Autism and the busy spell: managing overload and working with neurotypcial colleagues.
July 29, 2016 § 3 Comments
(Me aged 6. A favourite image taken in Paris. (Small, long haired girl sticking her tongue out at the camera, in a tie dye t-shirt))
Overload, overload, overload – rhythms drum in my brain distorting voices. I stare blankly at nothing in particular, my eyes are wide. Limbs numb, I turn to my blog to release the pressure valves. Truth is I’m tired, so tired.
I have been working flat out on my project since December, with successive deadlines for each branch or phase coming at me in rapid succession. Currently I’m bringing together all the material for a small publication and working on our short film too. It’s incredible how many different skills are required of the professional artist these days, and how many people, settings and organisations must be navigated to bring a complex piece of work to a successful conclusion. All present extra challenge for the autistic person.
Luckily I’m extremely motivated AND I have my secret weapon. HYPER FOCUS.
I know too that if I rest I will recover.
What is proving fascinating is working with neurotypcial colleagues as an openly autistic professional for the first time. I’m very aware that I do many things differently and have been careful to outline how this works in practice. Cognitive load is my main challenge – my big ask in seeking accommodations has been to limit communication to the minimum where possible. Neurotypical brains seem to thrive on keeping each other in the loop constantly (the practice of copying-in to endless emails comes to mind), where in in my case I work better gathering thoughts and information quietly and sharing the fruits of this process when there’s an obvious point in doing so.
As I learn more about myself (I was only diagnosed in March) I can begin to see how to manage my time and interactions more effectively. I find that neurotypicals like to blend work talk with social chat often – it can be exhausting when your brain would prefer to focus on the task in hand and you can feel the sands of time running away (there’s a distinct sense of derailment). I love social chit chat, but for me it’s important to conserve the battery power for work if that’s supposed to be the main event.
There are calibrations in relationships to be made and strategies to be formed in protecting and conserving power in the autistic working life.
Mainly, I’m having a blast. This has been one of the most rewarding and productive periods of my professional life and I’m learning so many new skills. I’m also learning that when pushed out of my comfort zone I have some serious advantages to draw on. Being autistic is one thing. Knowing I’m autistic means I begin to fathom how to use this particular wiring to my advantage (as all autistics are different I am talking about my own blend of autistic and personality traits).
I’m looking forward to more knowledge and a greater facility with which to navigate the neurotypical workplace – including seeking the right kind of accommodations. To become a fully self-directing individual with any chance of finding parity in the workplace, the question of diagnosis seems to me to be key.
Female autistics especially, don’t let any professional tell you differently.
NB. I include self-diagnosis as a valid form of identification. Formal diagnosis can be inaccessible to many autistic people for reasons of cost and underdeveloped knowledge and healthcare infrastructure.