This post is part of a series exploring the challenges of (and hopefully some tips for surviving) working in corporate America as an undisclosed autistic.
Change can be challenging for anyone, but for autistics in particular, change can be deeply unsettling and difficult to deal with. Most notably are changes in routine. Many of us develop coping skills to help deal with change, but sudden change can still throw us for a loop or into a meltdown. This can be quite the challenge when it comes to the workplace, as, for many businesses, change is one of the few things that can be counted on. Yet, some of these changes may have minimal effect on autistic individuals while other changes can seem world shaking, and it may not be the changes neurotypicals would expect.
Last week, it was announced in my department that one of the major functions of my team will be changing. This hit me hard. It will completely change my daily routine at work. Yet, when I attempted to ask for clarification from my supervisor, I was ganged up on and talked down to until I stopped talking. I proceeded to escape to the bathroom to meltdown and barely made it before I couldn’t hold it in anymore. Yet, it’s been days since this incident, and my supervisors still refuse to discuss the coming change.
Changes like this can be challenging for anyone, but as an undisclosed autistic in the workplace, this is huge for me. My entire daily routine will be changing and no one will provide any answers about how this will feasibly work. I have made a lot of efforts over the reasons to do better with changes in my routine, but it is still something struggle with. It is made all the more difficult when I am refused the information that would normally help me cope.
For the autistic people reading this, there are some ways we can help ourselves cope with change, if we have the means to. One of the strategies I use the most is doing run-throughs in my head prior to the change taking effect (though that requires getting the information I’m being refused). Another method to help with coming change is to focus on what isn’t changing. Try to make a list of all the things that won’t be changing, whether they’re work related or home related. Hopefully you will find that while the change you are facing may be big, that there are many other things staying the same that you can cling to for normalcy.
For the allistics (non-autistic) people reading this, there are things you can do to help the autistics in your life cope with change. One of the biggest things you can do it to be upfront about the change and provide as much information as you can. Allow for questions and answer the best you can even if the information seems inconsequential to you. When the change actually goes into effect, have understanding that your autistic friend/coworker/employee may seem a bit off for a while. They may struggle with tasks that are normally easy for them. They may be more susceptible to sensory overload. Check in with the person and see what you can do to help. If you have ideas of specific ways you can help, off these suggestions as a blanket offer of help can often be daunting whereas specific offers are easier to process (“Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” vs “Would it help you if we talked through the change again” etc.).
Change can be challenging and scary. Being as prepared as possible can help negate some of the more difficult aspects of change for autistic people. If we can work together when changes arise, things can work a lot more smoothly.
Hopefully, when all this change at work goes through, I’ll make it through ok.