affiliations, and social roles.

I think it’s important to note that anyone, regardless of there disability or condition, will exhibit different personalities. Some people are very individualistic with their disabilities, others identify with the condition and feel proudly part of a group. I think it’s hard to know whether something is an autistic trait or a personality trait and often there is a big overlap. For example, I am a very happy person and get very easily exited by things. Some people would describe me as being like an overexcitable puppy. So my question is: Is my personality a happy go lucky one or, do I just see and feel things very intensely as a consequence of my autism?

We can broadly speak of autism using the analogy of a sportsman. Yesterday morning, I cycled to a nice little spot on the river and had a lovely swim. I was thinking about how much I loved my bike and how I would struggle to live without it. Life just wouldn’t be the same. We can say the same about autism. If the cycling is taken away from a cyclist, that part of the person will no longer be. Just like if you take the autism away from an autistic person, that part of the person will also cease to be. Cycling makes up a massive part of a cyclists life – it’s what they do. Without it, the thing that makes up there identity is gone. It’s the same with autism I think.

Personality is much to do with peoples perceptions and how they respond and react to different things and a lot of autistic people react similarly to certain external stimuli. It could be thought of as like a cake. Imagine you have different options of base eg. Chocolate sponge, vanilla sponge or carrot cake. And then you can also choose sprinkles, fondant icing or buttercream frosting. Imagine that all autistic people have the same base ie autism. However they can have different toppings because there’s extroverted autistics and introverted neurotypicals. Some base and topic combinations are more common than others but that doesn’t mean that either is a given. Neurotypical people can have the same toppings as autistic people just like they can have the same traits.

Photo by Ahmed Aqtai on Pexels.com

That’s not to say that my autism isn’t connected to my personality. Because it is. It is a big part of my individuality. However, I do think that there is more to me than my autism. It is a part of me but not all of me.

This kind of links into whether we use person first (person with autism) or identity first (autistic person) language. Person first language distinguishes clearly between the person and their disability – however many people argue that there is no need for autism to be separated from the person. I think the issue a lot of people have with person first language is that it kind of gives the impression that autism is an accessory. A bit like a handbag that you can just leave at home if you want. Really, autism can’t be cured or just used as an accessory, it’s a neurological difference that affects someones day to day life. You could argue that person first language would require you to say ‘person with gayness’ or even ‘person with masculinity’.” This wouldn’t really make sense. Some people prefer person first language whilst others prefer identity first language. I don’t really have a preference so long as people see me as more than my autism. I feel like often, when I tell people I’m autistic, they can’t see beyond it. I think it’s mainly due to stereotypes and lack of education. Hopefully in the future, this will change.

But to conclude – I think that my autism makes me me. It has caused me a lot of struggles in my life but also a lot of successes. I think that over time, I have learnt to flip the coin and use my autism to my advantage rather than let it be a negative. This has actually come from learning about autism and how it relates to me and my individuality in great depth. I know exactly how it effects me and exactly how I can manage those effects.

Categories
autism masking smalltalk social skills Uncategorized

Small talk

I saw something on instagram a few days ago that labelled smalltalk as:

Noise pollution

For autistic people, this is a common belief. Autistic people are known for hating smalltalk, often going great lengths just to avoid it. For example, avoiding people they know in public, just to avoid smalltalk. Smalltalk often occurs in everyday interactions with acquaintances and people we don’t know. And there is good reason for such an endeavour as small talk is something that is not always done on your own terms and doesn’t exactly achieve a defined goal. It is very much superficial and neither party really gets any information of substance or use from each other.I think it is likely one of the reasons autistic people are often labelled as being so intense – because we often drive into the deep, meaningful conversations straight away.

According to the Cambridge dictionary, small talk is:

Conversation about things that are not important, often between people who do not know each other well.

However, looking more in depth reveals that actually, smalltalk isn’t actually about the context of the conversation but more to do with social connection. I always hated smalltalk. It made me uncomfortable and gave me the desire to just leave the conversation. Despite this, I’d say I’ve got the hang of it now as I understand its purpose more. It isn’t about the content of the conversation, but the context and connection. Additionally, having everything online during COVID really helped me to develop my skills in a “safe” environment ie. behind a screen.

