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How to thrive at work as a Low Support Autistic


A lone figure stood still in a moving crowd

Introduction

While every autistic person is unique, and the level of support needed can vary, these tips are designed to empower you to make the most of your talents and abilities while minimising potential challenges. Remember, being autistic is just one aspect of who you are, and with the right approach, you can excel in your career and enjoy a fulfilling work life.

Each point I cover is something I've learned the hard way so wanted to share them with you. I will do my best to give as many practical ideas as possible. This is about 'doing' not just 'thinking'; action not simply intention.


Understand your strengths

First and foremost, it's crucial to recognise and embrace your strengths as an autistic individual. Autistic individuals often have unique talents and abilities, such as attention to detail, problem-solving skills, and a strong work ethic. Take some time to reflect on your strengths and how they can be applied in your job. By understanding what makes you stand out, you can leverage these qualities to your advantage.

And, of course, if your current job doesn't make the most of your strengths then it may be worth considering a new role.


Advocate for yourself

Self-advocacy is a valuable skill in any workplace, and it's especially important for autistic individuals. Be open about your autism with your supervisor or HR department if you're comfortable doing so. I know this can be scary and feel very vulnerable. In my experience being open about how to get the best from me at work has had a better response than not speaking up and trying to 'fit in'.


I accept that some workplaces simply can't be bothered to support anyone that doesn't fit the norm, in which case do you want to work for them and give them your loyalty and energy? Probably not. However some organisations want to do their best to get the best from you; and if they don't know how because you don't tell them, how are they supposed to guess?


Find a supportive work environment

When searching for a job or evaluating your current workplace, consider the culture and environment. Seek out companies and teams that are known for being inclusive and supportive of neurodiversity. Look for organisations that have a history of accommodating autistic employees and providing a positive work atmosphere.

Maybe even more important, I'd say even if the organisation doesn't 'get you', having a supportive manager can make the biggest difference.


It's all about clear proactive communication

Effective communication is key to success in any workplace. As an autistic individual, you may have unique communication preferences and challenges. Be proactive about communicating your needs to colleagues and managers. Whether it's asking for written instructions instead of verbal ones or requesting regular feedback, clear communication can make a significant difference in your work experience.


Manage sensory overload

Sensory sensitivities are common among autistic individuals. If you find the workplace environment overwhelming, consider using sensory tools like noise-cancelling headphones or fidget toys to help you stay focused and calm (Personally I'm a big user of fidget toys, especially when on video calls). You can also work with your employer to create a sensory-friendly workspace that minimises sensory overload. Being in a role where you can work from home can also be beneficial, as long as your home environment is calming and allows focus of course!


Develop a routine

Creating a structured daily routine can help you stay organised and reduce anxiety in the workplace if that's something you need. Plan your day, set clear goals, and establish routines for tasks and breaks. Having a predictable schedule can provide a sense of stability and control, making it easier to thrive at work.


Embrace your special interests

For many of us autistic individuals we have passionate special interests. While it's essential to stay focused on your job responsibilities, incorporating your special interests into your work can be motivating and enjoyable. If you have a special interest that relates to your field, explore ways to integrate it into your work projects.


Build a support network

Having a support network at work can make a world of difference. Connect with colleagues who are understanding and empathetic. You can also seek out autistic employee resource groups or neurodiversity networks within your company if it has them. These groups can provide valuable support and a sense of belonging.


Learning and improving social skills while still honouring your autistic traits is entirely possible.

Develop social skills

While social interactions may present challenges for some autistic individuals, working on your social skills can help you navigate the workplace more effectively. Learning and improving social skills while still honouring your autistic traits is entirely possible and can lead to more fulfilling social interactions. Here are some practical ways to develop social skills with sensitivity to your autistic traits:


  1. Social Scripts: Create and rehearse "social scripts" for common social situations. These are predetermined responses or phrases that you can use when interacting with others. Having prepared scripts can reduce anxiety in social settings. I definitely have an ever growing list or scripts to choose from.

  2. Observe Others: Take the time to observe how neurotypical individuals interact in various social situations. Pay attention to body language, facial expressions, and conversational cues. This observation can provide valuable insights. It's like creating a set of small how-to manuals. I'm going to show my age now, but it's like having a shelf of Haynes manuals to choose from,

  3. Practice Active Listening: Active listening involves giving your full attention to the speaker, making eye contact when comfortable, and nodding or using verbal cues to show engagement. Practice active listening to improve your conversational skills.

  4. Ask Open-Ended Questions: To keep conversations flowing, ask open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer. This encourages more extended and meaningful dialogue and helps to make sure there is a flow to the conversation rather than it feeling like an interview.

  5. Nonverbal Communication: Work on understanding and using nonverbal cues such as eye contact, gestures, and facial expressions. You don't need to mimic others perfectly, but becoming aware of these cues can enhance your social interactions.

  6. Use Visual Supports: Visual supports like social stories, flowcharts, or diagrams can help you navigate social situations. These visual aids provide a clear structure and can serve as a reference during conversations.

