Accommodating Ourselves

by Alyssa of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network

One of the skills I have found most valuable is being able to accommodate myself in most environments. See, there is an unfortunate tendency to discriminate against people with all sorts of disabilities, regardless of what the ADA might say. However, when I can make the needed changes myself without having to explain that I’m autistic, no one really cares. It’s usually OK to be “just weird.”

So these are some things I have come up with that we can sometimes do to accommodate ourselves, often without needing to bring up the fact that we are autistic.

  • Noise-canceling headphones are growing more accepted in office environments. Get a good pair and carry them with you everywhere! When it gets too loud, bring them out!
  • Also carry some earplugs if you can wear them. There are plenty of earplugs that just take everything down -10dB, which can make the difference between an acceptable level of noise and being overloaded. This is what I do at some concerts, since I like live music, but the volume is usually too high. This can be done anywhere that visible noise-cancellation would be a problem, but the volume needs reducing.
  • Always have a ready excuse to leave social events early. Events can lead to overload, but if you have a reason that you need to leave early, you can get out and decompress.
  • Know where the quiet areas are in any building that you spend significant time in. You can usually manage to get away for a few minutes without attracting notice, and that time to decompress can make a huge difference.
  • Carry a stim toy that you can play with discretely. Stimming in public might not be socially accepted yet, but they can’t yell at you for what they can’t see!
  • Also bring a favorite stim toy, even if it’s not discrete. As long as it’s in your bag, you can bring it when you go to that quiet area that you found. Or you can spin/flap/rock there. Whatever you need to do, find somewhere that you can.
  • If losing speech happens, get a text-to-speech program for your computer. Lie about the reason if you have to (“After that time when I lost my voice on the day of my big presentation, I’ve made sure I always have a computer with text-to-speech and my whole presentation typed out, just in case!” might be a decent one.) Then bring that computer with you everywhere.
  • If phones are a problem, don’t give out the number/tell people to text you. Nowadays, if you say text, most people will. And of course, if it’s outside work hours, you can happen to have stepped away from the phone.
  • Especially for bigger presentations: If it’s causing sensory overload, leave. Presenters mostly won’t notice, and attendance, if taken, is usually taken early on.
  • If possible, find work that won’t cause overload. It’s much easier to accommodate yourself in a situation that isn’t going to cause major problems anyways.
  • College: Don’t be afraid to drop a class if the teacher has a problem with this. With the exception of small schools, there are very few classes that the same teacher always teaches, and if you need to wait until someone else teaches it, that’s what you do.
  • Sometimes there will be one person there who you feel comfortable telling. If there is one, tell them, and that person can often make small accommodations in meeting design and activities for anything they are running and provide excuses for you to leave early/arrive late at things that are going to be problematic for you. This does require finding someone trustworthy, though.

It is, of course, easier to get full accommodation when you are open about your disability, but there are some things you can still do while passing for merely odd.

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