Photo by Tim Douglas on Pexels.com

I think that one of the reasons smalltalk was so beneficial in the past is because it signalled that people were not intending to be a threat to each other. In some respects, this is still relevant to today. If people don’t engage in smalltalk then they could be perceived to be unfriendly and therefore a threat. For example, a few days ago, I was waiting at the bus stop at 2am and it was only me and one other person around. If we had just stood there in silence, then we would possibly have viewed each other as a threat but a simple and superficial question of “Is this where the national express stop is?” meant that we knew we had a common motive.

If we think about it a bit deeper, small talk should be easy for autistic people. It is highly predictable. Almost like playing a game where each player knows the next move. People can have an entire conversation without even having to share any information of substance.

Beyond this, small talk can be termed as “social lubrication” and a mutual agreement for people to coexist. It can provide the means to slide into deeper topics and potential friendships. It is the way that we give people first impressions and make new friends and acts as a funnel into deeper relationships. It is highly important in the world of work for networking and there are a lot of courses out there to help business people perfect their skills in smalltalk as it can be the difference between making lots of money or very little.

So, now we have established the importance of smalltalk, how can we get better at it?

  1. Be prepared for common questions

Like I said above, smalltalk is highly predictable and a lot of topics of conversation are often those that are equalisers. For example, the weather is a great thing to talk about as it is something that everyone experiences the same.

Other common questions include: What do you do? Where are you from? Why are you here? What was your journey like? etc

When you first meet someone, you could start with a direct opener such as “Hi, I’m Finty, I don’t think we’ve met before?”

Then you could ask open ended questions that the person can’t just answer yes or no to. Things like “Have you ever been here before?”.

  • 2. Active listening

Show the person that you are listening by responding to them appropriately. For example, by nodding your head, leaning in slightly or saying things such as “uh-huh” or “mmm”. This way, you are showing the person that you care about them and giving them a good impression of yourself.

  • 3. Practice

Whether it be through playing out scenarios in your head or making a conscious effort to speak to one stranger each day, practice makes perfect!

  • 4. Learn how to get beyond the smalltalk stage

Really pay attention to what other people say and latch onto any personal information they give. A good rule of thumb is to tale one piece of personal information, give some information about yourself and then ask one question. eg. If someone says they like sports, I could say “I love sports too! I’m a runner, what sport do you do?”. This way you can get to know a person more and get beyond the smalltalk.

  • 5. Plan your exit

It may seem contradictory but I know that personally, as long as I know that I have an easy get out, I am okay with doing something that makes me uncomfortable – such as smalltalk. One of the worst parts of small talk is worrying that you might be trapped in a conversation forever. Knowing that you have an escape just helps you relax a bit more.

You could say thinks such as: It’s been great chatting with you. Maybe I’ll see you again some time” or “Sorry to rush off. but I hadn’t realised the time!” or “It was lovely to meet you. Have a nice day!” or “Sorry but I’m gonna have to dash off to another meeting!”.

Categories
autism decision making loneliness social skills university

How to get better at socialising as an autistic person

People with autism don’t tend to have the best reputation when it comes to social skills. Autism is primarily a social communication disorder so wether it be due to inability to read people, to understand social cues or make eye contact – as a person with autism, socialising can be very stressful. Despite this, I know many autistic people who thrive in social situations and in this post, I want to try and understand why.

Photo by Kindel Media on Pexels.com

Things you may be doing wrong

  1. You don’t know what skills you need to work on.

If you don’t know where you are going wrong then you can’t possibly know what to work on! Once you’ve identified where you are going wrong, you can work to push yourself to overcome them. For example:

  • If you get anxious making phone calls, try making one in the next week.
  • If you find yourself interrupting people when they are talking, challenge yourself to let people finish what they are saying before you talk.

2. Not socialising with the right people

I used to think that I was rubbish at socialising but when I came to uni and joined societies where people with similar interests went, I found that actually, I’m okay at socialising. I just needed to find the right people. People are generally nice and will accept your differences just as you’d accept theirs.

3. Not socialising in the right place

I find that if I meet up with people in groups and indoors, (for example in a cafe) I really struggle to participate in conversations because I can’t focus on everything that is going on at once. When I arrange to meet people, I often suggest going for a walk as I find it a lot easier to talk as there is less pressure and it is more acceptable to have periods of silence.

4. Dwelling on negative thoughts and overthinking

It is very easy to spiral into thinking about what you are doing wrong and ways you’ve messed up when reflecting on social situations. However, it is important to practice self compassion because everyone makes mistakes! Rather than overthinking things you may have done wrong, learn from them. Identify where you’ve gone wrong, think about how you can do things differently next time and move on! This is easier said than done, but by focusing on thinking about what you can do going forward rather than what you have done wrong, you are doing something positive and proactive.

