Onions trust and autism


Onions, trust and autism. First day at a new company. I’d declared my autism. Induction was done in a meeting room, not an open office.  Light levels were checked. I could go to a quiet area if I wanted. In short, I felt accepted, understood. I was not pressured to work in an office on a daily basis. I felt I could do work my way, relaxed, trusted. Able to approach management with any issue.

Another time. I was being told how to approach my work. Feeling my input was not wanted. That management felt that only if I worked in an office could I be part of a widely dispersed team. My needs and stresses not understood. I had to act, be careful. 

Management only approachable with care.

So where does this onion come in? They are made up of many layers, surrounding the centre where the growing shoot comes from. Autistic people all too often feel like outsiders in a world not suited to them, not accepting them. Putting on layers of protection, masking.

Surely not good for companies wanting to get the best from staff. Just being registered as ‘Disability friendly’ is not enough. Rather, as Horatio Nelson is recorded as saying in 1805, the same spirit must flow through the company, with appropriate levels of training and support, to enable autistic staff to flourish and contribute.

So how to strip off the layers of the onion to achieve this? It is not easy but possible.

C – Communication

Achieving and maintaining open communication is essential to earning the trust of any person, especially autistic people. So how to achieve this?

1. Understanding communication differences – words, facial expressions, body language used, or not as the case may be.

2. Neurodiversity and Autism – what it is, how it presents itself and is understood by others. And its strengths.

Achieving better levels of communications will start removing those layers of onions. 

R – Reasonable Adjustments

Or special treatment? No, measures that help autist people to work to the same level as non-autistic people.

1. Work environment – this can cause stress to autistic people, preventing them from working to their best, due to the light, sound, movement and more.  This might mean a specific area in an office and/or remote working

2. Meetings – especially Reviews.  Fully discuss what would help, including forwarning of discussion points, location and support.

So, for many who can struggle at work, creating the right environment, partially due to previous experience, will help remove barriers.

E – Executive Functioning

Or thought processing, managing tasks. Autistic people think differently to others, see different approaches. Have you ever seen this and wonder why? It can bring improved processes.

1. Execution of tasks – give reasonable autonomy of approach. A different better way may be seen. Ask, open questions, consider new, previously unconsidered approaches. 

2. Task assignation – would you ask a fish to climb a tree? No. Nor would you ask assign tasks to unsuitable staff. Allow autistic people to do those tasks that match their strength, providing support as required. No judgement.

Providing support and appropriate training and trust will grow and layers of protection reduce.

A – Attitudes of others

Have you ever felt others thought you stupid for something you have done, maybe something beyond your control, being you? Alternatively, when you have been accepted and helped for how you are? Which do you prefer? As an autistic person I have experienced both. So how to help?

1. Expect and consider alternative suggestions – due to the different way autistic people think, creating out of the box ideas. Discuss openly.

2. Expressions of ideas – be open however expressed, understand it may be different to the expected. Do not demand certain ways, but adapt, asking open questions, provide support.

If everyone was the same, there would be no growth or range of ideas.  Be open to difference and growth will come.

M – Moving on

Organisations and people are always changing, developing. Grow together as a team

1. Mentor – to help autistic people to understand expectations, and unexpected responses. The agreed mentor may be better coming from outside the team, with mutual trust.

2. Continue development and training – for all team members, soft skills and neurodiversity training, possibly from government sources.  This will keep trust and respect for all.

This will build trust and respect within a departments for all the skills available.

Final message

Trust is a fragile, multi-layered asset, especially for autistic people, for whom barriers have been necessary to protect themselves from past reactions.

Learn how to gain and maintain this trust, peeling away the layers of protection, like the layers of an onion, to get to the centre and all parts of the organisation will benefit.


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