World Autism Day: Embracing differences makes work better for all
- Posted on April 1, 2019
- Estimated reading time 3 minutes
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.