AUTISTIC NICK IS HEADING BACK TO THE OFFICE AND HE’S NERVOUS
For 3 long exhausting months I have been seated in front of my computer, facing my camera, and staring into a square of a Zoom call and now it’s all come to an end.
At first it was like being a small child at Christmas or on their first birthday when it’s all exciting and new and it’s a brand spanking new experience and the word “Zoom” becomes the buzz word for the longest time.
I remember being crushed by an email that was sent out from work informing us that unless we were an essential member of staff then we should work from home.
Up until that point, that moment I had prepared myself for going back into the office environment.
Then the email of doom came, and I slouched back into my desk chair and sighed and then probably cried and then had a nap.
I think that my expectations verses reality wasn’t the same thing and that I wasn’t sure how to process and then mentally and emotionally deal with being rejected.
I don’t mean like going on a date rejection or a job rejection, it was more like being rejected from and prevented from heading back to the office.
Up until that point anticipation hung in the air like a thick layer of humidity, for weeks. It like I had known what was coming, but like most things in life I was unprepared for it.
Confirmation didn’t come through immediately but when it did, I shrunk back into a tearful ball of unhappiness.
This is all sounding very dramatic, isn’t it? Well in some respects it is.
And initially I was ok with the idea of working from home, but then my inner thoughts took over and I began losing control over what I was thinking and feeling.
For me as an Autistic person I am finding being in the office once a week a hugely beneficial experience.
I get to build and work on my communication and interaction skills with my work colleagues.
But since I have been told to work from home, I am feeling a huge sense of despair.
Communicating and communication as an Autistic person is a daily struggle, I first have to contend with maintaining eye contact which in itself is a huge obstacle to overcome.
A place where I’d come to be aware of, the layout of the office, where the kitchen was, where I sat, my surrounding area, my environment, how I greeted people, what was going on inside my head as I passed through a sea of people.
Because when you’re at home, I abandoned everything that I had built up by going into the office.
I didn’t have to engage in a conversation with someone, I was a lone person, I had my weekly Zoom meeting and then as long as I did my hours, I was ok.
But I was in fact losing all of my abilities and skills that I had built up, now fear was sitting in, and I needed to take fear out and for it not to come back.
And by taking out I don’t mean to lunch I mean taking it out and killing it, burying it deep under the earth.
I don’t want to be ruled by fear. I don’t want to enter the office and be paralysed by fear.
I have enough happening inside my head without fear being present.
Once the email came through that we were finally after being in the wilderness of working from home, slowly allowed out of hibernation and we could start coming back to work it took me some time to work out how that would look from an Autistic perspective.
I needed to make a list and remember my four-tier approach that I use at work.
I already have my four-tier approach that I attempt to follow to the letter, although I sometimes forget and slip back to my Autistic traits of avoiding eye contact all together, and abandon it at the side of the road, speeding off in my car hoping never to see it again anytime soon.
MY FOUR-TIER APPROACH
For me, making eye contact can make me feel awkward and uncomfortable. I find it distracts me from listening to the person who is talking to me.
My strategy for overcoming this is to look at some place on that person’s face that is close to the eyes, but not directly into the eyes.
This can be a person’s eyebrows or hairline.
By implementing this I don’t come across as not listening and appearing rude and I can fully focus on the conversation because I don’t feel uncomfortable or distracted.
Allow for pauses in the conversation, to give them me time to think and react and vice versa. You can read more about communicating here (https://autisticnick.com/2018/07/19/being-autistic-the-ins-and-outs/)
Be aware of challenges that I face with reading social cues. Autistic people may not understand facial expressions, body language, hidden implications, or hints—it depends on the individual. It helps to be clear about your thoughts and feelings.
KEEPING TO THE POINT
Stay away from allusions, metaphors, or any abstract statements.
Autistic people in general will not be able to interpret any kind of communication that relies on reading your internal emotional state or any kind of subtext.
Keep your sentences short and direct.
The pace of the conversation needs to be at a level that the Autistic person can maintain.
A handy guide covering all of the above can be found here (https://autisticnick.com/2018/03/23/how-to-talk-to-an-autistic-person/)
So far, I am attempting to look at you directly and read your facial expressions as each week I make it a goal of mine to at least have held a conversation and come away without causing unnecessary offense or read the room or the situation wrong.
All this work that I had put in with the help of my occupational therapist has all come crashing down around me with the stroke of a composed email.
I now live in fear that all this hard work will spectacularly come undone and when/if it’s possible to return to the office I won’t know what to do and how to hold a conversation.
How can I build up these acquired skills that I have when there will be no one to communicate with?
I am also going to have to remember how my day was structured heading back into the office.
HOW MY DAY WAS STRUCTERED
- I would come prepared with potential article ideas.
- My mentor and I would have a meeting at 10.30am to discuss those ideas and to see which ones would work best in an article.
- Nick to go away and research, email potential interviewees, etc.
- The mentor to come and check on Nick at 12.30 pm to see what progress he’s made.
- The mentor will be my first contact, if they are busy then my boss and editor is the next person I can go to for advice/help.
- Before Nick leaves for the day, he and his mentor will have a quick meeting to discuss what stage of the article process Nick is at.
- My boss/editor has also informed me that I can as long as I give notice work from home and they will check in on me via Zoom.
- If Nick feels overwhelmed, he can email/text either the mentor or the boss just to let them know that he’s heading outside/to his quiet room.
I text my support worker and booked them to pick me up, drop me at work, pick me up at the end of my shift and then drop me back home.
I felt my breathing easing slightly which settled my anxiety and my nerves a little.
I then located my backpack and rummaged through it looking for my staff pass, (which I found Arielle!!)
I then gathered up my other key sensory items so that I am packed and prepared for Tuesday morning.
It’ll be weird/strange going back to getting prepared for work the night before, but I feel I can achieve this.
I’ll have the support of my support worker, I can work on my nerves/breathing techniques, I know that I can always head to my sensory room at work or go for a walk.
There are people in the office that I can rely/count on if I need them.
I have the skills and knowledge to identify if I am being overwhelmed, about to have a meltdown, panic attack etc.
CARRY ON THE CONVERSATION
Thank you for reading and I will see you next time for more thoughts from across the spectrum.