Hola! Bobby here, from team TDP. My role as a strategist here is exciting, complex and varied, and involves everything from mapping out strategy to content creation, copywriting, meme creation [yep!] and teaching workshops to our ever-growing digital squad.
I’m creative, empathetic, and [I’ve been told] a funny and engaging presenter. I’m also autistic.
When I was diagnosed three years ago, it was a SHOCK. Like so many people, I had a preconceived notion of what autism looked like, and my perception of myself *really* didn’t fit. But the more I read? The more I began to understand that autism often manifests differently for women, and as I began to piece together the snippets and get to know myself better, the more it felt like the right fit. Ultimately, diagnosis has been liberating.
Today’s blog post is centred around neurodiversity, and addresses how my team and I meet some of the challenges in my role day-to day. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it’ll help you understand that sometimes, tiny changes can make a really big impact on someone else’s experience, autistic or not.
I remember my first day working in house at TDP. My first ever day in an agency setting. [I’d had the benefit of working as a contractor teaching TDP workshops for a little over a year, and had been working as a freelancer for three years, one, but as for agency experience? Nada.]
So, basically? I’d gone, as a [reasonably recently diagnosed autistic person] from freelancing, where I had full control over my hours, my environment, my clients, my team, into agency land, to an office full of new people, new workflows, new processes, new hierarchy, new clients, and new hours.
When I arrived at my desk for my first day, there was a package on my desk. In it, there were all the standard things you need. Pens. Notebooks. Highlighters.
There was also a pair of noise canceling headphones and a card that read: ‘Welcome to the place you’ve always belonged. Here’s to celebrating differences and kicking goals together, beautiful human.’
Well, shit. My HEART.
Being autistic comes with some pretty excellent benefits. I retain things well, can adopt different tones of voice really easily [super handy for writing client copy] and I’m a quick study when it comes to learning most new skills [although abstract concepts can be tricky.] It also comes with a few [pretty significant] hurdles.
People. No denying it, peopling with autism is hard. I’m in the unique and exceedingly privileged position of genuinely liking everyone I work with, and that in itself is a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that I’m uniquely well supported and my days at work are mostly fun and filled with laughter [and on the days where there are tears, there’s tea, sympathy and hugs.] It also means I’m sometimes prone to distraction. When I need periods of intense focus, I don my noise cancelling headphones, turn Brain.fm up super loud, and get to it. I work from home every Friday, which gives me the silence I crave before the madness of a weekend with three children kicks in, ha! [I usually save things like blog posts or difficult bits of copy for Friday, when I’m flying solo in a silent home office.]
I’m not great at impulse control. Like,when it comes to making good choices in the moment, I don’t think that bit of my brain lights up. At all. For example? I’m on keto, but there’s a birthday [and thus, epic cakes, because Cherie is extra AF] like every. fucking. week. At work, I have a guardian angel in the form of our senior strategist, Michelle, who gives me a warning and helps me walk through the choice I’ll make [and how I’ll politely refuse, if that’s what I’m choosing.] So, when a cake rocks up? I’ve already MADE my decision, and planned my polite refusal. Sounds SO simple, right, but it makes a HUGE difference for me and my health. [Thanks Michie!]
I can.not.talk.on.the.phone. While I like to think my customer service voice is pretty epic, talking on the phone is super stressful for me- the absence of visual cues means I have to concentrate super hard on what the person is saying, and it fries me. I can manage it once or twice a day, max. [ It’s fine with client comms, because the material is predictable, there are expected parameters, and it’s usually my skills solving a problem] But when the office phone rings? It’s almost always a spontaneous, think-on your feet type sitch. How we manage it? Simple. I don’t. I don’t have to answer the phone. Like, ever. Nice, huh?
Executive functioning skills NOT on fleek
Mapping out tasks with multiple components is really stressful for my little brain. If getting something done requires coordinating lots and lots of little bits, it gets to a point then just goes ‘yeah, nah.’ ANNOYING. It’s also the reason I mislay my keys more frequently than any other human on the actual planet, and never have all the ingredients to cook a meal in my carefully laid out meal plan. The people I report to have this really handy little indicator that I’m experiencing task overwhelm- tasks turn red after their due date. I’m getting better at asking for help before this happens, but if something on my list isn’t getting done? I’ll get a gentle nudge and a ‘hey, do you need some help breaking that down more?’ And mostly, after 5 minutes and a suggestion or two? I’m good to go.
Workshopping takes it outta me
This is perhaps the hardest conundrum pf all for me, because I LOVE teaching workshops. I love presenting ideas and strategies to rooms full of people. Making them laugh, helping them relate to the material. It is hands down my favourite bit of the job. It’s also hands down the most taxing for a brain like mine. After a full day of workshopping, my go-to recovery is just, darkness, silence, and food. Fortunately my husband understands this, now, and will just bring food to me in bed. Good times. I NEVER want to stop workshopping, but we have boundaries in place for how many I can manage in a month, and I have the option to work from home if I’m still feeling a little fragile the next day. That way, I can do my favourite bit of the job in a sustainable way. Nice.
There are SO many others [but this is a bog post, not a novel.] Mostly, I just want people to understand that autistic employees are capable of executing their jobs really well, and contributing positively to workplace culture [for me usually by way of profanity, #soznotsoz] and sometimes little tweaks to the way a team works together can be huge for making positive change.
I’m so grateful to have an employer and team who GET it.