Reasonable adjustments are not favouritism or perks to my work day.
Reasonable adjustments are something your employer might have to make to help you do your job as well as someone without a disability. The Equality Act 2010 calls these ‘reasonable adjustments’. They can be changes to policies, working practices or physical layouts, or providing extra equipment or support.
The adjustments have to be ‘reasonable’. What’s reasonable for your employer to do depends on your situation – like the size of the organisation you work for.
I hate asking for help and being treated differently to others. I would often work myself into the ground to prove I was capable and just as good. However, what I have learnt since being diagnosed is I don’t need to do that anymore. I can now get help and support and that helps me to perform how I need to without killing my mental health. Don’t get me wrong even with reasonable adjustments it is still hard and I do often like staying late when everyone has left just to have that quiet where I can really relax and focus, but it is 90% better than when I did not have them.
For 31 years when I was not diagnosed, I never got the support I needed to help me in my job. Instead I got bullied and disciplined a lot and was often deemed unmanageable because I was misunderstood. I was also inconsistent with my behaviour. One day I would be fine, the next I would appear disengaged and moody. Whenever I was away from work for a period such as a holiday, I would always come back energised go 100mph and then be burnt out by day 5.
I did ask for reasonable adjustments before I was diagnosed. In my last place of work I had a meeting with the MD and asked if I could wear headphones but it meant I would need to listen to music on my phone, but phones were banned. I was given a straight no. It wasn’t the environment he wanted to create. He wanted me to be approachable and not closed off even though I was asking to wear them when I would be doing admin work, which was long periods of time.
We used to have desk changes at short notice and it would cause me a lot of stress because I never got a say in where I would sit and it was often on the end of the bank which was by the printer everyone would use. It was very distracting for me.
I struggled to adjust to new people coming into the team and I could never accept the change straight away. This sometimes created conflict no matter how hard I tried. I once added a new person to my Facebook and she took it upon herself to screenshot my posts and share them with other people at work and poke fun at them disguised as banter or read things into them that weren’t there. If I had done that to her there would have been uproar. I raised it with my manager and the attitude was ‘what do you expect?’ It was a very stressful time and as a result I deleted all my colleagues from my Facebook which caused me to be very isolated at work. This was bullying but I was told I was over reacting. I stopped enjoying work after 5 years because of one person.
I was fired from my first job and my first office job I was on a final written warning because my manager at the time, who always used to openly liken me to her 8 year old son, was not happy with my attitude when she would expect me to drop everything I was working on to immediately pick up something she had asked me to do. I never got a verbal warning. I kid you not one of the complaints was she said I typed a reply too loudly on a keyboard. I was diagnosed with depression in that job and they sent me on a happiness course which I had to attend outside of my working day with the CEO. I wasn’t very happy about it.
I used to have to detail all of my work I did, what I did and how long it took on a spreadsheet and there was no end date to this given to me. It honestly used to take me half the day to fill out the spreadsheet than it did to do my job. I ended up not caring about that job and became less invested in it. I would often do the bare minimum completely going against my nature because I was so unhappy. Yet I was the top order processor. Sales people would come to me and ask me how to put things through and I was very meticulous with sorting out incorrect orders or spotting things that had maybe been put through incorrectly without having to view the contract or listen to it. I was held in high regard however, I just had a manager that did not like me. When I handed in my notice I was told if I had asked to work at home, they would have sorted it. I replied I did ask, you set me a target and I achieved more than double of that target and you still said no you just moved the goal posts. I was so happy the day I left that job. It was one of the most distressing times of my life. I was still young and new in my career and I was nervous about continuing work in an office.
Making a change
With my new employer things could not be more different. This is the first employment I have been in where I do have reasonable adjustments and it is also the first employer I have worked for where I have been there for over a year and not had a disciplinary.
There is no coincidence in that. Autism is a disability but it is the environment that is disabling for me. If the environment is adjusted or I have things in place to cope I often flourish.
The reasonable adjustments I have in work give me a chance to perform to the same ability as my peers. However, I do have to still work very hard to manage my OCD, anxiety, autism and Auditory Processing Disorder on a daily basis. They can be changed if they are not working and I know should my performance drop, management will know something is off with the environment.
My manager knows I am happy with GIFs and banter and we often exchange these on Microsoft Teams to break up the day. This keeps things light for me and helps me worry less. However, my manager is also extremely consistent with his behaviour. We have made very clear boundaries and when we are in work, I respect he is my manager and if he were to have a word with me it would be fine because that is his job and I respect that. He treats everyone in the team the same and I am held to the same standards as everyone else.
Boundaries are extremely important for me because it makes it that much easier for me to navigate how I should behave. Me and my manager have also built a friendship on trust and openness but the lines are never blurred between the two.
The reasonable adjustments I have do not cost money and they include:
- Being told in advance of any changes to my working area. We had a desk move not long after we got back to the office and I was given a few options on where I would sit, told where it was and who would be sitting by me 1 week in advance so I was able to adjust to the change mentally before it happened.
- I have clear boundaries set for me in relation to communication and time frames on when to expect a response on certain things.
- I sit next to the window opposite my manager facing the door.
- I am allowed to request home working whenever I feel it is necessary.
- If I need to recharge, annual leave is arranged for me because my employer understands an extended weekend will have a massive benefit to my overall wellbeing and I don’t need to book it weeks in advance.
- Time is made for me when I need it. I am not afraid to ask for meetings with my manager’s manager if I feel I need something my manager will not be able to authorise.
- My manager has made it clear nothing is too much trouble and he will always make time for me should I need it.
- I can leave the office if I feel overwhelmed and take 10 anytime I like no questions asked.
- I can take my breaks at different times to other people if I feel socialising will be too much for me.
- I am given where possible 24 hours’ notice to a target change so I can have time to process
- I am given a platform to voice my problems in the most confidential manner and I know if I say something ‘off the record’ it stays off the record.
Finally because my colleagues have gone the extra mile in trying to understand what being autistic means for me it means I am better received as a person and people try to understand me rather than judge me. I have said this will be the last office I work in. Once I leave this career I won’t go to another office. I already have a backup plan in case this doesn’t work out. I don’t like office work as it is a sensory nightmare for me.
However, I do like my current job and I have actually made some genuine friends here and feel it has enabled me to grow professionally and personally and also grow in confidence. It is just a shame it took 16 years and a diagnosis of ASD for that to happen. Yet I am told constantly ‘it is good to be different’ and people should just ‘accept you for who you are’ the proof is in the turnaround from how I was treated pre diagnosis to how I get treated now!
Across Autism Acceptance Week we have teamed up with Lucy to give her a platform to share her story and help raise the awareness and acceptance of neurodivergence. Take a look at our previous blogs and LinkedIn profile to find out more.