A little (but important) Q&A

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Since my last post I have had a couple of questions in my blog comments which I thought I would answer in a blog post:

Are you autistic, I thought you had SPD?

Okay so here’s the thing. I was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) aged 8.

Over the years I think I have slowly come to the realisation that I might be autistic as I have a lot of little traits and sort of signs that point towards it. Many autistic people struggle with sensory issues but I’d never really thought about it the other way round – what if people (like me) with sensory issues actually sit somewhere on the autistic spectrum…?

Here are some traits that I or others have noticed in myself:

  • I have a very literal understanding of language and find jokes and sarcasm hard to understand.
  • The world can seem a very unpredictable and confusing place and I prefer to have a daily routine so I know what to expect each day. I hate change / new things and always react badly to them. I can cope better if I can prepare for changes in advance. For example: I would happily eat the same things everyday if I could and I always found it difficult to move from one school to another and onto university.
  • I find holidays or anytime off work very difficult and upsetting. I have to make routines and to-do lists to form a sort of schedule to live from.
  • I experience over sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light, colours, temperatures and pain. This is referred to as sensory sensitivity.
  • I am often unable to understand and express my own needs and become upset and overwhelmed very easily.
  • Autistic people often have repetitive and restricted interests. I find I am specifically drawn to (and love) police/crime/medical documentaries and TV shows (I even did my uni dissertation on UK policing!).
  • I seek out time alone when overloaded by other people. I find social situations an absolute nightmare. I try desperately to fit in and have a ‘fight or flight’ reaction to them.

(This list goes on and I have left off some more private/personal problems I struggle with that I am not comfortable listing on the internet!)

I have recently seen a psychologist who believes I am autistic and that I do have autistic traits. She feels I would sit somewhere on the autistic spectrum and encouraged me to go forward for a formal diagnosis. I have recently been contemplating whether it would be beneficial or not for me to be assessed but as the NHS waiting list is months long I would have to pay privately for this.

There are a lot of self-diagnosed autistic people out there. And I think for the time being I might be one of them. Autism really sums up my difficulties well into one easy to say ‘label’. I realise this may sound bad, but I don’t want it to come across that way.  Saying ‘I am autistic’ really helps me to explain my difficulties to other people quickly without explaining all my sensory and daily living problems.

Hi. Do you think you could do a post on occupational therapy? 🙂

Of course! Sorry if it seems like I’m rambling:

I’ve tried lots of different therapies such as Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and therapy sessions with CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health service, NHS, UK) however I found these unhelpful and these made me feel worse. I have found Occupational Therapy (OT) to be the most helpful form of therapy.

The main problem I find is that UK doctors are not very clued up when it comes to sensory problems. This is a real shame – although some doctors are fab. I was referred to an Occupational Therapist as a child which was when I was diagnosed as having SPD. OT referrals are only offered to babies and young children in the UK and the service seems to stop as soon as you get any older. Once you are a teen/young adult/adult you only seem to be offered talking therapies like CBT.

I have seen an OT privately before (although this can be expensive it was definitely beneficial). The main thing my Occupational Therapist taught me when I was a child were fine motor skills like being able to cut with scissors, grip a pen/pencil, etc.

However the main thing OT’s focus on is this: de-sensitisation. It’s all about slowly learning to de-sensitise yourself to sensations you find hard – like touch. I was taught about body brushing. I totally recommend looking up something called the Wilbarger Protocol (a form of Brushing Therapy) you can read about it here. It’s a brushing therapy that helps people desensitise their body (that you can do at home) – also the brush can be bought online through Amazon and isn’t expensive! You should ideally do this under the supervision of an OT to make sure you are using the right technique but these instructions are helpful if you want to try it out for yourself.

I used to find it incredibly difficult to brush my hair and teeth. Although I still absolutely hate brushing my teeth I am able to withstand the vibrating motion of an electric toothbrush in my hand which is great as I now my brush my teeth much better even if the sensation is still quite tricky. I am also able to brush my hair – I apply a firm/heavy amount of pressure which really helps me.

Also I totally recommend reading the book ‘Too Loud Too Bright Too Fast Too Tight’ by Sharon Heller

I recommend also looking up Sensory diets (and weighted blankets!) and reading my posts here about how these have helped me:

Do feel free to continue to ask questions in the comments of my blog and I will always try to answer them as best as I can. 

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Autistic in the workplace

The super lovely Alaina Leary (A Boston-based “Swiss army knife” of publishing and digital media skills) tweeted a few weeks back asking her followers how could employers help support autistic employees in the workplace. I reached out and below are the questions I answered on the topic. Read the full article here.

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What does inclusiveness and accessibility mean to you in the workplace?

  • It means being understood as a valued team member / employee but having my difficulties and accessibility needs taken into consideration so that I am on the same level playing field as everyone else. I want to be able to work as time-efficiently and effectively as everyone else but I just need a few accommodations in place to help me do this well.

What are some of the challenges facing autistic people who are in traditional workplaces, particularly due to a lack of accommodations or accessibility?

  • Less awareness or willingness to learn more about people with autism and their difficulties
  • Less likely to understand how the work environment affects us and how simple accommodations can really help

What can employers, coworkers, hiring managers, HR departments, etc. do to better support autistic employees?

  • Give autistic employees more time to process things for example: more time to read through and sign forms.
  • A quiet place/room/environment to work from. Open plan offices can be difficult as they can be quite noisy and distracting places to work in.
  • Maybe provide mentors for weekly or bi-weekly catch-ups as just having someone to chat to about work and what you need more help with can be very helpful.

What stereotypes or myths have you come across about autistic people that affect how autistic people are treated in the workplace?

  • Stereotypes of being very slow to understand and complete tasks sometimes.

Can you give me a specific example of different things that help you succeed in the workplace? Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had to ask for your workplace to be made more accessible to you?

  • Wearing noise cancelling headphones or earphones.
  • Asking people to remove their fluorescent bike jackets from desk hooks around the office as sensory-wise these are super bright and distracting to me!
  • Everyone wears in-earphones and listens to their own music rather then have one loud office radio on which works well.

Are there any common workplace trends that you feel employers need to re-think in order to make the workplace/office more inclusive? (For example, Skype interviews or open office plans)

  • Open plan offices can be very distracting and noisy – quiet break-away rooms could be a great step forward – just to get away from the loud environment if you need to concentrate on work properly.
  • Skype interviews or over the phone interviews can be difficult as it’s hard to understand facial expressions, tone of voice, long questions (which I always need to hear repeated again). Although a face-to-face interview is very intimidating I feel more comfortable asking for questions to be repeated and being able to hear and see the interviewer properly.

Have you ever worked remotely, or do you have anything to say about the benefits of working remotely or flexible working hours for autistic employees? 

  • I have worked remotely / have flexible working hours which does help to split up my time / days between different environments. I do miss out on team discussions and meetings if I am not in which can be difficult to catch up on as I wasn’t in the room at the time!
  • Benefits however are: I can choose my hours so I can work earlier or later in the day to suit me / how I feel.

Thanks to Alaina Leary and do go check her out on Twitter!

Also check out my previous blog post on ’10 things I wish my employer understood about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)’