5. Not getting on with people

Sometimes, you may perceive people to not like you or sense friction when really, you are just misinterpreting them. Some things you could do to get over this are:

  • Learn about other cultures. Friendships aren’t all about similarities. Sometimes you’ve got to appreciate differences too. Look up documentaries, exhibitions or books on different cultures so you can understand them more.
  • Keep and open mind and try not to jump to conclusions.
  • Ask questions – Rather than saying “You’re wrong!” ask “How come you think that?”

Ways to overcome these problems

  1. Study other people

Socialising is an art and is just one of those things that is better learnt through observation than learning a set formula. Think about:

  • What is their body language and eye contact like?
  • How do they make people feel?
  • What do they talk about?
  • What are their energy levels like compared to the other persons?

2. Visualise

Another thing you can to to improve your social skills is visualise certain scenarios and play them out in your head. It links to the above paragraph because you can visualise yourself doing the things that a ‘good’ socialiser does.

3. Active listening – encourage people to talk about themselves.

Active listening is a really good skill to have and will make people want to spend time with you. I actually did an active listening course a few years ago that really helped me. Some top tips are:

  • Show that you are listening through your body language. For example, make eye contact, nod occasionally as they talk and lean forward slightly.
  • Listen to non verbal cues. Are they rubbing their eyes because they are tired? Crossing their arms in defence? Or maybe they are just smiling.
  • Try to focus on listening and not preparing your next question while they are speaking.
  • Say ‘yeah’ or ‘uh huh’ to show that you are listening.
  • Don’t try and solve their problems, just offer a listening ear.
  • Ask questions relating to what they’ve said or repeat or paraphrase things back to them eg. ‘It sounds like that made you really upset…’

4. Start and end the conversation right. To start the conversation:

  • Ask a question eg. ‘How’s your day going?’
  • Ask for their opinion eg. ‘What do you think of the new….?’
  • Give a compliment eg. ‘I love your t-shirt! Where’s it from?’
  • Make an observation about the surroundings eg. Isn’t the wether great!’

Then to know when a conversation is over:

  • Summarising statements eg. ‘Well, I hope it works out for you!’
  • Short pleasantries eg. ‘It was great spending time with you!’
  • Mentioning meeting again soon eg. ‘We should meet up again to do this again!’
  • Referring to other commitments eg. ‘I have sooo much work to do later!’

Non-verbal signs include:

  • Packing up belongings
  • Looking at their watch or a clock
  • Appearing distracted

Hopefully these tips will help you have better social interactions!

Categories
autism decision making employment hyperfocus obsession Uncategorized university

Why Autistic People Make Good Employees

Looking at the traits most commonly associated with autism, you could be led to believe that autistic people and employment don’t go very well together. However, it is important to remember that although autistic people struggle in some respects, they also have many strengths and good qualities that can be very advantageous to employers. Autism is a spectrum and no autistic person is the same, meaning people can present very differently. Just like neurotypical people, every autistic person will be more suited to some jobs rather than others. I think it is really important that autistic people are given a chance in the workplace, as well as the appropriate adjustments. Below are some reasons why.

  1. Alternative perspectives & logical and creative thinking

People with autism tend to be very good at problem solving and take a logical and structured approach to work. This, coupled with creative thinking, allows autistic people to think up alternative approaches to things – which can be really beneficial. We are both resourceful and innovative. I think for me, my mind is constantly on the go and if I’m asked to do some brainstorming, I will come up with a multitude ideas. Maybe not all of them will be useful but I will keep them coming until a solution is formed. We are also good at seeing crucial things that may have been overlooked.

  1. Loyalty, reliability and punctuality

Autistic people love routine so once they are settled into a job, they will usually stay there for a long time. Similarly, due to this need to follow strict structure and routine, autistic employees are very likely to stick to time limits and be punctual.

Photo by Monstera on Pexels.com
  1. Focus and concentration

One so called negative autistic trait is the fact that we easily get obsessed with things. We can easily shut everything else off, just to focus on one thing – which is great if it is something to do with work! It means that we will often be devoted to projects and therefore do them to a very high standard.

Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n on Pexels.com
  1. Sense of right and wrong

We tend to have a very good sense of right and wrong. We will often fight for justice and not let things go until we get them. I think this often stems from our black and white thinking.

