Triggers in the workplace

Working as a visual artist, I quite enjoy experimenting with different art mediums. Just as I’m autistic, my art is also an integral part of me, and something that can’t be separated out within me. For my Life on a Spectrum art exhibition, I wanted to experiment with performance art and to use video as an output to showcase this.

The show was an interactive exhibit that used visual art, writing, videography and performance art to involve viewers both onsite and online. The aim was to capture the imagination of people from all backgrounds to learn about, and celebrate, neurodiversity.

There are particular triggers in my everyday life that affect me, and these are largely based around my environment and therefore my levels of sensory intake, which can quickly get overloaded.

It’s important to note that most people experience frustration, stress, or anxiety in lots of day-to-day life situations, but for those of us who are autistic, the triggers can be overwhelming and exceptionally debilitating. I’d also like to add that my tolerance levels vary each day and that this is very dependent on how tired I am, my general stress levels and what I already have going on for me.

Environmental triggers for me include any type of repetitive sound (like a ticking clock), overlapping sounds (for instance multiple conversations happening at the same time around me), flashing lights (e.g. sirens or other flashing vehicles), as well as strong or sharp smells. Given that the built environment we live in is largely designed for neurotypicals, I naturally experience environments that are overstimulating to me on a regular basis, especially when I’m not at home or in an office where I’ve had reasonable adjustments made for me.

This means that I have to do a lot of planning, for instance if I know I will be in a socially charged setting for a period of time, then I need to ensure I have adequate recovery time booked in.

I also need to be able to advocate for myself, so for example, if I’m in a café and a light is broken and flashing erratically, I need to explain to staff that I can’t be around this type of lighting. When planning or finding positive outcomes aren’t possible, it can lead to me becoming overstimulated which can lead to a full-blown meltdown, or a shutdown, which is when I quickly become very exhausted and tend to experience several hours/days of not being able to f