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#Autistic people and industrial action: A THREAD.

Anyone who either follows me, or works in a UK higher education institution at the moment, probably won’t have missed the fact that members of UCU will be taking strike action from 25 November to 4 December... 1/
I thought I’d put together some thoughts on the potential impact of industrial action on autistics – whether they are participating or not. To make clear: I AM participating in the action. To make clear: I AM participating in the action... 2/
However, whilst striking is difficult for anyone, there are extra layers of difficulty for many autistics like me who might be doing so. (Caveat: I only speak for myself, but there are some generalisations that follow which will be quite widely applicable to others)... 3/
Okay, so firstly: uncertainty. Because our experience of the world is so overwhelming, we like to be able to have control, plan, and prepare wherever possible. The nature of industrial action means that this is bloody tricky. 4/
Basic details (e.g. dates of action) are often only communicated a matter of weeks before it takes place. SPECIFIC details are communicated at even more short notice, and continue to change up to, and even during, the action. The strike could be called off at the last minute. 5/
No one can ever say with complete certainty that (for example) the financial support you apply for to cover your loss of earnings will be guaranteed. 6/
On the subject of financial support: many autistics are underpaid and/or overqualified for the roles in which they are working. It may be that a disproportionately large number autistics are at the lower end of the paygrade spectrum represented by a union such as UCU. 7/
Autistics are more likely to be in insecure employment.