We are also very honest and, although our bluntness can sometimes be an issue, we will bring up problems in the workplace that other people may prefer to just avoid bringing up. Personally, I think this is good in terms of a workplace developing.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com
  1. Knowledge and specialist skills

Many people with autism develop special interests. Their thirst for knowledge can often mean they can become experts in their area of interest with an in depth knowledge of the field. This is great when working in an area where this specialist knowledge can be applied.

Photo by Caio on Pexels.com
  1. Ability to do repetitive tasks

Often, people with autism find repetitive tasks enjoyable. In a chaotic and overstimulating world, repetitive tasks bring calm. We can do the same thing for hours on end, without losing concentration and making mistakes. We can happily do jobs that other people would find tedious and boring.

Photo by Tiger Lily on Pexels.com

Categories
autism employment university

How to keep down a job as an Autistic person

In my previous article, I gave some tips on getting a job as a person on the autistic spectrum. But what about when you’ve secured a job? How do you keep it? Work is hard for the majority of people and for autistic people, despite the skills, knowledge and positive attributes autistic people bring to a workplace, it can be particularly challenging and be filled with barriers to overcome.

The main issues with employment arise when employers don’t recognise these barriers or subsequently attempt to remove them.

The main reasons that people with autism may struggle at work are:

  • Overwhelm
  • Anxiety about change
  • Difficulty dealing with change
  • Work environment
  • Lack of awareness

Overwhelm

If you’ve had a job before, it’s likely that before starting the job you had to complete and array of admin tasks – all of which can be overwhelming and require significant organisation. Signing contracts, providing bank details, national insurance number, background checks completing forms etc…. If you’ve never done these tasks before, it can be really hard knowing where to start and how to find all the information.

I remember when I started my job in the warehouse, I found it really stressful having to source all the information for the forms. I found that the best way to do it was to create a checklist and focus on one point at a time rather than trying to do it all at once. I now keep all the important documents and information in one place to make the process a lot easier in the future.

Photo by Polina Tankilevitch on Pexels.com

Anxiety about change and issues coping with change

Autistic people tend to really struggle with change. This is because they use routines and rituals to try and cope with the chaos and distress of everyday life. Keeping things the same gives some sense of control. A new environment can really disrupt this. For my most recent job, I work remotely meaning there were a lot fewer changes to contend with.

Before employment autistic people might have lots of questions such as:

  • What will I do as soon as I arrive at work?
  • What will my colleagues be like?
  • What will the work environment be like?
  • Will I have to stay overtime?
  • When will my breaks be?
  • What if I get overwhelmed?

The list goes on and it can be very easy to get stuck in a cycle of overthinking about these things. When I started my job, the thing I was most worried about is what the actual job would be like. I was lucky in the fact that my partner at the time started at the same time as me, which gave some form of sameness and comfort as we were in it together. Additionally, the first week was classroom based and gave us a really good introduction to the job and gentle easing into the warehouse work.

Something that can be done beforehand is to request that employers give (if they haven’t already) clear guidance on what can be expected in the job role, working hours, what the general day to day structure is like etc. You could even ask for an opportunity to visit the workplace prior to starting to be introduced to colleagues and the environment. This can really help with visualising what the day and routine will be like in order to aid the transition.

Settling into the new job and environment can be really hard however there are some things that can aid the transition.

  • Ensuring people know your preferred method of communication. If you prefer written instructions or instructions given separately then tell people!
  • Develop a plan for how you are going to prioritise certain tasks.
  • Sometimes it can be useful to ask for the personal profiles of colleagues. In the most recent job I had, we had to all create personal profiles with key facts about how we communicated and what we found annoying.
  • Some employers may offer mentors to give support.
  • Ask for clear guidelines on what the rules are and what is ‘acceptable’.

For example, I always thought that the half an hour break at the warehouse started from when you left the chill but it turns out that the majority of people started it after going to the toilet and sitting down with food. This is an example of something that is ‘acceptable’.

Work environment

For many people, it is the work environment rather than the actual job that causes the most issues. This can be due to sensory problems. Many people with autism are more sensitive to sensory input than other people. Things like lighting, noise, smells and temperature can all cause sensory overload. One of the issues I have is having a conversation with someone when there is a lot of background noise as my brain seems to focus on the background noise rather than the person talking which can be problematic when being given instruction in a noisy environment as none of it goes in. I was quite lucky in my job as I find that a way to reduce overstimulation for me is exercise and my job required me to constantly be on the move.

