Making reasonable accommodations for disabilities in the workplace is a practice that is constantly needing more attention and more updates, as voices from disabled communities become more present in the conversations surrounding what they need in order to have a successful environment.
Autism in particular has been one of the least understood and most neglected disabilities requiring accommodation. Now employers have finally started to listen, it’s important we listen to the autistic community’s feedback.
Reddit user shakethrowawayy ran into this particular disability in her workplace. Wanting to accommodate her co-worker, she tried several mitigation methods, only to be reprimanded by him at every turn.
Not sure if she was really doing anything wrong, she went to the popular subReddit “Am I The A**hole?” or “AITA” for perspective.
“AITA for not accommodating an autistic co-worker?”
Our original poster, or OP, set the scene in her workplace.
“So I personally feel like I’m not in the wrong but the little voice in my head keeps telling me that maybe I am.”
“I (28f[emale]) have been working for the same company for just over two years now and I really like my job and all of my work mates.”
“I have this habit where I drink a breakfast shake every morning. It contains one banana, 100 grams of strawberries, peanut butter, almond milk and two scoops of protein powder.”
“I keep it in a shaker that can be closed and sip on it throughout the morning.”
A co-worker then approached OP with the fateful request.
“All was fine until a few weeks ago when a relatively new co worker asked me to please not bring the shake in anymore.”
“I asked why and he said something about textures. I was a bit confused and told him that it’s in my shaker and he doesn’t have to worry about it leaking or anything.”
“He told me no he’s autistic and the texture of my shake is one of his triggers.”
She accommodated him as best as she knew how.
“I said alright and started keeping the shaker my bag and would only take it out when I had a sip whereas I used to just have it on my desk before.”
“I though that was good enough because then if said co-worker walks into my part of the office he wouldn’t have to look at it.”
But then he saw her with the shake.
“Well the inevitable happened and he walked in right as I was having a sip. Shocked he asked why I was still bringing the shake.”
“I apologised for having it out right as he was walking in and explained that I usually keep it in my bag now to accommodate him.”
“He told me that this wasn’t good enough and just knowing that the shake was on the same floor could trigger him.”
Then OP decided to stand her ground.
“I told him that I was sorry but I wouldn’t change my dietary routine to this extent just because of him.”
“I’m willing to keep it in my bag but that’s as far as I will go. He said that I should be more inclusive and if I won’t change my behaviour he might have to get HR involved.”
“This happened on Friday and I’m going back to work on Tuesday. I just want to know if I’m wrong for not accommodating him before I have to face the situation again so I can change if necessary.”
Redditors weighed in by declaring:
- NTA – Not The A**hole
- YTA – You’re The A**hole
- ESH – Everyone Sucks Here
- NAH – No A**holes Here
Though this is a somewhat tenuous situation, Reddit agreed that OP was not at fault.
“As an autistic person myself, NTA. In fact, I’ve never seen a sensory aversion THIS extreme and I’ve worked with lots of other autistic people.”
“You’re already doing more than required by keeping the shake in your bag.”
“If his sensory problems are this severe, he’s obviously not ready to be in the workplace and needs to pursue some sensory therapy.”~PigDoctor
“Adding to the autistic adult train a little late, NTA. There’s only so much you can do.”
“Sensory issues suck but your coworker needs to find his own ways to cope with it. He shouldn’t be asking you to change your life to make his easier.”
“I almost always side with other autists in these types of scenarios but I can’t imagine what more he could reasonably expect you to do.”
“You using a bag is a great solution and more than enough. Great job handling this btw! Not everyone would even try to be accommodating.”~SkinnyPeach99
“I used to work as an accessibility coordinator and yes – ‘reasonable’ is the key concept in the law. What the co-worker with autism is demanding (OP can’t have their shake in the building) is not reasonable.”
“Accommodations could include (this is off the top of my head) – OP finishing her shake by a given time and the coworker not come by her area until after that time, co-worker working in a different area or on a different floor, etc…”
“But OP should definitely go to HR first to discuss the incident and be proactive.”
“And if the coworker has a job coach or any support staff, they should know about this so that they can work on it with him. NTA.” ~eighteen_forty_no
“Also autistic, also have sensory processing disorder. Your milkshake does sound like a texture that would trigger me. If I drank it.”
“If it’s not touching me, and I can’t smell it, I’m good. Maybe it glows a very bright color that can be seen through walls?”
“If that’s the case I’m not sure you should be drinking it… ditto if it’s making a loud noise that can be heard throughout the workplace. Otherwise, I just do not see how it could impact your coworker. NTA”
“Edit: going through the comments I’m learning that some severe cases of SPD do have aversions to seeing people interact with their triggers.”
“I’d like to apologize for making a joke of it.”
