Michael, a top performer within a firm of prestigious architects, had always been well respected for his impeccable attention to detail and outstanding spatial awareness skills. His ability to spot minute mistakes at a glance and create entire concepts for designed spaces in his head had won him several outstanding buildings awards. Although Michael was regarded as a very complex individual, who was very self-contained, his outstanding work ethic and creative ability had gained him the respect of his colleagues and he was well accepted within the firm.
At the end of 2014, the firm had to experience several team changes in a short period of time due to retirement and members of staff moving on to different jobs. Within a few weeks, Michael’s behaviour changed dramatically. He often refused to talk to the new members of staff, with whom he appeared to be extremely uncomfortable. He became very unpredictable and aggressive when confronted with only minor issues. His behaviour started to disrupt the design process, as members of staff refused to work with him. He was perceived as being too critical and rude, especially when people attempted to make friends with him.
One of the remaining partners in the firm had suspected for a long time that Michael may have autistic traits and persuaded him to take part in a workplace assessment conducted by Aspiedent CIC.
During Michael’s assessment, we looked in detail at his working practices, likes, dislikes and interaction with his colleagues. It was established that he preferred to get straight to the matters at hand rather than exchanging pleasantries. He regularly refused to interact with anybody before the afternoon, as he had to achieve something first. He was also extremely blunt when pointing out mistakes and was therefore seen as overly critical. His behaviour made him appear very rude to people who did not know him and misunderstandings led to resentment on both his and his colleagues’ part. The members of staff, who had got to know him over time, had come to accept him as he was and tolerated his quirks. They had worked out that this was the best way of getting the best out of him. The new members of staff, however, took him at face value and this had created a deep rift between Michael and them.
We recommended autism awareness training for all staff and mediation between Michael and the new team members to improve the understanding of people’s behaviour, avoid misunderstandings and create an ethic of mutual acceptance within the firm. Work had to be done to find out each team member’s likes and dislikes and the most effective way to achieve the best teamwork. These measures were implemented and the situation improved very quickly, as all team members were able to see Michael as a very talented and creative person, who simply required more space than other people to work effectively. It was not established whether Michael was autistic or not, as his symptoms didn’t appear severe enough to warrant a diagnosis. However, based on the positive outcome of this case, the company decided to work with Aspiedent CIC once again in order to introduce a Neurodiversity Awareness policy into their company handbook to promote acceptance and support for members of staff who might be struggling because of their extreme ways of thinking or perceiving the world.
I think more about the way in which I interact with others – trying to do so beforehand, whilst also reflecting afterwards but in a less obsessive way.
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