As I try to find the podcast I want on the car Spotify system, I finally find the series but I can’t find the most recent episode. I feel frustrated and I wonder if I’m stupid. Is it that the system isn’t intuitive or is it that there’s something wrong with me?
I’m on the phone to the bank because someone’s used stolen my card details online. I’m asked a security question but my mind goes blank, I say “just a minute”, they say “if you don’t get this right, you won’t pass security”, I say “please can I have a minute to think this through”. I was being asked to hold 2 lots of information in my head; it would have been easier to write it down but the high stress situation meant I couldn’t think clearly. It feels as though I’m under suspicion when I’m the one who’s been the victim of crime. Before I know it I’m in tears and feeling extreme embarrassment.
At college, I’m listening to the tutor and I’m trying to follow the slides but there’s just too much information coming in at once. I’m losing the thread of what she’s saying. I feel overwhelmed and I’m struggling to keep up? I wonder if stupid.
I’m walking around the supermarket with my usual list; I’m trying to find the rice but it’s not where it used to be. I try to continue with my shop thinking I’ll come across it later but I’m distracted and really struggling to concentrate because I’m out of routine. I’m already overwhelmed by with the supermarket experience, this change feels one step too far. I miss the next 2 things on my list. I wonder what’s wrong with me.
I’m at the doctor’s surgery, somewhere I usually avoid at all costs. Anxiety levels are incredibly high and I feel overwhelmed. I manage to book myself in and sit down in the waiting room. The officious receptionist then asks if I’m seeing a doctor or nurse, I answer “nurse” and she rudely tells me I should wait upstairs—I quickly sift through all the information I gathered between entering the surgery and now and I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss anything regarding which waiting room to use. I apologise and make my way upstairs wondering how I was meant to mindread which waiting room to use…
I’m bombarded with posters about sugar intake, prescription charges, blood in my poo, pregnancy yoga, relaxation techniques, being charged for missed appointments, hand washing technique, mobile phones being on silent, zero tolerance of abuse. While I understand the importance of all of them, they’re adding to my anxiety. All the information is coming in at the same frequency, I can’t work out what’s relevant and what’s not!
I tend to follow rules, when I look around me and other people aren’t following them, I’m confused. There seems to be an unwritten rule that say “it’s ok if you break the rules a little bit”. I wonder how most people know about this grey area I simply don’t understand. All my life I’ve wondered about this shared knowledge; it’s as though there are secret meetings everyone else is invited to except me.
If you’ve been reading my blogs, you’ll know, I’ve recently been diagnosed with autism. This means my brain is wired different, I see the world from a different angle, I think about things differently. There is nothing wrong with me or how I do things but the way the world is set up (for neurotypicals) assumes everyone thinks and does things the same way, meaning I’m left feeling overwhelmed, in the dark and excluded.
Some of you may be thinking “I have these struggles too but I’m not autistic”. The point of this blog isn’t to say “look how hard my life is”. You may have sensory processing difficulties, undiagnosed neurodivergence or sensitivities in one more specific areas. The point I want to make is that there are some simple adjustments that can be made and we can ensure these spaces are inclusive for all!
Some simple solutions
Amazing steps are being made within society to not only raise awareness but bring understanding and acceptance to those with autism but we have a long way to go.
My tutor took onboard feedback from a number of students (with varying needs). She puts far less information on the slides and puts the additional information in the notes section of the slides. The slides can be accessed before, during the after the lecture so no-one misses out on any of the information. Everyone’s A Winner! There are other simple guidelines that make presentations accessible including spacing out the text, not using italics, only using specific fonts, keeping consistency throughout the presentation—following these guidelines ensures everyone accesses the information equally.
In the supermarket, I’ve known them to put signs up where the item used to be, describing where it is now e.g. “rice has moved to aisle 6 next to the eggs”. People who are happy to pick up rice when they see can ignore the notice. I will adjust my list so rice is next to eggs and I can get on with my shopping trip! Everyone’s A Winner! Supermarkets and shopping centres are also offering quieter hours, as someone who wears noise cancelling ear-phones to the supermarket, this news is fantastic!
Some services, e.g. HMRC and Ofgem have dedicated lines available for those with additional needs. This means you can ask for what you need, e.g. extra time, information in writing, someone to speak on your behalf. It’s important people know these services are available and how to access them. It can be difficult to advocate for yourself.
Anyone offering a service needs to look at what they’re offering from all points of view. I work in a GP surgery; I took my line manager to the front door recently and explained how overwhelming all the notices were—there were multiple duplications, many out of date notices and some directions that weren’t clear. Ensuring notices are spaced out and only vital information is displayed reduces misunderstanding and overwhelm in those with sensory processing needs. It also means the vital information is more likely to be read if there’s less of it! Everyone’s A Winner!
What adjustments could be made in your work place? Do you run a social group that could be made more accessible? Perhaps consider a buddy system or a quiet zones? Making spaces accessible to those with disabilities can be life changing for everyone!