As somebody on the autistic spectrum, knowing when to broach the subject of your diagnosis can be a daunting one. Sometimes it may feel as if it is better to keep quiet about it. In other cases, disclosing your autism or Aspergers can be the right decision.
As a part of me, autism unconsciously affects everything that I do. Of course, it affects me far more strongly in some ways than in others. On the surface it may appear to be invisible to the casual observer, seeing as I look, walk and talk much like any other ‘neurotypical’ human being. In certain social situations, for example, when I am making small talk (which I find hard) or talking to somebody about a subject I am deeply passionate about (which I find all too easy), traits of my Aspergers often show themselves through the way that I communicate. Equally, when I am attempting numerous practical tasks from supposedly simple everyday procedures like tying a tie to more unusual tasks such as putting up a tent, the problems I face are often all too apparent (and in many cases perplexing) to other non-autistic people.
So would I say that divulging your condition as an autistic person is a good idea? The answer is that it completely depends on who you are planning to tell.
All of the schools I attended were made aware that I was on the spectrum and, consequently, support was put in place for me as and when it was appropriate. Whilst I am relatively low-functioning in comparison with other Autists and Aspies, everybody on the spectrum is different when it comes to their needs. The school system was certainly daunting for me at times, though of course the same can likely be said for neurotypical students.
For the most part, I went through school without a great deal of additional help. What help I did have wasn’t picked up by other students as a sign that I was particularly ‘different’, because numerous non-autistics had additional help also, Dyslexic students being one example.
So, would I recommend (from my experience) letting your school and your teachers know about your diagnosis? Yes.
Would I recommend telling other students, with the exception of your close friends?
This is where the nature of autism and how it affects the individual comes into play on a big level. Whereas a person with Dyslexia is not impaired socially, a person with autism or Aspergers is fundamentally different in their approach to social situations and their understanding of social cues. In primary school, this, for me at least, did not pose much of a problem. It was when I went to secondary school that the problems started.
At this stage neurotypicals often begin to exhibit symptoms of what I call The Sheep Mentality. That is to say that it suddenly becomes very important for them to fit in socially and follow the trends of the people they wish to befriend. Autistic people rarely care for popular trends and their interests are often very unconventional, nor do they pretend to care about conforming. This makes them, in the eyes of many neurotypical groups, “uncool”. Unfortunately bullying at school is often just a fact that many on the spectrum have had to face at some stage to a greater or lesser degree (the former was certainly true in my case).
The important thing here is that the victim is being bullied because they have been identified as different by those carrying out the bullying. Bullies bully because there is a difference, and do not necessarily care about why a difference exists. While disclosure could improve matters, it could also make things a good deal worse.
Following school, the next logical place to examine is the workplace.
Based on my own personal experiences, I would absolutely encourage everyone on the spectrum to be honest about their condition and how it affects their way of working. Whilst technically employers are forbidden from using this disclosure of information against you, there is no doubt that it may be a disadvantage in certain situations. In all likelihood, however, being open about your diagnosis is very unlikely to be the sole reason why you were not chosen for the job. Often it simply comes down to their being another person who was better qualified. Employers in many cases will, in fact, admire your honesty, and some of the more knowledgeable ones may even recognize the potential advantages that your condition brings. Certainly, this is true from my experience of attending interviews where I have disclosed my Aspergers.
Why, then, would I encourage disclosure? There are a number of potential advantages. An employer who is aware of your specific needs is in a far better position to put in place any relevant steps and support systems that can be provided. It’s in the best interests of any credible employer to help to make your role in the work environment as stress-free as possible, after all. I would, therefore, recommend being open about your diagnosis when attending an interview. Of course, this assumes that an appropriate opportunity arises for you to mention it. When is “appropriate”? That depends on the questions you’re asked and your own discretion. I personally have no regrets about disclosing my Aspergers in interviews, as in several of those cases I have been the successful candidate for the job in question.
It might also be prudent to make sure that anybody else in a position of authority over you is aware of your diagnosis, though this is not always essential and again depends upon your own discretion. When it comes to letting your other colleagues know, consider the kind of relationship you have with them. If you have a good relationship, then it’s unlikely to be a problem.
Whether or not your family is aware may depend on when you were diagnosed. I was very young (around the age of 4 or 5) when I received my diagnosis. My parents were very honest with me from an early age and talked to me about what Aspergers is and what it means. At the time, I didn’t necessarily have a full understanding of its effects on me, something which I began to understand with age.
Aspergers has certainly caused challenges for me and my family throughout our lives, but there have also been upsides that have stemmed directly from my condition. Many of my greatest achievements in life have been helped rather than hindered by Aspergers. The reason for this comes down to the intensity of my special interests which fuels a desire to succeed in doing the things I love.
Of course, if you found out about your condition later in life, things may be very different for you when it comes to telling your family. I would reason, however, that a loving family should not have any issues accepting you for something that ultimately is beyond your control.
Some people might argue that there are many discriminatory practices in certain work environments that make revealing a condition like autism unwise. I’d counter that by saying that nothing will be solved by keeping quiet about it. If we are to change how the world views us, we need to be honest about things. After twenty-two years, I decided that I couldn’t bear hiding the truth any longer and I embraced my Aspergers for all its blessings and faults. I was tired of being dishonest.
Are you on the spectrum and do your family know about it? What has your experience been when it comes to telling others about your diagnosis? Comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!