If I was in an office space I think I would really struggle to work. I’m in the library at uni now, on the quietest floor yet there is still too much noise for me. Sniffing, clicking, typing etc… Luckily I have headphones.

Sometimes employers will be proactive. For example, if you work in a shop that gets busy, they may move you to a quieter area. Sometimes it’s important for you to be able to respond to your needs yourself or let your employer know that you are struggling. I used to start making a lot of mistakes in the warehouse when I got bored because my brain couldn’t process the information anymore so I would get moved to a different role.

It is standard for employers to provide opportunity for feedback and this is a great time to tell them what’s working and what isn’t.

Lack of understanding

Often, if colleagues don’t know that there is a reason for your peculiarities caused by autism then they may just label you as weird or misunderstand you and develop friction. Autism is called a hidden disability for a reason – many people don’t know that you are autistic until you tell them. If employees don’t have understanding of the condition, you will potentially lack the support you need from others. There are many unwritten rules in the workplace that can be hard to grasp. These rules vary, so it can be good to talk them through with someone. Additionally, many workplace break times involve a lot of smalltalk – which can be hard to grasp but some good topics of conversation are:

  • The weather
  • TV
  • Plans or the evening

It’s a good rule of thumb to avoid controversial topics such as politics or money.

If you can, it could be a good idea to provide your employer with some information to give to colleagues about how your autism effects you. Most workplaces offer disability awareness courses as well.

In my opinion, it is a good idea to disclose autism to an employer as they will the have certain duties to you. The main law that is relevant to you is the Equality Act 2010. It requires promotion of opportunity for disabled people. It means that you shouldn’t be discriminated against based on you disability and should be treated equally and fairly.

It also means that you should be given reasonable adjustments. 

Reasonable adjustments

Reasonable adjustments are changes that employers make in order to best help you carry out your role. They can include:

  • Having your own desk.
  • Enforcing a policy that avoids people being noisy near your workstation.
  • Agreeing an alternative dress code due to sensory sensitivities.
  • Allowing flexible hours.
  • Allowing noise cancelling headphones.
  • Allowing you to start early and finish later to avoid rush hour.
  • Putting communications in writing.
  • Being given advanced notice regarding changes.
  • Extra training.

Some useful resources:

You may be entitled to extra financial support as an autistic person in employment: https://www.gov.uk/financial-help-disabled

practical and financial support can be provided to help you start or stay in work https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/access-to-work-factsheet/access-to-work-factsheet-for-customers

Equality act 2010 https://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents

Free advice on workplace rules and rights https://www.acas.org.uk

Categories
Uncategorized

Getting a job as an autistic person

This is going to be the first post of a series on employability for autistic people.

A report by the Office for National statistics gives a shocking statistic that just 21.7% of autistic people are employed. This shows that the majority of people with autism are unemployed. Autistic people have so many strengths that they can give to society, so why do we have so many issues with gaining employment?

  1. Lack of access to opportunities

One of the biggest factors in getting a job is being able to prove that you are well qualified for it. This is often achieved through past experiences. There is a definite lack of schemes that allow autistic people to gain skills that are required for work. The schemes that there are in colleges are often for the most well performing students only. Additionally, the education system pushes a lot of people into pursuing a uni degree when actually, there are a lot of other options! Especially in things that you may have a special interest and excel in!

I think autistic people can really benefit significantly from work experience and internships. These experiences provide opportunities for autistic people to develop their abilities as well as gain pints to add to their CV. However these are often highly competitive and require a lot of effort to secure.

Volunteering is a great way to get round this. It opens up so many opportunities for employment. Charities always looking for new people it looks great on a CV as well as being a good transition into work. Volunteering at St Catherines hospice was a great way for me to prove that I had the communication skills and dedication required for my degree and it really helped me develop my people skills. When thinking about starting volunteering:

  • – Think about what interests or excites you.
  • – Think about what time or skills you can give.
  • – Research
    you can:
  • 2. The recruitment process

Often, job advertisements are wordy and full of jargon that serves to deter autistic people. Questionnaires that ask you to rate how much you relate to certain characteristics are often misleading and hard to fill out. Often job skills are listed that aren’t absolutely necessary for the job meaning they are misleading.

For example, I worked in a warehouse for just under a year – A job that would be great for most autistic people however in the job description, it listed teamwork and communication s as a must. I very much think that you could get by without being particularly strong in those areas – There are much more important skills that should be focused on. Someone could be the best team worker in the world and not last a day in that place because of the fact the work is so repetitive. So don’t get put off by job descriptions!

