Addressing Sensory Issues At Work

Loud noises can be a trigger for some. For others, it’s bright lights or harsh scents. Sensory issues have a way of adding an extra dimension of challenges to navigate, especially if you’re on the autism spectrum or if you suffer from sensory processing disorder (also known as sensory integration disorder).

Bright lights

Sensitivity to bright lights — also known as photosensitivity — can result in eye pain and headaches. In the workplace, you may or may not be able to have your workspace modified to lessen the effects caused by photosensitivity.

Check with your primary care physician to see if you are suffering from a vitamin deficiency that is responsible for light sensitivity.

If you work outdoors, your employer may allow you to wear sunglasses.

If you work indoors, your employer may be able to exchange fluorescent lighting with incandescent lighting.

If you work at the computer, set the monitor to the lowest brightness setting possible.

Loud Noises

Sensitivity to loud noises – depending on the cause, this may be hyperacousis or misophonia can result in ear pain, dizziness, nausea, or a loss of balance. For some, sudden and unannounced loud noises are the cause. For others, it’s certain pitches that are the cause. With misophonia, this is a case of a collapsed tolerance to sound, while hyperacousis generally has a medical cause.

Check with your primary care physician to see if you are suffering from a medical condition that causes hyperacousis.

If you work in an open office setting, working from a cubicle will help reduce direct noise. You can also request to have your work space as far away from troublesome noises as possible.

In some instances, it may be appropriate to request permission to wear noise canceling headphones or earplugs.

Harsh Scents

From time to time, we are exposed to harsh scents even in work environments that are identified as scent-free. Scents may or may not be avoidable, and there may or may not be ways to modify your work environment when dealing with scents you perceive as harsh.

Check with your primary care physician to see if you are suffering from a medical condition such as osmophobia (the fear of smells) or hyperosmia (smell sensitivity).

If you work in an open office setting, working from a cubicle will help reduce direct contact with the offending scent or scents. You can also request to have your work space as far away from annoying scents as possible.

Final Note

As much as possible, try to find work place accommodations on your own. If the accommodations that work best for you are noticeable or possibly contrary to the company’s policies, speak directly with Human Resources to confirm that such accommodations will be allowed for your situation.

Remember that your sensitivities are outside the norm. This doesn’t mean that your employer doesn’t need to accommodate you, but do not make unreasonable demands or have unreasonable expectations with regards to the degree to which accommodations can be made.

This article was researched and written by Elyse Bruce and Greg Trutner.

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