Neurodivergence And The Push To Return To In-Person Work

My main sensory processing issue is when there are other conversations or voices in the background.

It doesn’t matter if the voices are from a television, people talking in real life, or even (sometimes) vocals in a song. All of them make it harder for me to concentrate and focus on what I am doing.

In order for me to focus and be really effective, I often need to control my auditory environment. Headphones, loud music (without vocals), and silence can all work. For example, right now, there’s just the sound of birds outside my window and a fan. Later tonight at work, I might have some vocals-free techno on repeat (hello, Digitally Imported!) while I’m wearing headphones.

When I mentioned this to my mother, she immediately laughed. "You’re lucky you never had to deal with cubeworld!" she said.

And she’s right.

I am far more productive working at home than I ever would be working in a cube farm. And I have relatively mild sensory integration issues and low support needs.

With that in mind, it’s hard to look at the CEOs and business leaders pushing "return to in-person" work in a neutral way.

The "benefits" of this kind of work — particularly the socialization aspects — would actively make me less productive, not more. I do not — in the slightest — miss the allistic aspects of "office culture." {1}

I count myself extremely lucky to have a remote work position where the work I do is more important than whether or not I am in a specific physical location. A position where I am able to arrange my work environment in a way that is both comfortable and supportive of my needs, while allowing me to excel and be productive.

However, this also makes me wonder. The CDC estimates that about 1 in 36 children is autistic, and that number is probably low, given the tendency for autism to be under- and mis-diagnosed in women.

That is a lot of autistic people (approximately nine million in the US), many of whom would, like me, find "standard" office environments difficult if not outright impossible to navigate, let alone be productive in.

And I have to wonder if these executives wanting people to return to in-person work have actually ensured that the office environments they’re trying to force people to return to are autistic-friendly. After all, autism is recognized as a disability under the ADA.

I do not have the legal chops to actually answer that question, but if that is true, it suddenly makes seeking an "official" diagnosis — and the relative difficulty and expense of gaining one — a much more important thing.

{1} And that’s before you factor in toxic management styles and toxic managers.

Featured Image by David Mark from Pixabay