Sections on application forms that allow you to disclose a disability are useful because employers are obliged to provide reasonable adjustments to overcome potential barriers or disadvantages. In my opinion, it is better for employers to know because sometimes, if you are attempting to mask your autism, you could come across as shifty or being ‘not quite right’ which may put employers off as they can’t quite put their finger on it. If they know that it is due to autism then it won’t effect the interview. (Plus it is good for them if they can prove that they employ a diverse range of people)

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

3. The interview

The interview is usually the hardest part of the process for both neurotypicals and autistic people alike.

Interviews are heavily orientated around social skills and first impressions which makes things harder for autistic people. Making eye contact, understanding verbal and non-verbal cues, knowing when to stop when answering questions, thinking in abstract ways and coping with the different environment.

The environment is a massive factor when it comes to interviews. They can be highly overstimulating in an already stressful situation and lead to an autistic person underperforming. Things like the noise of a busy work place taking your focus away from meeting the interviewer for the first time, bright fluorescent lights giving you a migraine, the smell of the receptionists perfume in the waiting room making you feel ill… These are all things that can render you unable to perform at your best.

One thing that I am really grateful of lockdown for is the fact that all of the interviews for things I applied for were over phone meaning I could focus on the questions at hand rather than an overstimulating environment. I had a lot less to focus on because I couldn’t see the interviewer so my answers were better.

Now, post COVID some interviews may be in person again. I think a good way to prepare for interviews is by watching a variety of videos online of people being interviewed and practicing their mannerisms. If I was to have an in person interview, I would make sure to prepare by making a checklist of worries to tick off before the day eg:

  • Do I know how to get there and how long I will take to get there?
  • Do I know how long the interview will take? Is it split into sections?
  • Do I know what time the transport home will be?
  • What am I going to do after the interview?
  • What is the dress code?
  • What will happen once I arrive? Is there a reception desk?
  • What questions might they ask?
  • Who will be interviewing and how many interviewers are there?
  • How can I answer general questions such as ‘tell me about yourself?’?

Some of these may not sound important but things like knowing what I will be doing after the interview are really helpful for me as I really like to know what I’m doing and when so if I don’t have a plan for the rest of the day, I will be thinking about it during the interview. Some of these questions are things you could ask the employer in a nice email.

A reasonable adjustment some people may have is having someone in the interview with them, to rephrase difficult questions. Some employers may also offer work trial periods. A good thing to look up may be the the Kickstart Scheme which is open to people that are aged 16-24 that are currently claiming Universal Credit and are at risk of long-term unemployment. They provide support in gaining employment. 

A good place to find good general interview advice is at prospects.co.uk

Top 5 tips

  1. Think about what you are passionate about and research jobs in that field – enthusiasm counts for a lot in an interview!
  2. Consider getting some volunteering experience.
  3. Try to think about how you can relate things you’ve done in the past to skills that are required for the job you’re applying to.
  4. Get some interview practice.
  5. Be communicative with potential employers about any reasonable adjustments you may need.
Categories
autism decision making hyperfocus loneliness masking obsession Uncategorized

Autism and the need to be busy all the time

In my previous blog I mentioned that in order to overcome my loneliness, I tend to make myself really busy in order to feel like I have a sense of purpose. I thought I’d unpick that a bit more.

Just to put things into context – A few weeks ago, I had a two hour exam, followed by a meeting with a charity I’m a youth campaigner, a two hour meeting for a peer research job I have followed by a meeting with an environmental group I’m part of. And then, after all that, I still had to log some hours of work. So, when I say I’m a busy person – I really am!

Photo by Tara Winstead on Pexels.com

I just feel like I function well in chaos. Everything I need to do is constantly whizzing round in my head. I like it like the though. It’s like my head is constantly being pulled in all directions. I don’t so much get stressed but excited. I think the emotions are very similar and my body confuses the two meaning I am not so much effected by having so much on my plate but rather in a constant state of being happy and looking forward to things.

I’ve not seen much online about hyper productivity and autism but I’m sure it must be common. In society today, I think it is extremely easy to be pulled into the trap of trying to find purpose. We are generally taught that we are valued by how we contribute to society rather than the value we give to our own lives and those closest to us. There are pressures from all round to be productive and as an autistic person, prone to take things to the extreme in order to appear normal – hyper productivity occurs.

