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  • Writer's picturePatty Laushman

Should I Disclose My Autism?

By Patty Laushman


Having autism means you probably spend a lot of time and energy factoring your unique needs into decisions you make every day. For example, an autistic individual with social anxiety must consider how their autism would affect them at a social event if given the choice to attend one, or how their autism makes certain types of jobs or work environments a better fit than others.


As another example, you might have to consider how much recuperation time you'll need working from home the day after working in the office all day and how this may impact your supervisor's perception of your productivity.

an autistic woman disclosing her autism to a friend

Another very important yet tricky decision autistic individuals have to make is deciding whether to disclose their autism to someone. Disclosing autism comes with various implications and consequences, both positive and negative, depending on the situation. Although disclosing one's autism can open doors to understanding, support, and accommodations, it can also lead to misconceptions, biases, or even discrimination.


In this blog post, I'll list some factors to consider when making this decision, the potential benefits of disclosing, and some advice for those contemplating this choice.


Understanding the Decision to Disclose

The choice to disclose one's autism can be influenced by many circumstances. These circumstances range from needing to do so out of necessity to doing so as a first step toward self-advocacy. But like any significant decision, it's important to weigh the pros and cons before making the choice.


Every autistic individual has their own experiences. Some might have been diagnosed early in life and have grown up with an understanding of their autism, while others might have been diagnosed later in adulthood, reshaping their self-perception.


Past experiences, current circumstances, and future goals can influence someone’s decision to disclose. For example, someone might be more hesitant to disclose if they faced misunderstanding or bullying in the past, while another might be more open if they found strength in their identity.


two female autistic adults with happy faces cheering mugs of coffee

The Pros of Disclosure

Acceptance and Understanding: Sharing one's autism allows others to better understand you and reduce misconceptions. This helps pave the way for them accepting you for who you are.


Access to Support and Accommodations: In many settings, especially educational and professional ones, disclosing a diagnosis can be the key to receiving necessary accommodations and support. Accommodations are a helpful safety net for many on the spectrum, so they are worth pursuing.


Authenticity: Being open about one's autism can be liberating. It allows someone to be their true self without the weight of masking or pretending.


Scenarios When Disclosure Might Be Beneficial

Choosing to disclose one's autism is not a one-size-fits-all decision. The context and environment help determine whether disclosure is advantageous. The following are some scenarios where opening up about one's autism can be beneficial.


Requesting Accommodations or Support

Educational institutions often have protocols that support students with disabilities. By disclosing, autistic students can access accommodations tailored to their needs, such as extended test-taking time, quiet spaces for exams, or specialized learning tools.


This also applies to workplaces, where autistic individuals can ask for accommodations, like a quiet workspace, flexible working hours, or specific communication preferences. Workplaces are often legally obligated to provide these accommodations, so autistic people can use them to their advantage to make it easier to bring their best selves to work and make their most positive contribution.

two autistic women building trust and understanding

Building Trust and Understanding

In close personal relationships, such

as with friends, partners, or family members, disclosing one's autism can deepen trust and understanding. It provides context for certain behaviors or preferences and paves the way for open communication.


Setting Boundaries and Expectations

By being open about their needs and challenges, an autistic individual can set clear boundaries and expectations in their relationships. This leads to healthier interactions between the autistic individual and their peers.


Scenarios When Disclosure Might Be Ill-Advised

Although there are situations where disclosing one's autism can benefit you, there are also scenarios where doing so may be unnecessary or even ill-advised. Every autistic individual must gauge the environment and potential outcomes before deciding to disclose, with the following being examples of circumstances that warrant being cautious.


Casual Acquaintances or Short-Term Interactions

For brief encounters or relationships that don't involve personal matters, disclosure may be unnecessary. For example, a casual conversation with a stranger at a bus stop or a brief interaction at a social gathering doesn’t warrant a detailed discussion about one's autism.


