Whether or Not to Disclose Autism at Work

From filling out lengthy application forms to mustering up confidence for an interview, job hunting can be stressful. It can be a little more stressful for people with autism as they are faced with the perennial dilemma of whether or not to disclose their diagnosis.

Most experts say that disclosing autism in the workplace is entirely a personal decision, based on the candidate’s needs and preferences. A differently abled worker may face stigma if they disclose. Eminent sociologist Erving Goffman, in 1963, described stigma as a form of shame imposed by the society, on a person who has a characteristic which is socially discredited. Goffman wrote that since being ‘normal’ is itself a great reward, people who fall in this bracket will put the stigma on others on some occasion by intent.

People with autism in the workplace may be viewed with curiosity. They may be asked to work on ‘dead-end jobs’ or overlooked in team projects. Their different ability can be blamed if anything goes wrong. Many workers fear that disclosing a different ability to their employers may lead to discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Disclosing autism in the workplace, nonetheless, has several advantages that include special accommodations and legal protection. Leading psychologists feel that the disclosure can reduce the stress associated with hiding the disability.

While scant research exists on whether workers who disclose their disability and receive accommodations fare better in the workplace, a 2016 study, carried out by a team of New York researchers, revealed that adults who communicated their special needs to prospective employers were three times more likely to get employment than those who concealed it. The study found that two-thirds of the adults with autism surveyed had a university degree and an increased chance of finding a job.

The Cons

It’s likely that people will feel uncomfortable if a worker talks about their autism. It exposes a general prejudice about the disorder. Saying that you have autism may seem like admitting to a defect. People respond with the usual “but you seem very much normal” phrase, as if trying to reassure that you aren’t differently abled.

The underlying problem is that much of the world still prefers to see autism as a challenge. An employee is often asked unpleasant questions about the treatment. No matter how hard you try to explain that autism diagnosis is a positive event, it often seems like conveying bad news. Information is not always received the same way you present them. People apply their own filters, overriding what you meant to say.

The Pros

The pros, of course, outnumber the cons. Disclosing autism makes it easier to strike a conversation. You will be able to ask for reasonable accommodations in the workplace. It’s often easier to leave a social event early or bypass it entirely without offending people. Your colleagues will understand the reason behind it, taking a lot of pressure off you.

While there are the undeniable legal provisions for people with autism, depending on the country you live in, disclosure can create the potential to reevaluate the dynamics of your relationship with peers and reduce the possibility of unnecessary future conflicts. You can quickly find out who will celebrate your achievements and who will use your autism to undermine you. Disclosure also provides an opportunity to inform and educate other people about autism. It’s also an advocacy on behalf of others with autism. It helps to challenge the misconceptions and myths that surround autism.

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