A while back, I tried to change. I tried to do less. It didn’t go very well. I figured out that the issue wasn’t in the things that I do, it was in the way I did them. I am very prone to attempt to multitask but I think what I’ve learnt is that it is better to give my attention to one thing only, rather than multiple things at once – whether it be with studying or spending time with friends. I find that the more busy I get, the more busy I want to be.

There are two sides to the coin of being really busy and motivated to do things. It can be a bad thing. When I first started Uni, I really struggled with prioritising the things I needed to prioritise. I was clinging onto the things that had kept me busy throughout lockdown when really I should have given them up. I think that it was my way of coping with the change of moving out because it gave me a sense of normality while distracting me. I always that because I hadn’t reached burnout yet that I was fine, however I wasn’t devoting energy to the things I needed to.

So why might Autistic people be more prone to this?

Desire to fit in

I think a lot of the narrative in society, especially since the pandemic, tells us that we have to be productive all the time. Volunteering for things, even when our plate is already full. Making promises and having to rush tasks just to make it work. Being consumed by work all day every day. And then once you’re technically done with a something, you feel guilty for not doing more. It’s a vicious cycle. You judge yourself for what you haven’t done, rather than looking at what you have done. Yet being hyper productive is a way to feel worthy, fulfilled, and in control. And so you become obsessed.

Obsessive nature

A really common theme in people with autism is the obsessive nature. Obsessions give stability, security and control. Sometimes however, with people who mask a lot, we can fall into the trap of becoming obsessed with whatever is socially acceptable, just taking it that extra bit too far. Social media is definitely a place where toxic productivity festers, for example through tweets about spending the pandemic learning new skills and utilising every second. Many people focused on productivity during the pandemic. Many people felt afraid and uncertain so tried to gain control. If you are busy, you are distracted from fears of the future. It was all over – free courses online, really amazing experiences being offered online and widening access to things that we’d never have imagined doing before. But – How do you know when to stop? For me, that’s where I struggle.

Executive function

Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.  I’ve seen it described as having a role similar to a conductors in an orchestra. It manages and organises each musician. Tells them when to begin, how fast or slow, and when to stop playing. I struggle knowing when to stop things and when I’ve done enough. I get hyper focused and as a driven person, take on more and more.

 Hyperfocus

I think Hyperfocus is a less talked about autistic trait. It involves a person becoming fixated on a specific thing, topic or event. It’s more than just concentration. It can mean that we are extremely productive and get a lot done. I can go all day going from one important thing to the next, sending email after email that would take other people hours to write. It seems easy because I am just in this mindset of ‘go go go’. However all this does have its draw backs in that we have less energy for other things – often the important day to day things like admin tasks or keeping on top of washing.

Something that I have used to help me with this is time blocking – assigning certain times to certain things. I find it so easy to get lost in doing something that it gets to the end of the day and I realise I’ve spent far too long on one thing to the detriment of another.

Time blocking is a time management tool that divides your day into separate blocks of time. Specific tasks are allocated to each block. 

By setting reminders on my phone, I have to move on once the time is up. At first it was really hard to do because I hate leaving things unfinished and often my brain will keep looping back to the unfinished task but now, I just view notion (the app where I keep everything on my laptop) as a second brain so I can just tell myself that it’s okay because all the work I’ve done is still there, it’s not going anywhere and I can pick up from where I left off. Changing my view to this really helped me.

I think another reason I struggled with time blocking is the fact that I work best when I want to do something rather than when I’m being told I have to do it. What I tend to do to get round that is split all the tasks that I have to do up, and then give myself options that I can choose myself for each time block.

All of this has really helped me because before, I was consumed by my work and not balancing things very well at all. I was trying to just fill every minute with ‘finishing things off’. Now, I still fill every minute but I also have specific times for things like socialising, meeting people and running. And because I have specific times for certain things, I make sure to give my undivided attention to each thing I’m doing rather than trying to multitask.

Categories
autism loneliness masking

Autism and masking

I’m just starting this post with a quote that I find very important when thinking about high functioning autism.

“(so called) mild autism doesn’t mean one experiences autism mildly… it means you experience their autism mildly”

Adam Walton

It is very much relevant to girls on the spectrum who go to great extents to mask their autism in an attempt to appear “normal”.

Masking: When autistic people present or perform social behaviors that are considered neurotypical. 

