With World Autism Acceptance week just around the corner (27 March – 2 April 2023) we are catching up with Gina, who has recently discovered that she has high-functioning Autism. We look at some of the ways to better understand and support someone with HFA.
I recently learned that at 53 I am a high-functioning Autistic person.
I am trying to work through understanding and make sense of who I really am and what this all means for me and anyone around me. During a recent assessment I said that I wanted to be understood and accepted and for people to respect that my thoughts and ways are just different, not ‘wrong’. I don’t want to supress my thoughts or feelings for fear of peoples’ reactions.
I hope this article offers some useful information and advice to support people around you living with HFA.
How to support someone with HFA
1. Consider their triggers
I would recommend for anyone looking to support someone with HFA to get familiar with personal triggers, which may be different for each person.
There can be many triggers within the environment that I work; noise is one of my biggest triggers. I am hypersensitive to loud people or loud noise particularly of certain tones / pitches. Once I tune in I unable to tune out and I can feel my anxiety rise. What can help me cope within the workplace with some of the sensory issues I can face is to consider the environment in which I work with regards to light, noise, comfort and space. Where I am positioned within a room can also be sensory.
2. Internal vs external appearance
I would also to consider with kindness what might be going on underneath the surface for anyone, this is especially true of people with HFA.
I have been told I am good at ‘masking’, but what people do not realise is that what you see on the outside is nothing compared to what may be going on on the inside. People who know me well now recognise when I am internalising something that has triggered me. There can be a physical symptom such as reddening of the neck or chest or I go quiet while I process and work through whatever is causing me to become anxious. People who do not know me well misinterpret this withdrawal and believe I am stressed. Where others can easily be passive or dismissive about situations, I may need a bit more time to process things.
3. Be understanding and patient
It can be easy to jump to conclusions, but with HFA people things are not always what they might first appear. Sometimes my approach may seem a little different to the norm. I would love for people to always reserve judgement and question if their initial understanding of a situation is a true representation of what I would have intended. My intentions are always good but they are not always received that way.
4. Organisation is a symptom but also a benefit
I have always been fortunate and successful in my working career mostly because of my professionalism and high standards but also because of my integrity and dedication to my job. I respect authority and the people I work for and equally have been respected by senior management. Most of my roles involving management and teaching required a high level of responsibility, effective routines, good organisation and attention to detail. However, this has been misunderstood in the workplace, having been mocked for being ‘OCD’ and a stickler for routine and tidiness, but I see it as preferring organisation and structure as I believe ‘tidy home tidy mind’. Things out of place can be a trigger often feeling the need to sort to ensure I can focus clearly.
Since embarking on a huge career change to become a Logistics Administrator for HealthNet after 25 yrs in education, I have learned more about how high-functioning Autism can affect learning new skills and processing new information. I picked up repetitive and physical tasks very quickly, though I soon learned that I would have benefitted from learning the beginning to end of a process rather than learning part of one then skipping back and forth. Learning needs to make sense to me.
I would encourage anyone with a relationship with someone with HFA, inside or outside work, to always be considerate and kind, and to spend some time understanding more about the condition and how to support those around you.