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The lights are too bright. The smell of the carpet is too strong. The white noise machine has the opposite effect. The particulars of a workplace environment can stress an autistic individual from a sensory perspective. It’s likely you’ve already been told that, and maybe you’ve even taken steps to reduce those impacts, or you created a specific area free from those stressors. That is welcomed, that is positive, that is appreciated, but that is not my biggest problem at work.

“Put together a presentation on the new initiative and have it to me on Thursday.”

Welcome to my nightmare.

What kind of presentation? A slide deck? If so, how many slides? Who is the presentation for, internal or external? If internal, which department? Which team within that department? If external, is this for a customer, a prospect, investors, media, or a partnership? How deep do I go on the new initiative? Superficial? Deep dive? Somewhere in between? Do I mention our old initiatives? If so, to what extent? What time is this due on Thursday? Before lunch? Close of business? Stroke of midnight? We’re all remote workers, which time zone?

Some very slight hyperbole aside, these are the questions my mind immediately runs through when you give me a one sentence directive without explicit instructions. I know the obvious retort is to point out that instructions too specific border on the instructor doing the task, but that’s not what I’m asking for nor what I want. I want you to remove the ambiguity from your ask of me. I need you to place context around the demand. Define the sandbox I can play inside, and I will build you a castle to the sky. Issue a command ridden with implied meanings and unclear dictates and I will sit in quicksand for hours. Never moving forward or falling behind, just stagnant, wholeheartedly unsure of what you really wanted from me.

I know it’s not what you want from an employee, no boss wants to be a babysitter. Far less desirable, however, is poor or incomplete work, both of which are the end result when a boss fails to clearly state their wishes. Neurotypical or neurodivergent, boss or subordinate, autistic or not, all stand to gain when coworkers are aligned in unison.

A good boss will get the highest level of productivity possible from their workers at an output that does not overwhelm the workforce nor exceed company budgets. When employees must push through iteration after iteration or dozens of emails before a message has been made clear, both time and money have been wasted. Giving concrete tasks with clearly desired outcomes creates a solid foundation for all employees to build upon, not just autistic ones. The understanding in a workplace I yearn for is not sympathy for my condition, but fairness in your expectations and how you demonstrate and communicate those expectations.

“Hey Kyle, please make a high-level, internal presentation on the effects of the new social media initiative in the marketing department. Five slides will do; introduction, overview, implementation, results, and conclusions, and get it back to me by Thursday’s close of business.”

That is understanding.

Born, raised, and residing in Chicago, Kyle Lintner is an unapologetic Cubs fan, free market enthusiast, and logical tamer of risk. A supply-chain consultant by trade, Kyle spends his free time volunteering for organizations dedicated to enriching the lives of those who share with him a particular characteristic: autism spectrum disorder.