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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Rosica

Creating A Sensory-Friendlier Office

October is Sensory Processing Awareness Month! Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be focusing on ways that sensory processing can affect an individual in the workplace, and I'll give some thoughts on how workplaces can be better designed to accommodate different sensory needs. This week focuses on hyper-reactivity to sensory stimuli. If you're unfamiliar with occupational therapy, our goal is to help people participate in things that they want to, need to, or are expected to do. Sensory processing differences can make it very difficult for people to participate in their everyday activities, so this is one area I feel passionate about. Imagine being extremely sensitive to auditory input but having to ride public transportation full of rowdy school children, walk through a city block with horns blaring, or get your work done while coworkers speak loudly. All of this could exhaust you before 10 am! My goal in this post is to explain hyper-reactivity to sensory stimuli and talk about ways that workplaces and individuals can make their environments more friendly for people with different sensory needs!


People with sensory processing differences often have either hyper-reactivity (an over-response to sensory stimuli) or hypo-reactivity (an under-response to sensory stimuli). These reactions can happen in response to a variety of stimuli: vestibular, tactile, visual, auditory, smell, temperature, pain... you name it! Many neurotypical people can understand a small slice of what hyper-reactivity to auditory stimuli feels like when you think of the sound of nails on a chalkboard. The sound makes it nearly impossible for me to focus and gives me chills every time. Many neurodivergent individuals experience an overwhelming sensory experience like this with sounds, smells, and other input that might not even register to neurotypical individuals. Functioning despite this sensitivity is quite the feat, but workplaces can do more so that people with sensory differences don't have to put in the extra work. When system-wide changes can't be made, small individual accommodations can go a long way, too! So how can we make our workplaces better for those who are hyper-reactive to sensory stimuli? See a list below for ways to help employees with hyper-reactivity to different sensations. Auditory:

  • Provide/allow noise-cancelling headphones

  • Allow for employees to join meetings via Zoom or video conference, where they can control the volume of the 'room'

  • Invest in "call booths" or noise-blocking cubicle-covering

  • Allow working from home

  • If many people work in one area, try grouping employees by noise preferences (i.e. people who prefer to work quietly are grouped together)

Visual:

  • Use light dimming switches in individual offices so employees can adjust to their preference

  • Use anti-glare screens (good for privacy, too!)

  • Use blue-light glasses, or have a pair around the office for people to trial

  • Avoid brightly colored walls or furniture

Tactile

  • Avoid requiring uniforms if possible

  • If uniforms are needed, consider giving options of several types of fabric and styles

  • Consider a relaxed dress code for offices to give employees options in what they wear

General Accommodations:

  • Normalize fidgets in the office

  • Allow employees to go outside or take breaks when needed

  • Ask employees for anonymous suggestions on how to improve the office



Want more information? I've found a blog called 21 and Sensory to be extremely insightful as a first-hand experience of what it's like to live with sensory processing differences. Emily can also be found with awesome graphics (like below) on Instagram at @21andsensory.

Credit: 21andsensory


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