I was diagnosed with autism in March 2016. It came about after my therapist suggested it. I remember her first introducing the idea to me and being quite shocked, almost offended. I didn’t see autism as something that people like me would have. When I thought of autism, I thought of the vulnerable and disabled people that my parents work with – not me. They work with autistic people so how could they not know? The therapist showed me a leaflet and told me to highlight the things that affected me in either green, amber or red to represent the extent to which they related to me. I was surprised to see that a lot of them described things that I experienced. Ultimately, it was up to me whether to be assessed or not and I just thought that if it could give me answers that I should go for it. I also knew that the people at school with autism got a lot more support than I was at the time. I wanted to be more supported because school was awful so any way to make it easier was a bonus. I would be able to access practical support and be able to advocate for myself.

I think if I had been diagnosed as a child, that perhaps things would be different. I may have been over supported and as a result, be less independent and more limited but as a teenager, I could have control over what support I was given.

I was involved very little in the actual assessment. They mostly asked my parents lots of questions about my development and childhood. My high school teachers also had to fill in a questionnaire. I was only there for a very short time. I was asked questions, had to do a role play and read a book. I remember before I got the autism assessment, my parents told me not to ‘pretend’ to be someone I wasn’t. I think they thought that I might ‘act’ autistic to get the diagnosis. I tried to act normal. I was told that there were no right or wrong answers but I knew that certain answers would result in a diagnosis and some wouldn’t. I struggled with the role play and also making eye contact with the assessor. I also felt quite nervous as my parents and someone else was watching through a one- way screen. I didn’t read any blogs, watch youtube videos or read books on autism before my diagnosis because I didn’t want it to influence me. All I did was read a leaflet given to me by my therapist. I wasn’t an expert in autism so I didn’t know the ‘right’ answers or relevant things to share with the clinicians. I was just myself.

I wasn’t surprised when I got the diagnosis because I’d known my whole life that I was different. I think that the biggest thing that my autism diagnosis has given me is being able to understand myself and know who I am. I have been able to reconcile with myself for growing up thinking the way that I was, was my fault. I actually think now, that it is more of societies fault for not accommodating for anyone different.

So why didn’t I get a diagnosis sooner?

It is largely accepted that there is a gender bias in Autism diagnoses with more males being diagnosed than females. I believe that there are many flaws in both societies perceptions of autism and also in the way it is viewed by health professionals. Many women go undiagnosed because they present differently to autistic men. Much of the indicators for autism don’t take into account gender differences in autism. Women are generally better at hiding their autism compared to men and are simply viewed as a ‘bit different’ or ‘shy’. For some people, living behind a facade is fine and they get by but for many women, it is exhausting to be constantly pretending that you are someone you’re not; only being yourself when you are in a ‘safe’ place. Women get diagnosed with every other mental health condition but autism because they are compared to the male representation. They gain labels that they don’t fit.

But the main reason…..

Masking

Photo by Egor Kamelev on Pexels.com

As said above, masking is when autistic people present or perform social behaviours that are considered neurotypical. 

Masking has different motivations in different people however ultimately it comes from a desire to fit in. Sometimes, things like personal safety can depend on masking and therefore a person needs to mask. It is often a subconscious effort: behaviours learnt by observing others, adjusting the way we speak to match the tone of others, learning through watching TV programme or practicing making certain facial expressions.

At school, I often felt different to everyone else. Micro insults meant that I changed my behaviours. Small comments led to me fine tuning my behaviour to eradicate anything that made me appear different. These habits became ingrained in me.

Some ways that masking may be shown is:

  • Forcing eye contact (This can be very uncomfortable and also make you appear shifty or on edge if it isn’t done right)
  • Imitating friends or peers (This is often detrimental as leads to loss of identity)
  • Disguising stimming (such as using leg jerking or nail biting as more socially acceptable stims)
  • Forming a mental bank of rehearsed social cues

The result of masking can be very detrimental to autistic people. It is utterly exhausting to be constantly repressing your true self and leads to a loss of identity as well as potential mental health issues.

So if the consequences are so bad, why do we mask?

  • To succeed in school or a job
  • Avoid stigma or bullying
  • To make friends
  • To fit in
  • To feel like you belong

Ultimately, masking is a reason why many autistic females go undiagnosed and if I look back at my childhood, it is apparent that I spent a lot of it masking.

Really, it is no wonder that my autism went undiagnosed. I was visibly a bit different but not different enough to warrant a diagnosis. Something needs to change in the autism diagnosis process to enable girls to get a crucial diagnosis before reaching a crisis point.