It’s Autism Awareness Week!
For the occasion, I will share my experience of autism on the workplace. With some specific about Cockroach Labs, since I work regularly with that crowd.
Last year, I was looking inwards and sharing my own experience. This year, I am looking outwards.
Instead of thinking about autism, try imagining: what would your life be if one of your co-worker’s eyes were glowing in the dark? Or they had a bad case of dandruff, but their dandruff was scent-less, sterile rainbowed glitter? Or they had knee-long hair growing from their hands?
What this is:
Funny? Probably a little bit, at the beginning.
Scary? Maybe a little bit, at the beginning.
Inconvenient? you bet!
An advantage, even a secret superpower? More so than you can imagine.
Something you need to care about?
There will be occasional adjustments needed, depending on circumstances. But you (as a person new to autism) will likely accept this eventually and adapt where needed.
What this is not:
- Unwanted - there’s no choice in the matter, so “want” is meaningless.
- Undesirable - there are serious advantages that outweigh the inconvenience.
- Unmanageable - there’s plenty of evidence to the contrary.
- Is it abnormal? Maybe the first time you meet a glitter-producing person, you’ll think “that’s odd”. By the time you meet the hundredth, it’ll be “meh.” Look, neurodiversity is a thing. Everyone in a workplace has diverse psychological situations and life circumstances that make them special in different ways. Autism is just another dimension.
- Is it a disability? Think about glitter again. Given how inconvenient glitter is, it’s easy to think about it as a disability. But it’s manageable and often doesn’t incur extra societal costs. Autism in some ways is like having one’s heart grown on the right side instead of the left. When it matters, it matters a lot; the rest of the time…
It’s only been since the 1990s that the medical community has learned to diagnose autism well, and then only in reaction to oddities experienced by parents of small children. In fact, many autistic adults older than 20-30 today do not know they are autistic. Their doctors, when they were children, didn’t know as much. This is a tragedy.
Living with autism without knowledge of it is like living in a water world, and you’re a little bit shorter than everyone else. You stand on the ground under water but you have water up to your nose, while everyone else is at least a head above water. If you stand on your toes all day, you appear normal to everyone else, but it is exhausting for you.
In that context, not knowing about autism is like not knowing that there are podiums or high soled shoes you can stand on. Standing all day to not drown is called masking for autistic adults. Most of them know how to mask, without even realizing that nobody else has to mask like they do.
Missing out on autism awareness for an autistic person is really missing out on support—knowledge, skills, experience, and minor adjustments by their peers—that can make one’s life tremendously, durably easier.
- do’s: put your own emotions into words as your autistic co-worker may not be able to read body language or social clues. Embrace and accept stims. Inform yourself. Be an ally.
- don’t: talk about someone’s autism without their explicit permission. Associate autism with intellectual disabilities. Mis-attribute behaviors to autism.
Autism and COVID-19?
The grocery stores are empty and thus quiet.
The streets are empty and thus quiet.
It’s socially acceptable to stay home all day.
Not going to lie. Autism does make “social distancing” slightly easier.
But we miss our friends and family too. There’s no replacing companionship.
Previous episode: Autism challenges on the workplace (2019).
So what do you think? Did I miss something? Is any part unclear? Leave your comments below.