True story... some time ago on LinkedIN a senior manager of a fairly well known firm was taken to task about the acoustic and visual environment of his newly renovated open-plan office floor.
Because it was a sensory nightmare to anyone on the autistic spectrum.
"They'll have to learn to power through it".
It's difficult to put into words how profoundly ignorant and unhelpful that kind of comment and attitude is.
Sad to say, it's fa more common than you'd like to think or believe.
I get it. I really do. It must be hard when you meet someone who's maybe smart and talented and seems to have it all together but somehow can't quite come up to your expected standards of behaviour.
It must be easy to fall into the trap of thinking if only they tried a bit harder. You know, maybe "grow a pair" and "man up".
And, trust me, it'd be great if we could somehow learn to "power through" this shit and all the other difficulties we have navigating the NT world.
Do you think we want this kind of assault on our senses?
Do you think we don't want to man, up, grow a pair, and "power through" it?
We're autistics, not masochistic.
But we can't. Depending on how severely our symptoms present themselves, we can be quite literally incapable of fitting in
Thing is, it's not an equal. An autism-friendly environment is also an NT-friendly environment; but the reverse is not necessarily true, because an NT-friendly environment.
Why should you care?
Because the chances are the law does, or will at some point if it doesn't now.
One day, someone will file suit about this under some disability legislation or other. And they'll almost certainly win... because from where I'm sitting it's not a lot different from providing an accessible toilet, a wheelchair ramp, or Braille signs and labels...
... and every firm out there is going to be caught with its pants around its ankles.
Now, before you start... that won't be me. I won't be filing suit and I won't be involved in any campaign, either. It's not in my nature to petition government to force anyone to do anything. I don't expect the world to chance for me though force and coercion.
But what I am working for is people to change because it's in their rational self interest to do so.
And it is.
Because while we might be wired up in a different way from the majority of your employees, once you make allowances for that and approach us in the ways we can understand, that very same wiring can make us invaluable when it comes to solving problems in the workplace.
Think on this: if you want different answers you need people who can think differently. We don't just think outside the box; we don't have a box.
Look, I've worked in Corporate Britain. I know the challenges a typical office culture and environment bring; and I also know the scant support we autistics get. Worse, than that, our differences often lead to exclusion, ostracism, and even bullying.
And it's a crying shame (not to mention ugly and vile), because if we're allowed to grow in our own spaces we can bring untold benefits to a company.
When you work with me, my partner in crime, Vicki, and I look at your business from two angles:
- Culture — how the challenges autistic people face are catered for in the company culture. For example, we Aspies are often seen as being rude because of our unflinching honesty and frequent lack of affective empathy. This can cause friction and unpleasant working relationships for all. Our aim here is to work with you to mould your company structure and culture to enable smooth working relationships between autistic and neurotypical employees.
- Environment — how the employees' surroundings measure up in terms of light quality, sound, and other sensory stimuli which can make working and interacting with their colleagues all but impossible. It's all well and good having your bright, shiny new office, but if your autistic employees struggle to keep things on an even keel whenever they're sitting in the middle of it, you can't possibly be getting the best out of them.
But wait! There's more!
Because it's not just offices and businesses who are letting autistics and themselves down.
Let me explain (another story coming up).
I travel a lot.
And because I live in Ireland, it means flying.
And airports are unbearable.
So are railway stations, shopping malls, supermarkets, bright, busy hotel lobbies, and so on.
Because architects, designers, and construction firms pay scant regard to anything beyond aesthetics, energy efficiency, and whatever the latest fad is for environmental-friendliness is that week.
Some time later you'll see them making a big song and dance about how they're going to make their buildings suddenly "autism friendly".
Great sentiments, to be sure, but a little late, methinks. You don't make a shopping mall "autism friendly" by dimming the lights and turning the music down (that helps, but is too little and often too late).
So if you're in the business of designing or building these kinds of places... talk to us.
I get it: you might think the 1.43% of the population we autistics represent isn't worth the hassle. But you'd be wrong — an autistic child can man an entire family avoids the mall (or airport or hotel or wherever); not only that, but other neurodiverse populations — like those with ADHD — can struggle similarly.
Best thing of all?
Even neurotypicals would prefer a quieter, less bright, and less stimulating environment.
To discover how we can help your business, message me here and we'll arrange a time to talk.
Jon McCulloch, The Evil Bald Genius
Author, speaker, business owner, and autism advocate