On the
Spectrum, in the Workplace (typewritten image)

Workplace Accommodation

Workplace accommodation of disability needs can make the difference between successful employment and failure, but does not come automatically. It does not come without a cost.

On Being Different

Try to be aware of differences that people will consider "weird" or which label you as a "complainer". That said, it's often okay to be a little weird, particularly if people consider you pleasant.

Selective Accommodation

1.   The best workplace accommodation is that effected by oneself.

2.   That said, the next best form of accommodation is that requested as a favor, with no statement of particular special need. If the accommodation is seen in the light of a request for a new stapler, management doesn't see this as adapting to a special requirement. In some cases, the determination they must make is that you are a valuable employee, at least to the very small extent of meeting your request. It's better that they do something because of your value as an employee than because they have to.

At my office a few of us brought a coffeemaker and coffee grinder. This is of course personal equipment (effected by ourselves) and occupies a good portion of one of the office's kitchens (implicitly requested as a favor). This sort of thing is looked upon favourably by management.
3.   If the above is not available, the next best form of accommodation is a "need-based" accommodation not specifying more than the actual "need". An good example is Joel Smith's description of fluorescent lights:

When disclosing autism, focus on two things:
1) What is the problem that you are having (i.e., *why* do you want to disclose)

2) What would be a reasonably achievable outcome that would make you happy?

People don't need a medical history. If you are having a problem with florescent lights at work, telling your boss, "Hey, I'm autistic" won't accomplish anything. First, he doesn't know what the problem is (it's not that you are autistic, it's that the lights are overloading or whatever). Second, he doesn't know what to do (replace the bulbs, move my cube nearer to natural light, etc).

Rarely is diagnosis helpful. It doesn't explain the problem at all. Sure, you might mention it if it will truly encourage people to provide what you need (Under the ADA, it's actually prohibited for an employer to ask what your disability is if you provide a note from a doctor that tells them you have a disability [doesn't need to specify which one] that affects you in such and such areas of life, and therefore you need accommodations at work for some specific thing - that note is all that's needed).

(more on the issue of disclosure Here)
It is also important to be flexible on step 2. You might want them to replace every bulb in the entire worldwide organization with a different type, but it ain't going to happen. And your ideal solution might be to work from home away from the lights. But if working in a cube that has a lot of natural light would actually solve your problem, and your boss offers that, that should be acceptable to you.

So I might, on the hypothetical light issue, say, "I have a really hard time concentrating and doing work in a room lit by florescent lighting. If you could move me somewhere where there were other light sources, or preferably no florescents at all, I think I could get more work done." You *might* mention "Because of my [disability/autism], I have a really hard time concentrating..." if you think the association with disability under the law would help your case. The key however is that you need to tell your boss what is wrong and what can be done.

It's the same basic steps that you would use if you were complaining about a company's service or writing a letter to the newspaper. You say what is wrong and you say what will make it right.

4.   As a last resort, and after careful consideration, one may ask for accommodation based on autism (or another disability issue). This implies disclosure to the employer, as well as accommodation for that condition. If more general statements, such as "neurological need" are expressed, be careful that this isn't interperted more to your detriment than a disclosure of the actual condition (autism).

Decide When to Ask

Joel Smith goes on to suggest:
The thing you might add is to disclose *before* a major crisis comes up which requires disclosure.

I'm not sure how to explain it, but don't wait until your boss is ready to fire you before you tell him that you need what you need because of a protected (under the law) disability, as it looks like you are just trying to keep from getting fired at that point and are grasping at straws. If you think it might get to that point, it's important to mention your disability status *before* there is a major problem.

The idea is to ask for the accommodation before the problem itself becomes an issue. There's little advantage to avoiding asking for something if the result of not asking is a greater problem. Also consider that some workplace environment problems tend to be cumulative in how they affect work performance. (i.e., improving the condition doesn't automatically resolve months of work stress fatigue.)

Also consider that your problem probably results in a different (but related) problem for your employer, e.g., loss of productivity. Solving your problem too late doesn't necessarily eliminate the effects on your job performance.

In some cases, this takes some judgement because you don't want to make excessive demands too early in your employment. As with deciding what to ask for, the timing of the request must be balanced against not being seen as to demanding.

There are some instances when earlier is better. Often it is advantageous to negotiate a better workspace as part of a response to an employment offer. If done carefully, this is unlikely to offend the employer, and presents you in a favorable light. Of course unless you are "disclosing" a disability, such pre-hire requests would not state a "need".


Comments on disclosure Here.

Environmental Factors

Most of these are not at the level of "accommodation" under the ADA (depending of course on the individual) but are things that can be done to improve work performance and relieve stress.


Sometimes this is not avoidable. Use available noise reduction equipment. ANR headsets are now available for under $40., and are useful in places where Walkman-style headsets are commonplace. These devices seem to be the overpriced accessory du jour at airport shops, for good reason.


Fluorescent lights can be troublesome. Fortunately, some of the newer ones have electronic ballasts which reduce flicker. In some cases it may be possible to obtain a halogen uplight or the equivalent, but this requires a work environment where personal items of this sort are accepted. In many offices, personal lights are quite common.

More on fluorescent lighting in the workplace is at Fluorescent Lighting Flicker, which includes several adaptations.

Other ways to compensate include opening shades and planned use of coffee.

CRT Monitor Flicker

This can cause fatigue. Fortunately it is easily adjustable -- my first AS-related web article. One description is at SCN's help webpages: www.scn.org/help/monitor.html The new flat monitors don't seem to have this problem.
If you make any environmental adaptations, try to make them "fit in with" something your NT co-workers would do. By way of example, a lamp can be a piece of decoration ("because you like the light") as opposed to, "a special adaptation because bla bla bla."

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Fluorescent Light Flicker

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First posted Jan 06. Last revised 08 May 10.

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