Surviving online meetings

March 2020 – and those who were typically used to being in the office, started to work from home. Whether it was Zoom, Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts, Skype – we started, or continued to in many cases, become accustomed to using these video conferencing tools to communicate with colleagues.

But not only colleagues: I clearly remember calls with friends, family, as well as neighbours down the road. Baby showers, funerals, conferences – all manner of events started to take place online, as video conferencing became fully utilised and embraced, and the technological leap accelerated. All ages adapted and a new norm emerged. Globally, we progressed. Together we experienced ‘Zoom fatigue’, as even our language around technology evolved.

But what are video calls like for an autistic person?

This blog explores my personal experiences of using online conferencing and provides some solutions that I’ve found helpful

Too much going on

I cannot filter out background noise. Sounds like someone typing while on a call, having a glug of tea, creaky movements in a chair, even the sound of breathing if someone’s mike is too close to their mouth – all of this is amplified and competes vigorously for my attention. And then imagine the actual loud sounds – doorbells, phones ringing, pets, babies crying, mobiles beeping, children shouting, building work taking place. Being unable to filter out these excess sounds and concentrate takes its toll, and I’m quickly exhausted. I’m also constantly on edge with the anticipation of these loud sounds during the call. Whereas in a face-to-face environment you have a better sense of what these sounds will be (they are more limited), plus you can anticipate them better (e.g. you can see is someone is reaching for a bag of Monster Munch).

Thankfully, I don’t have to smell the crisps on a video call

Aside from the noise, there’s also the visual distraction of people’s backgrounds and what’s going on in and around them. The colour scheme may be jarring, or they may have a very busy, or bright background. Full, untidy spaces make me stressed, and don’t get me started on items that aren’t straight or perfectly aligned. A wonky picture frame is completely unnecessary. The various gallery views in many video calls are also distracting, with everyone moving about in front of you, in different ways.