I know that I can be “interesting” to work with. I won’t remember to ask you about how your kid is doing in school. Heck, it might take me a bit to remember that you even have kids. I won’t remember that you were out sick for a week and I should perform the social niceties of checking on you and making sure you’re okay and feeling better when you come back. I’ll pop up on your radar from nowhere and barely talking to you with an immediate issue and a ton of details and your brain will likely struggle to catch up because you’re generally not sure what in the heck is going on – everyone else will sort of lead you to their issues piecemeal, I just dump it on you all at once.
I also know that none of your managerial training classes have really prepared you for managing someone like me. I can’t speak for all autistic people out there, of course, but the ones I have met tend to be very self-aware of our limitations and shortcomings and mostly manage ourselves. I will come to you and tell you “I haven’t been doing this as well as I should have, here is my plan for fixing that behavior and moving forward”.
And, mostly, what they haven’t prepared you for is that I am not going to understand soft double speak that is often talked about so much in these classes on “how to have soft skills managing people”. Please don’t waste time trying to hide criticism of my performance in compliments on unrelated areas. I do best when we just talk it out and I’ll even usually admit to you straight up where I’m not up to par just yet. There’s no need to butter me up, these conversations are necessary to improve my performance and I don’t put much emotion into them.
I also know that I can be a challenge because of my unrelenting respect for rules and “how things should be done”. I’m really not good at seeing where the grey areas fit into a procedure. I am supposed to do X for Y reason, therefore in all situations where X comes up, we need to make sure it is done in precisely the right manner. I usually won’t realize the nuances that make this situation that needs X slightly different so we can bend Z rule just a tad. Bending rules isn’t my thing. Rules are rules and I am very rigid about them.
On that note, I also realize that it can be hard to manage someone as reticent of change as I can be. I will pretty much always bristle at new and unknown things and struggle to adapt.
All of this is to say that I understand that managing me, an autistic individual, can be a challenge for you. There are almost no courses in the management curricula to teach you how to properly lead the neurodivergent with respect and dignity. So please, don’t take this as a harsh criticism, and understand that I do have empathy for your position.
Hopefully you are a good leader. Having read that I understand that the resources available to you are limited, a good leader would be thinking “okay, so what can I do to help you with your struggles to allow you to bring your best self to work?” or, y’know, something along those lines.
It’s somewhat straightforward.
Judge us by our KPIs and not how much social schmoozing we do. It doesn’t matter how many times you tell me in a performance review that sometimes I come off as rude when I forget the social niceties. I won’t remember. I’m not trying to be rude, I actually try very hard to remember these seemingly asinine rules of the social world and office setting, but they are as natural to me as breathing underwater is to humans in general.
If you had an employee in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t hold the fact that they aren’t helping move heavy boxes up and down stairs against them, right? No, because that would be incredibly obvious outside of their abilities. Sure, we could accommodate if moving boxes was part of their job. Elevators and holding them in their lap, but if it were just a one-off office setting “let’s move some decorations so we can decorate the office” it wouldn’t even cross your mind to judge the person in the wheelchair for not flitting down the stairs to the figurative basement to get the boxes off of the high shelves. It would be absurdly ableist.
So, bringing it on back to autism, the social “norms” aren’t our norms, many of us can mask enough to just seem somewhat awkward and reserved, but as long as our job performance is still rocking, does it and should it really matter that I forgot that you a) had a little Johnny and b) he was sick with the flu last week? Does this really negatively impact my ability to do my job?
If you will work with me on accommodating some of my issues, I will be a pretty spectacular worker. What these accommodations look like for autistic individuals vary, but as an example, what I need is to not have incredibly bright fluorescents going constantly, a place to escape should the noise get too loud from people talking, a way to escape into my own zone while I’m working – a headset with music, heading out to the lobby to work, some way to be in my own little world, freely. And honestly, letting me have the freedom to work from home on days that I really can’t deal with the insanity of the office is probably one of the biggest things.
I don’t even really require full-time work from home. It’s nice to get into the office and see your team and collaborate. It is so much nicer that on days I can barely stand existing, I can head into my cozy home office with all my comfortable settings and light ranges and my standing desk and wobble stools and all of my fidget toys and my cat and just sit in silence and get shit done. I’m much more effective on those days than I would ever be in the office – struggling to focus because Sarah won’t stop talking about her new puppy, or the lady over there brought in her “emotional support animal” that won’t stop barking at everything it sees through the glass door.
I hope that this will help you to better manage myself and other autistic folks you may encounter.
The Autistic Lady