We may have comorbid conditions/impairments: we’re often multiply disabled. Being disabled is EXPENSIVE (I won’t go into why here, but take my word for it, it is). Many of us have reduced/limited/no disposable income. 8/
We don’t know whether to tell people our plans or not. The nature of strike action is that no-one needs to communicate their intentions ahead of time - but this is difficult for autistics to deal with! 9/
Information overload. This is HUGE. All those last-minute communications. A mishmash of emails, tweets, shared Google Docs, WhatsApp group conversations, websites and so on. Not to mention all the extra conversations going on in the office. It’s difficult to escape. 10/
Plus: the information is confusing. Some of it comes from the branch; some of it comes from the national organisation. There are communications from your managers, your department, the institution. 11/
There is no single source, and it can be difficult to work your way through what’s necessary and what isn’t. 12/
So what happens when the strike is ON? Okay...disruption to routine. I like a bit of time off, but lengthy periods away from work I actually find very stressful. 13/
I recognise the need for trying to instil my own structure to time away from work, but I often lack the executive function or energy to actually do this. (As an #AutisticParent, I have a real love/hate relationships with school holidays for this reason). 14/
Next… More uncertainty. If you decide to picket but have never done so before, it’s very difficult to know what to expect. There are frequently asked questions, detailed documents on the operational stuff, but... 15/
...less on the “what is it actually like?“, “What happens first of all when I turn up?“, “How will people behave?“ side of things. 16/
Okay, so yes, there IS this information, but the majority of – the crucial stuff that an autistic person might need to reassure themselves – tends to be communicated verbally. 17/
Like many autistic people, I struggle with information communicated by speech alone – partly because of difficulty processing language in this form, partly because of my poor working memory (once what’s said has been said, it’s gone!). 18/
Then there is the sensory overload. Shouting human voices are one of my worst anxiety triggers. Personally, I really struggle with marches and rallies. 19/
I basically don’t take part in them – the shouting, the noise, the crowds, the aggressive tones of voice (even while there’s camaraderie between those present). All of these are likely to bring on a meltdown a panic attack, or contribute to a migraine later on in the day. 20/
On the other hand, picketing can be really fun. I had a great time the last time I was involved in a picket line dancing in the rain with a load of colleagues. I’m not saying we’re all joyless sad sacks who don’t want to be involved; but much of it is difficult. 21/
But bear in mind: we may not be able to get as visibly involved as many of our abled peers. We will be far more tired out by the whole process, and will need far more time to rest. 22/
Because of all of this, some autistics will simply decide that taking strike action is something they can’t actually cope with doing. I only took a limited amount of time out last time because the whole thing freaked me out so much...23/
... And I felt like a really shit human being for doing so (much of this negativity being self-inflicted. But many of us are used to blaming ourselves for not being able to cope in a world that isn’t set up for us). 24/
Some autistics will need the stability and structure of coming to work as normal. Except – and here’s the crunch point – it WON’T be normal. Picket lines, however friendly, can seem inevitably intimidating. 25/
This is not simple discomfort – crossing a picket line may be emotionally and sensorily painful. 26/
Many of us have a strong sense of justice – we may have spent weeks in emotional turmoil about whether or not to strike because we support the cause but worry about the effects on our mental and physical health and wellbeing. And obviously, not everyone is in a union. 27/
Those autistics who want or have to continue working may want to continue their duties as normal, but find themselves in the awkward position of being asked (appropriately or not) to cover for others, work in a different location, or 28/
they may be struggling because they cannot do their work as normal because they are waiting on colleagues who aren’t there. Remember: we experience the world intensely. So much of it is chaotic. That’s why we need routine – it’s a way of packaging and dealing with the chaos. 29/
And because of our communication difficulties, some autistics being asked to do other work may find it difficult to articulate why this is inappropriate/feasible/hard - especially to managers. 30/
They may also find it stressful trying to explain their position to others – remember the thing about verbal communication? It can be difficult to do ACTIVELY as well as receptively (even for those of us deemed “verbal”). 31/
Last time round, I ended up typing out a lengthy explanation for I wasn’t striking to hand out to people – I didn’t end up using it, but this illustrates how much agonising and overthinking I was doing about the whole thing. I couldn’t switch off from it for months. 32/
This isn’t the case for all autistics, perhaps it’s because of my anxiety and ADHD that I think this way, but some of us may exaggeratedly worry about how other people view us for what action we choose to take or not to take. 33/
We may linger on an awkward conversation days, weeks, or months after it took place, even while our non-autistic colleagues have forgotten all about it. 34/
What about afterwards? There may be relief that it’s over, but possibly a shutdown/meltdown/burnout as a result of the transition back to normality after a period of upheaval. 35/
The other thing is dealing with all the associated “paperwork“ – filling in notification forms, applying for hardship fund support etc. Many autistics (not all, but lots of us!) have executive function difficulties – organisation skills, planning, prioritising and so on. 36/
Dealing with post-strike “life admin” is another cognitive headache that’s far more substantial for us than our abled colleagues. 37/
Plus, the information overload continues – particularly if the dispute does not reach a satisfactory resolution. I’m going to hold my hand up here and confess that I’ve set up a filter to mark as read and archive all emails sent by UCU nationally. 38/
I only see the ones from my local branch. It’s just too much otherwise. (Sorry, national UCU folks!) 39/
The upshot of all this is: be kind to your neurodivergent colleagues and comrades. You may not be able to imagine what their experiences are; you may not have any remote ability to understand their perspective. 40/
But try to understand that this time is going to be very difficult for them. Try (and I know I’m being a little bit facetious here!) to develop something of a “theory of mind“ about how they may be feeling – try to empathise with those whose neurotype differs from your own. 41/
Be kind, but not overbearing. Welcome your autistic comrades to the picket lines, but respect that they might need extra space at times. And recognise that being visible and physically present is not the ONLY way to take action. 42/
But do also appreciate that not everyone can take action. The very process of deciding whether or not to do so might be deeply distressing. Be kind to those who continue to work as much as those standing with you. You don’t walk in their shoes. 43/
Love and peace to all, and I’ll see some of you on the picket lines! ✊🏻✊🏼✊🏽✊🏾✊🏿❤️

#UCUStrikesBack #ActuallyAutistic #AllAutistics #IncludeUs #UCUStrike
(That’s the end of the thread, by the way! ☺️). /ends
Although I am going to continue using it to share the experiences of other #AutisticsInHE and #AutisticsInAcademia - these voices need to be heard...
To reiterate - the communications strategies used by @Ucu and other #TradeUnions can be highly damaging for your #autistic and other #neurodivergent members, and those suffering from #anxiety. Inclusivity needs to be, well...more inclusive.
@ucu Another person echoing some of the struggles I've conveyed in this thread:
@ucu The anxiety provoked here MUST NOT BE UNDERESTIMATED:
@ucu Addendum re: communication - instruction from @sheffielducu:
"Many of you use work email as your contact address for UCU and for that reason we ask that you check it periodically when you’re on strike specifically to see any email updates from us..." contd-->
@ucu @sheffielducu "...- please ignore the rest of your work email while you’re taking action."

For an autistic ADHDer like me, this is virtually impossible to do.

In my case my work emails will be OFF, and UNSYNCED from my mobile/iPad. It's the only way I'll be able to maintain clear boundaries.
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