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I’m on the autism spectrum — let me teach you how to work from home

Well, it seems that everyone is working from home. That includes me.
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I’m a software testing analyst at Aspiritech, a company that trains and employs adults with autism to perform QA software and hardware testing. Basically, we’re the people that make sure that websites, applications, and wireless electronics work smoothly.

At Aspiritech, my 130 colleagues (90% of us are on the autism spectrum) and I generally work in our Chicago offices. Some of the traits that make people on the spectrum especially talented at software testing (attention to detail, ability to focus on a single task) also help us easily adapt to working from home.

Now that we — and likely you — can’t work at the office, let me offer some advice for a seamless transition. First and foremost, you have to make sure your home office is clean and feels like an actual office. Especially if you work in technology and have wires everywhere, it can get messy quickly.

Image courtesy of Matt Hemauer
Image courtesy of Matt Hemauer

I set up near the window so I have plenty of natural light, plus a lamp nearby for when it gets dark. I also set up a second monitor which can be helpful when you are handling multiple projects. I’ve usually got Slack open on one monitor, and the tests I’m running on the other. Try to retain your normal schedule. We have a group Google Hangout right when we’d normally clock in, so you feel like you’re “arriving” at the office. This helps to maintain a sense of normalcy.

Lastly, I use noise cancelling headphones (mine are Bose QC 700’s ,one of Aspiritech’s many clients) to help me focus and concentrate. I’m in a house with my dad, who works remotely, and my two brothers who are completing their college courses remotely too. Tuning out the noise can help your productivity.

As I mentioned, those of us on the autism spectrum have unique traits that enable us to work efficiently from home. For example, I excel when given the chance to work without the disruption of in-person meetings. Most things said in a meeting can be communicated by Slack and email. Working from home gives everyone — on the spectrum and beyond it — an opportunity to refine their written communication skills. When it’s necessary to meet, virtual check-ins have less pressure than an in-person meeting, and I can get back to work. And no commute means I have more time for work and free time.

I also want to address the stereotype of people on the spectrum not wanting to deal with social interactions. If the stay-at-home orders ended tomorrow, I would be excited to return to the office because even though there are distractions, I miss the community.

I hope this time also gives hiring managers a reason to think about how neurodiversity — the viewpoint that brain differences are normal and beneficial — is a competitive advantage for any company’s financial success and efficiency.

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