Pursuant to our conversation on the week before Christmas, I had another meeting with my boss last week to discuss my work progress. I wanted to make use of this opportunity to show my boss what I’ve done over the past few months and my work plans for the coming months. In addition, I wanted to persuade my boss again to allow me to work from home. Before that, I bought a book titled Recognising Asperger’s Syndrome by Trevor Powell in the university bookstore which I thought might be useful as it has a short section on work stress and sensory overload. While The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome by Tony Attwood does have a chapter on sensory sensitivity, it doesn’t specifically address the work environment and I don’t think my boss would be interested in reading the whole chapter so I’ve been looking for something short and concise that would show that sensory sensitivities are a real issue for autistics and that I have legitimate needs to work from home.
I spent the night before coming up with bullet points of what I was going to say and when the day arrived, I was nervous. We haven’t talked since that night I took off quietly after the executive committee meeting. When I returned to work on Wednesday, after Boxing Day, the boss was in the office but I couldn’t tell what kind of mood he was in, he didn’t seem as chatty as usual and the office seemed to have a sombre atmosphere, presumably because a number of colleagues were on leave during the last working week of 2017. On Thursday, the day we were supposed to talk, I was debating if I should wait for him to approach or I should head into his office to ask if he would like to resume the conversation we had about the project. I knew he had an important meeting in the afternoon so that might not be a good time to ask. I’ll just wait for him to come out from his room. I hate interrupting others because I know how annoying it is to be interrupted at the middle of work therefore, it makes me anxious at the thought of knocking at someone else’s door unannounced, be it my boss or someone else’s. My empathy can become a source of anxiety. In this situation, my anxiety was heightened because of what was at stake. Later my boss did came out to talk to me but not about the project, which made me wondered if he has forgotten about it.
After lunch time and before the boss headed back into his room, I finally picked up the courage to ask if he would like to talk about the project and we then spent the next 10 minutes to go through it. As we moved on to my work plans for the coming months, I told him I would like to start working on the written report as soon as possible even though our data is still incomplete and this is where I need his help. I could do the coding of data in the office because this is rather straight forward but for the written report, which requires analysis and organising, I need to do that from home because I cannot think and write well in an office environment that comes with many sensory distractions. I then showed him the page I have photocopied from the new book to support my claim.
After my previous failed attempts, my boss has finally agreed to give it a try, allowing me to work from home once a week. I tried to suggest twice a week but I didn’t want to push too far. It’s more important that I use this opportunity to demonstrate that I can be more productive at home. At the end of the meeting, I asked if I have clarified his questions and took this chance to explain that I haven’t been “hiding”, to use his word. What did he actually mean when he said I was “hiding”?
According to his reply, he told me not to take that statement too seriously. That’s a relief or is it? Should I take his answer seriously? Was it an imaginary elephant I saw? Has it been dealt with? Is it gone? I believe there will be more of this misunderstanding to come in the future but the crucial thing is we are both learning and trying to understand each other better. For my part, I want to do my job better but I also want to increase the level of autism awareness in the office, that’s one of my personal agenda.
It is true that not every one on the spectrum requires their workplace to make accommodations for them. For anyone considering to ask for workplace accommodation, you would have to weigh your options carefully. In my case, these are the reasons for my repeated attempts at requesting for accommodations.
- Leaving aside the debate of what is reasonable, it is my legal right to ask for reasonable accommodation and my employer has a legal responsibility to provide reasonable accommodation.
- Related to the issue of what is reasonable, every workplace is different and it depends on the nature of your job. In my case, I don’t think it is unreasonable as the work I do doesn’t require me to work physically from an office and could be done remotely elsewhere.
- Raise autism awareness and understanding.
- Self-care and damage control. I have to be my own advocate because no one else is going to look after me, hence, I need to be firm and set boundaries.
- As I work in a mental health related organisation, it should set an example on good workplace mental health, even if that means challenging their existing practices.
For many of us, we have to fight for our own well-being and future, which is exhausting and disheartening at times but life is no pain, no gain. I’m off for a vacation with my parents to Thailand this weekend so I might take a week off blogging or have a scheduled post next week. I hope to take this opportunity to wish everyone good health and may your hard work pays off in the new year! May we continue our efforts in supporting neurodiversity and all the best in 2018! ❤