Dear Dr. Amy,
I recently was hired for a job after not working for about two years. In the two years I was out of the workforce, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and generalized anxiety disorder. I left the workforce because I felt as though I was experiencing sensory overload daily. I have come to realize that one source of sensory overload is overhead fluorescent lights. A trigger for my anxiety is not knowing if I will have undisturbed time to complete projects. I am wondering if there is anything I can do to make my work environment more tolerable so I can maintain this job? I also am wondering if I need to disclose my autism diagnosis and who to disclose it to? I'd appreciate some advice about navigating work with a disability.
Returning to Work
Dear Returning to Work,
Congratulations on securing employment and knowing you will need some help to maintain your job. Knowing you will need some help is a big step toward finding success. Autism spectrum disorder is a diagnosis that qualifies a person to request reasonable workplace accommodations. This is not to say that your employer must and will make all accommodations you request. Some reasonable workplace accommodations include allowing you to wear a visor or sunglasses to make lights less harsh, or, if you have your own office, allowing you to use floor lamps rather than fluorescent lights. Another reasonable workplace accommodation if you have your own office would be allowing you to have a sign on your office door that says do not disturb. There may be other accommodations you need. Before beginning the job, take some time to brainstorm things you want to ask for when you begin the job so you can ask for what you need upfront.
As far as disclosing your autism diagnosis, this is a decision to consider carefully. If you do not disclose your diagnosis to your employer, they will not know you need accommodations. Often the person to disclose your diagnosis to is the human resources manager or your direct supervisor. Disclosing allows you to be more direct in asking for accommodations and gives you legal protection for some of those accommodations. Good luck in making this a successful job!