Proud to be autistic
Emily Elsworth, Autism Trainer and Advocate
When and how were you diagnosed as neurodivergent?
By the end of 2019, I was really struggling with my mental health and none of the approaches tried were making any difference. As a last resort, my GP referred me to my local Community Mental Health Team. It was during my appointment with them that the fact that I was potentially autistic was brought up. After doing a mock assessment, it was decided that they were 99.9% sure that I was autistic. In November 2020 I finally received my autism diagnosis.
How does being autistic impact you?
I have found that being autistic has impacted me differently as I have got older. The one way that being autistic always impacts me is with communication. I find communicating in social situations really challenging, I’m not sure when it is my turn to speak in groups and by the time I am able to speak, the conversation has moved on to a different topic. These challenges also impact the methods of communication I am able to use. I am far more comfortable with written methods of communication or being about to see the person I am speaking to in a 1:1 situation. Using the phone is something I find really difficult and impacts my anxiety and energy levels. Being autistic also impacts my sensory sensitivities, in particular relating to sound and multiple light sources.
What are the best things about being autistic?
I am extremely proud to be autistic as I see all my strengths coming from being autistic. I pride myself as being a very open, honest person which I see as an autism trait, whilst this is usually passed off as being rude, this is simply honesty. I am also good at seeing details that other people wouldn’t and this is really helpful in the workplace as it can be a great strength to have in terms of problem solving. My hyperfocus and interests means that I have an in depth knowledge of certain topics.
What are the most difficult things about being autistic?
Despite this there are some difficult things about being autistic. As well as the challenges that have an impact on me mentioned earlier, I find that one of the most difficult things is the attitude of neurotypicals towards autistic people. I find that there isn’t always enough understanding of autism out there so whilst some are very supportive, there have been several occasions where I have been treated like a child, talked over and generally dismissed. Whilst this is difficult to experience, this just makes me more determine to make a difference.
Have you had any challenging experiences in the workplace as a result of being autistic?
I have experienced challenges with being autistic in the workplace. Understanding the unwritten rules within a job can be very confusing and difficult to navigate along with the communication difficulties made interacting with colleagues makes any staff room interactions particularly challenging. I have found that last minute changes are very common within workplaces which I have always found really difficult to cope with. On one occasion I remember rehearsing what was going to happen later in the day and just before we started, I was informed that what we had rehearse had been changed but no one understood why I got so upset by this. I have been unable to stay in jobs longer than 2 years due to the extreme burnout that I have experienced after masking in work and trying to navigate workplaces not designed for autistic people.
Do you have any tips for employers, managers and colleagues to better support autistic people?
The tips I would give to workplaces supporting autistic people is that they don’t need to think of these adjustments as a completely different way of working but simply making small changes to current working practices. Some of these changes could include having regular 1:1 check ins, allowing for flexible working hours, allow working from home, set clear agendas and expectations for meetings and the role itself, and adapt the sensory environment.