Thoughts and illustrations on living on the autism spectrum.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Caution: Aspies at Work

Chances are, if you’re on the spectrum, routine is important to you. In the workplace, more than anywhere else, routine can be an obsession, even for NT’s. We often have limited choices in our work area, but we have a remarkable ability to acclimate by imposing our own structure that becomes essential to our productivity. Unsurprisingly, anyone who tries to change our habits may encounter resistance. In my 15 years in the workplace, I’ve certainly seen my share of changes in work environment, and done my share of settling in and out of grooves.

When I first started out, I worked from home. My boss didn’t have space for me in the office, but he bought me a fax machine so he could send me handwritten comments on my grants. It was fine, because I can read anyone’s chicken scratch. I doubt he ever did learn to use “track changes.”

The worst workspace I ever had was a cubicle inside a laboratory full of machinery that buzzed and burbled continuously. One needed to don protective goggles to cross the border from the cube farm to the front office. Safety first.

For a brief time, I shared an office with two other people. This was less than ideal, but a step down in sensory stress from the lab. Most notably, it was where I heard the news on the morning of 9-11, looking at the photos of the World Trade Center on AOL, and my co-worker’s words, “We’re under attack.”

A private office is the best setting for the detailed writing and data processing I do. I keep my desk neat and uncluttered. Rarely will you find piles of anything. I file next to everything electronically. I decorate simply, with plants and a colorful rug. I’ve had paper-thin walls, and pin-drop quiet. Surprisingly, I prefer the former. Just a reminder of signs of life.

In my current job, I was introduced to the two-monitor setup. At first, I found it nutty and decadent. But now, I don’t know if I could ever go back to one. How else can you read from one document, and type in another? I wonder if the inventor of the widescreen monitor realizes how quickly it became obsolete.

Lunch is at 11:30 or thereabouts. If there’s a lunch meeting scheduled for later, I need to snack beforehand, or I won’t make it. I’ve been across the hall from the lunchroom, and across the building. Proximity is preferable, because I know when the microwave is free, and when someone has left treats.

I’ve shared office space with an HVAC unit that cycled on and off, that I needed to schedule my phone calls around. I’ve lived next door to a server closet that needed a muzzle. I’ve been keeper of the projector. I’ve encountered a ladybug invasion, released a buggy shower of insect parts from the overhead light, and welcomed an oversized water bug to the 10:00 Meet & Greet.

I don’t usually work with music on, except to plow through mindless busy work, and then I’ll put on Pandora. Something mellow, maybe Vince Guaraldi Radio, or Alexi Murdoch Radio, or Phoebe Snow Radio.

I never drink coffee, only water. It needs to be warmed when it’s cold out, and cold when it’s warm out.

I still use a daily planner as my organizer, writing down what needs to be done each day and checking it off, and starting each day with a new page. I don’t own a smartphone; I really don’t desire one. I have a flip phone, and it meets all my phoney needs. I keep a collection of all my paper that's been printed on one side, so I can use the other side as scrap.

I need to go outside at least once a day. If there’s mail to get from a mailbox, or from another building, that’s a good excuse. Otherwise, I’ll make up an excuse.

No office is perfect, but I pride myself on my ability to adapt to whatever is thrown my way. I think most of us have such flexibility, as surely as we swear by the rigid rules with which we mold our work environment to our individual needs. In a neurodiverse workplace, there’s no such thing as “one size fits all,” but an employer who values diverse work styles listens to and accommodates his employees, and thereby ensures the comfort of all.


  1. In my time of finally understanding... and years of frustrated miss understanding, panic attacks, social anxiety, made fun of, picked on, used and most importantly disrespected.. I finally get why I can see every hair follicle on their nose and every color sprite in their eyes and the fullness of their lips and if they got sleep or how much they are stressed.. its like seeing and feeling them... without a word being said... then I realized how much I tick when I am alone... just comforting myself subliminally... I am opening up... I am tired of thinking something is wrong with me... its not wrong.. its just different... kind of better really

    1. I have so many questions....

    2. Welcome - isn't it wonderful to understand? I can't promise we have all the answers, but stick around and you're sure to find others who can relate.

  2. For some reason, the term "phoney needs" made giggle! Probably the pun factor... :)


  3. For me its alway the little things, that trigger sensory issues. Fire alarm tests or buzzing monitors.

    Thanks for sharing this, glad to hear im not alone

    1. You're welcome. A fire alarm test? That's not a "little" thing!

  4. I like your habits, I too don’t work with music on. Because it is broken my concentrate.