“I know no two people with autism have symptoms present the same way, and I’d hate to make others in my community feel othered just because I forgot that for a while.”~icerobin99
Autistic people on Reddit added their voices to the conversation, just so OP was getting opinions sympathetic to her co-worker’s plight.
“NTA, As an autistic person I find it strange he’s complaining about textures he’s not interacting with. I can understand the noise triggering him.”
“You’ve been very accommodating. If he tries to push it further take it up with HR. In the Uk at least the law is for a reasonable adjustment.”
“I’d say you’ve met that perfectly fine. It’s unfair for him to ask for more.”~SpyglassHunter
“I’m autistic as well and have a huge aversion to shaker bottles (possibly like this person). They gross me TF out and I can’t handle the sound and smell of items in them.”
“My husband drinks out of them every morning – he loves them for his morning protein shake.”
“I cannot eat or drink while he uses them (he doesn’t know this, because I don’t want him to not use something he likes). However, he puts them in the sink and then I can deal with it.”
“However, I can’t rinse them out or clean them at all. When I try, I throw up. He knows this, so he knows he is 100% responsible for washing them or getting them in the dishwasher.”
“So anyway, I agree that he can handle his revulsion to an extent because mine can literally make me throw up. I’ve learned to deal. NTA.”~arcant12
“NTA. I have autism. I can’t touch velvet due to sensory issues. If I worked with you and you decided to bring in a velvet thermos for your shake I wouldn’t give a sh*t.”
“Because I don’t have to touch it. Your coworker is being entitled. He doesn’t have to touch your shake, so it shouldn’t matter if it is something he can’t touch.”~Ask_Aspie_
“NTA. Workplaces have to make reasonable accommodations.”
“Key point in that sentence is reasonable (and his solution doesn’t seem to be) and workplaces (e.g. it’s not up to him or you to decide what is a reasonable accommodation).”
“If your work decides it is reasonable for you to not be able to bring your smoothie in anymore, then that is their decision, but you don’t have to do it just because your coworker asks.”
“Especially because for most people what he’s asking isn’t reasonable when there could be other solutions.”
“Unless you think your company is dysfunctional or toxic you shouldn’t necessarily be worried about him going to HR.”~CheerilyTerrified
And folks from other services related to disability support with the autistic community also added their perspectives.
“NTA. I worked in Disability Support Services while in college, and one student wanted his lectures to be typed out. Okay.”
“Then he wanted his typed handouts and textbook assignments voice-recorded.”
“Umm. Pick a team, dude, was my attitude – but according to the ADA we had to do literally any insane thing he wanted us to do because he was disabled.”
“He was actually a bully and a jerk, even before he was in a wheelchair, but I digress.”
“Disabled doesn’t confer sainthood. You have made a reasonable accommodation and HR needs to understand that it isn’t YOUR job to smooth HIS path.”
“You are his co-worker, not his boss. You tried to be sensitive to his needs. A shake on the same FLOOR triggers him?”
“How does he manage to pass by all the places that sell shakes and smoothies? He manages just fine and we all know it.”~GreenTravelBadger
“Mother of adult autistic twins who both have sensory issues and this guy’s reaction is beyond unreasonable.”
“I don’t understand how he could possibly be affected by the texture of your drink.”
“If it’s the sound that bothers him maybe try a different cup but I think this guy is expecting people to bend over backwards to accommodate him and maybe this is behavior he has used to exploit people before.”
“I find this extremely manipulative. Go to HR and make your case known. NTA.” ~GiddyGabby
“NTA if his sensory issues are so extreme they have to effect what random strangers/aquaintences are able to do that’s something he needs to find a way to work on.”
“It’s not something you should have to deal with, especially since it’s not even like he’s working right next to you.”
“And even then I’d say hiding the shake is a good compromise. For me I get really anxious and uncomfortable when other people are itching something, I don’t tell them to stop I deal with it myself and wait it out.”~1nsertcreativename
“I’m autistic and this…doesn’t seem real in some way. I’m not saying you made this up, but maybe the coworker is lying about certain things or just going out of his way to inconvenience you.”
“I definitely understand his sensory aversion to blended banana because it can be quite dry and kind of chalky on the roof of your mouth and even writing this I can picture the texture…”
“But it’s not your problem- it’s your breakfast and your choice, and he has no real leg to stand on here.”
“NTA if everything in this story is real and he’s not lying.”~dentist3214
All agreed what OP was trying to do to accommodate her co-worker was reasonable, and HR should be made aware of this situation from OP’s point of view.
Sensory issues are very real for autistic people, and the folks who commented on this post made it known their limits surrounding those issues don’t match with OP’s co-worker’s professed limits.
Hopefully, OP can go forward with confidence, knowing she’s done her best to be considerate and accommodating.