I have a suggestion for employers⏤a quick-fix for improving working conditions for autistic staff would be to have a sensory quiet room: this would be a designated space where autistic staff could go to chill out, recharge and recalibrate; in fact, this could be a space for all staff to de-stress. Such a space should be a key part of the well-being agenda of an organisation, as well as a fundamental move towards neurodivergent inclusivity.
OK. This is my vision. All organisations⏤I am thinking primarily of universities as I write this, but would work for all largish workplaces⏤would have a room set aside which was kitted out with soft seating, soft surfaces, low lights (in my mind’s eye I see fairy lights but not the twinkling kind), white noise (or whale noises?) playing quietly from unobtrusively placed speakers. Maybe there would even be a nap area, or blackout cubes. There might be sensory toys. Staff could go there any time they felt overwhelmed⏤or anytime they liked, that would be better⏤to just be in blissful quiet. For neurodivergent staff this would be an accommodation, an adjustment (I will say more about this in a minute) and for neurotypical staff it would provide an opportunity to destress.
Does this sound indulgent? It is not. Now that office space is frequently shared or open-plan, working at work⏤making the assumption that there will be an other side to the pandemic⏤can feel intolerable for autistic people: while headphones can go some way in mitigating office noise, there is still the light and the activity and the general buzziness of the workplace to contend with. Autistic people have thrived (in most cases) on working-from-home⏤suddenly we have capacity to make our own accommodations to make our environments calm. What autistics tend to do when working-from-work is to seek out tiny boltholes where we can hide ourselves for brief periods, so we can regulate⏤so we can avoid burning-out and melting-down. Typically these places are cleaning cupboards and accessible toilets. Take that in. Autistic people are forced to lock themselves in toilets for portions of the day just so we can be at work. I hope this makes the point that having a sensory quiet room provided is far from an indulgence; given the Office for National Statistics has published recent data suggesting only 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of paid employment (ONS 2020), this is a neccessity and something we should be lobbying for now.
And as I said, how great would this be for all staff⏤to have a place where they can tend to their well-being. How much would workplace stress be reduced? I think we would have happier and more harmonious workplaces. I think it’s worth a try.