BLOG: Being Autistic In The Workplace

27/03/2024

Spectrum is an inclusive working environment, where we value and embrace individual differences and the different experiences our staff members bring to the table. Following Neurodiversity Celebration Week, and before the start of World Autism Acceptance Week (which commences April 2), we’re sharing a blog piece about autism in the workplace, written by one of our colleagues Lou:

“My name is Lou (pronouns she/her). Now in semi-retirement, I began working for Spectrum in December 2022 and work three days per week as a nurse prescriber at North Yorkshire Horizons Alcohol and Drug Service.

Many years ago, I received a diagnosis of autism. As part of International Autism Acceptance Week, 2-8 April 2024, I would like to share with you, how being autistic has helped me be who I am.

Until recently, I never thought that I could say “I am autistic” out loud to fellow colleagues, because people used to – and often still do, to an extent – focus on what were seen by non-autistic people as deficits. For example, having heightened sensory awareness was and can still be, looked upon in the negative, rather than being able to see advantages. There is a strong belief that autistic people lack empathy, which is frequently untrue. Often – and in my case – we can ‘over-empathise’ and feel the distress of another person so vividly that it can upset us. The myths around being autistic abound but, thankfully, media attention in recent years has helped cast light on the positives of being neurodivergent. It is just some of the “positives” that I want to tell you about here.

It is very common for people who are autistic to have special interests. One of mine is my work. It is possible to remain passionate about a specific interest for years, if not for life. I have had a fantastic career as a nurse and achieved things I am extremely proud of. I have had the privilege of working with many dedicated, talented people down the years. I gravitate towards such people and they, at times, have gravitated towards me.

Special interests can mean going into a hyper-focus mode, where the autistic person can concentrate for very long periods on something without rest, often forgetting to eat or drink, because the subject is so absorbing. This has been particularly useful when there has been a very complicated, detailed project to work on in my career. My work today involves repetition and precision in the clinical environment. The ability to focus and not get bored ensures that I can maintain the same high standard of clinical delivery to help people achieve their recovery goals, time after time.

I believe I have autism to thank for being quickly able to spot patterns – also known as systemising – and recognise when something does not fit that pattern. In my previous roles this has been valuable when writing or reviewing protocols, operating procedures or analysing data.

No two autistic people are the same, of course, but there will be traits that are more commonly found in autistic people. Being loyal, honest, consistent, and logical are a few qualities that are built into my DNA. and many of the people I know.

When I look back over my career, I can see that many of the scientists, doctors and nurses I really connected with, who were driven to develop better and better health outcomes, had autistic traits. These dedicated people pushed for change and improved health chances in the UK and abroad. Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who is a global authority in terms of autism awareness and research, says that, without autistic people, there would be no rockets to the moon or planets, there would be no computers or internet, or similar advances in other fields.

Autistic people have a lot to offer in the workplace. With greater awareness and acceptance, autistic people will begin to thrive and work to their full potential.”

 

 

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