  7. Practice Social Scenarios: Role-play common social scenarios with a trusted friend or coach. This practice allows you to rehearse social interactions in a safe and controlled environment.

  8. Seek Feedback: Ask for feedback from friends or family members you trust. They can provide constructive input on your social interactions and help you identify areas for improvement.

  9. Set Boundaries: Understand and communicate your personal boundaries clearly. Let others know when you need alone time or when certain topics are off-limits.

  10. Build One-on-One Connections: If large social gatherings are overwhelming, focus on building one-on-one connections with individuals who share your interests or values. These smaller interactions can be less intimidating.

  11. Use Technology as a Buffer: In social situations, consider using technology as a buffer. For example, you can use text messaging to communicate in noisy environments or give yourself breaks from face-to-face interactions.

  12. Reflect and Learn: After social interactions, take time to reflect on what went well and what you might improve next time. Learning from each interaction helps you refine your social skills gradually.

  13. Celebrate Small Wins: Acknowledge and celebrate your social successes, no matter how minor they may seem. Recognizing your progress boosts your confidence and motivation to continue learning.


Remember that social skills are like any other skills—they can be developed and improved over time with practice and patience. Embrace your autistic traits as a unique perspective that can offer fresh insights in social situations while working on strategies to navigate them more comfortably.


Look for a mentor who understands your unique challenges

Seek mentorship

Having a mentor can be invaluable in your career journey. Look for a mentor who understands your unique challenges and can provide guidance and support. A mentor can help you navigate the workplace, set goals, and make informed career decisions especially when the 'noise' is getting overwhelming.


Stay informed on legal rights

Hopefully you'll never need to go down the route, but it's essential to be aware of your legal rights as an autistic individual in the workplace. Familiarise yourself with relevant laws, and understand your rights to reasonable adjustments and equal treatment.


Celebrate your achievements

With our laser focus when working on projects, don't forget to celebrate your accomplishments, no matter how small they may seem. Share your successes with your support network and take pride in your hard work.


Be flexible

Flexibility is a valuable trait in today's rapidly changing work environment. Let's face it, a clear structure doesn't always lend itself well to flexibility.


  1. Understand Your Triggers: Identify specific situations, environments, or changes that trigger anxiety or discomfort. Once you pinpoint these triggers, you can work on strategies to cope with or adapt to them, ideally with your manager and colleagues.

  2. Create Predictable Routines: While it's essential to be open to change, maintaining certain routines and structures can provide a sense of security. Build flexibility into your routine by allocating specific time for spontaneous activities or changes. Eek!

  3. Gradual Exposure: If you find new experiences overwhelming, consider gradual exposure. Start with small, manageable changes, and gradually increase the level of novelty or unpredictability. This can help desensitise you to new situations.

  4. Use Visual Supports: Visual schedules, charts, and calendars can be incredibly helpful for planning and adjusting to changes. They provide a visual roadmap of what to expect and can reduce anxiety about the unknown.

  5. Communication: Openly communicate your needs and preferences to those around you. Let colleagues know about your autistic traits and what helps you adapt to changes.

  6. Set Personal Boundaries: Establish boundaries that allow you to balance your need for predictability and your desire to be flexible. Knowing your limits and communicating them to others can help you navigate social and professional situations more comfortably.

  7. Embrace Flexibility as a Skill: Consider flexibility as a skill to develop, just like any other skill you've learned in the past. Approach it with patience and self-compassion, knowing that progress may be gradual.

  8. Seek Support: If you're struggling with flexibility in a particular area, seek support from a coach who specialises in autism or anxiety. They can provide personalised strategies and guidance.

  9. Practice Problem-Solving: When faced with unexpected changes, practice problem-solving techniques. Break down the situation into smaller steps and explore possible solutions. This approach can help reduce anxiety and increase your ability to adapt.

  10. Use Transition Objects: Carry a small object or sensory tool that provides comfort when transitioning between tasks or environments. Having something familiar and soothing can make changes less intimidating.

  11. Self-Regulation Techniques: Learn self-regulation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or sensory grounding exercises. These tools can help you manage anxiety and stay calm during transitions.

  12. Learn from Experience: Reflect on past experiences where you've successfully adapted to changes. What strategies worked for you? What can you learn from those situations to apply in the future?


Remember that flexibility is not about changing who you are but finding ways to adapt and cope with the ever-changing world around you. It's a skill that can be developed over time, and with practice, you can strike a balance that works for you.


Finally, maintain a growth mindset

Maintaining a growth mindset can significantly impact your ability to thrive at work. Focus on your strengths, celebrate your successes, and remind yourself of your worth.


Conclusion

Thriving at work as a low-support autistic individual is entirely achievable with the right mindset, strategies, and support. Embrace your strengths, advocate for yourself, and create a workplace environment that accommodates your needs. Remember that you are a valuable contributor to your field, and your unique perspective can bring fresh insights and innovation to your work. By following these tips and staying true to yourself, you can build a successful and fulfilling career.


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