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World Autism Day: Embracing differences makes work better for all

  • Posted on April 1, 2019
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
world-autism-day-2019

Editor’s note: April is World Autism Month, and to honor this month, we are eager to share the words of Senior Analyst Ashley Wetzel. At Avanade, we frequently talk about the importance of inclusion and diversity because we value different ways of thinking. As Ashley points out here, disability is sometimes left out of that conversation. Her decision to share her experience strengthens our community as one of many perspectives.

When I was two and a half years old, my parents noticed that something was off. I never spoke my own words, played with other children or looked others in the eye. My parents suspected that I was autistic. They were right. After contacting the local school district and a children’s hospital, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

I grew out of repeating other peoples’ sentences and practicing repetitive play. Despite that, my disability is still present in my day-to-day life. ASD is a developmental disability, so its symptoms do not disappear like those of a common cold. Instead, these symptoms persist in all aspects of life for those on the spectrum. This extends to the workplace.

It’s possible to have a fulfilling work life if you’re on the autism spectrum. The needs and accommodations required vary for each person. In writing this, I hope that my experiences provide insight on some ways to be inclusive at work.

I know I am blessed in working for a company that can accommodate my needs so that I can be successful in my career. What does this look like? More than the average person, I struggle with fidgeting, sensory issues, and understanding nonverbal cues. When I go on a new project, I reach out to my project lead and my career adviser about my needs. We then collaborate on setting up project accommodations.

These small accommodations help me succeed in each project and reach my full potential in my work. For example, I write in a notebook during meetings to control my need to fidget. I’m also able to leave my desk or a meeting when I have a sensory overload attack; usually, I go outside for a few minutes to calm down before returning to work.

Accommodations go a long way, but they alone do not build an inclusive workplace. Awareness of autism can lead to a better understanding of what people with such disabilities experience, but it’s hard to create such awareness when disability is so rarely talked about. Without awareness, people understandably feel an awkwardness discussing the topic, and then they feel an awkwardness around people living with disabilities. This barrier in communication prevents all of us from doing our best work.

Barriers exist in other places as well. My disability sometimes prevents me from partaking in social experiences that I would like to enjoy. Recently, I tried to attend a goodbye party for a coworker, but after a few minutes in the noisy bar, I felt myself experiencing extreme sensory overload and had to leave. When this sort of thing happens, not only am I disappointed that I couldn’t spend more time socializing with my coworkers, but I also worry that they think I’m being rude.

Certainly, there have been efforts made to accommodate those on the spectrum. But there is also still so much work to be done to best meet the needs of those with disabilities. My words here are meant to serve as a jumping off point. I hope we all begin to discuss disabilities and the challenges that surround them more openly. Ask questions. Seek understanding. With candid and honest conversation, we can continue to make Avanade a more inclusive community.

If you want to learn more about ASD, there are awareness groups that you can follow. These include:

These nonprofit organizations listed in this article are suggested by the author and are not affiliated with Avanade.

Wais Hossain

Wonderful read Ashley! I'm happy you could share your experiences and be open about having this conversation. There's so much I don't know and am glad you were able to inform us of your own experiences.  

April 15, 2019

Neelam Naik

Thanks for sharing Ashley, to educate us (specially me) on all the challenges you had to go throw growing up. Look how far you have come. I'm very proud of you!

April 12, 2019

Madalyn Scipione

Ashley - I truly appreciate you sharing your story. I have a 12 year old son who is on the Autism spectrum and your story provides me hope that he will have amazing opportunities in his adult life. I strive to continually educate my community and his peers on how Autism does not define him but it is just part of what makes him, him! Wishing you continued success at Avanade! 

April 12, 2019

Dennis Glendenning

Looking forward to hearing amazing things about your career, we're lucky to have you!

April 12, 2019

Ashley Wetzel

Thank you, Dennis. I'm looking forward to see how things go, career-wise, as well. 

April 30, 2019

Naser Barcham

Thank you for sharing! 

April 11, 2019

Ashley Wetzel

Thank you for commenting as well.

April 30, 2019

Tom Hoglund

And don’t forget parents in the workforce with children on the spectrum. They need flexibility, understanding and support if their workday sometimes gets disrupted when they need to help their child.

April 10, 2019

Ashley Wetzel

Hello, Tom. This is true! I believe we should offer amenities like flexible scheduling (in case something happens at school) in order to meet those parent's needs. 

April 30, 2019

Jeremy Cazares

Thanks for sharing Ashley!  Very brave of you to share more about working with ASD at Avanade, and to educate us all on the challenges you face.  I haven't had the privilege of working with you yet, but I am sure your perspective and expertise adds a lot of value to the projects you work on!

April 10, 2019

Ashley Wetzel

Hello Jeremy, thank you for your kind words! Hopefully, we have the chance to work together on a project sometime. Either way, thank you again for your comment.

April 12, 2019

Rachel Maloney

This is an amazing article, thank you for sharing your story with us!  I worked as a therapist for children with autism for 15 years, so I enjoyed reading your story to better understand what your day to day work life is like from your perspective.  You are truly and inspiration!

April 10, 2019

Ashley Wetzel

Hello Rachel, thank you for your kind comment on this article! I'm glad that you enjoyed hearing from my perspective. I find it really cool that you worked as a therapist for those with ASD. That work is difficult, but know that it's well valued. I benefited a lot from the therapists and PCAs that I saw as a child. Thank you for your hard work there!

April 12, 2019

Linda Jackson

Great article, Ashley, thank you for sharing your experience and it's great to hear you succeeding at Avanade.  It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and write an article like this, as well as having to continually work out these small adjustments on each project. I really appreciate that we have awesome people like you in our workforce and you bring special abilities to work. Go you! 

April 8, 2019

Ashley Wetzel

Hello, Linda, thank you for commenting as well! I appreciate your enthusiasm for seeing different people and experiences at Avanade; my hope is that we can see more awesome people coming in and sharing their abilities and experiences too! Thanks again.

April 10, 2019

Jude Wren

Thank you for sharing.  

April 3, 2019

Ashley Wetzel

Thank you too, Jude!

April 10, 2019

Ralph Babusci

I had the pleasure to meet Ashley at an Avanade event in Chicago and found her to be very insightful and articulate. So glad to have her on the team!

April 3, 2019

Ashley Wetzel

Thank you very much, Ralph! It was nice meeting you too at the Makeathon tables 13/14! I wish we had more than 1.5 days to talk to everyone and draft our solutions, but there's always next year...

April 10, 2019

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