In Situations Where There Might Be Prejudice or Misunderstanding

Unfortunately, not everyone is well-informed, understanding, or tolerant about autism. In environments where there's a high likelihood of encountering prejudice, stereotypes, or misconceptions, it might be best to withhold disclosure to avoid potential negative reactions.


a male autistic adult thinking on a couch in dim light

When Personal Privacy is a Priority

Some people value their privacy intensely and might be uncomfortable sharing personal details about their neurology. In such cases, the decision to not disclose is valid and should be respected.


In Competitive Scenarios

In situations where there's competition, such as job interviews with multiple candidates or competitive sports, disclosing one's autism may need to be approached with caution. Although it's important to advocate for necessary accommodations, it's also valuable to gauge the environment and potential biases that could interfere with your ability to compete against your competition.


In New or Unfamiliar Environments

When entering a new environment or community, it might be wise to first gauge the atmosphere, people, and prevailing attitudes before deciding to disclose. This allows for a better assessment of how the information might be received.


Factors to Consider Before Disclosing

The decision to disclose one's autism is complex and requires careful consideration. Before taking this step, it's important to evaluate various factors that can affect the disclosure’s outcome, such as the following:


The Environment’s Inclusivity

Assess the general attitude of the environment you're in. Is it inclusive and accepting of diverse people? If the answer is yes, then that environment will likely be accepting toward you if you choose to disclose.


Potential Reactions and Consequences

Although it's impossible to predict every reaction, it's helpful to anticipate potential responses. Consider the personalities of those you're disclosing to and any previous indications of their attitudes towards autism or other neurodiverse conditions. If they want to know more about your autism, then consider preparing for follow-up conversations, questions, or the need to provide further information.


Personal Comfort and Readiness

Are you mentally and emotionally prepared for the disclosure and potential reactions, whether positive, neutral, or negative? When choosing to disclose, make sure you're in a stable place and have support systems, if needed. Your support system can include your friends, family, and mentors.


The Disclosure’s Purpose

Reflect on why you want to disclose. Is it to gain accommodations, build understanding, or advocate for yourself? Knowing your motivations can guide the conversation and make it more purposeful.


The Disclosure’s Timing

Timing is important. Assess whether it's the right moment to disclose by considering factors like the mood, setting, and current circumstances. This can make a huge difference in how the information is received and how the recipient responds.


two female autistic adults lying on top of the car looking up at the sky and chatting

How to Disclose Autism

Taking the step to disclose one's autism is a major decision, and how it's done can influence the outcome. Here are some tips to consider when opening up about your autism.


Choose the Right Time and Setting

When disclosing, opt for a quiet and comfortable environment where you can have an uninterrupted conversation. While there, ensure that the person or people you're disclosing to have the time and mental space to listen and engage.


Be Clear and Concise

Avoid providing too much information at once. Instead, provide a brief overview and offer more details if they show interest. You can also try starting the disclosure with a straightforward statement, such as, "I wanted to share with you that I'm autistic."


Prepare for Questions and Reactions

Anticipate potential questions and have answers ready. Common questions might include "What does that mean for you?" or "How can I support you?" Also understand that reactions can vary. Some might be supportive, others curious, and a few might be indifferent or even negative.


Express Your Needs and Boundaries

Clearly communicate any specific needs or accommodations you might require, whether in school, work, or personal relationships. Ensure you also set boundaries by letting them know what you're comfortable discussing and what topics or questions might be off-limits.


Reiterate the Personal Nature of Autism

Emphasize that autism is a spectrum, and experiences can vary widely among autistic individuals. What's true for one person might not be for another. You should also consider sharing personal stories, experiences, or traits to provide a personalized understanding of the disability and some insight into your perspective. Doing so can provide an idea on what it’s like to live with autism to whomever you’re disclosing to.


"The potential of those of us on the autism spectrum is unlimited - just like with everyone else." - Dr. Stephen Shore


Dealing with Reactions

a happy autistic female adult receiving a positive reaction to her autism disclosure

After disclosing your autism, the reactions you receive can vary. It's important to prepare for a range of responses and know how to handle them. Here's a guide to managing the different reactions you may encounter:


Positive Reactions

Response: Express gratitude for their understanding and support. This can strengthen the bond and pave the way for open communication.


Action: Build on this positive foundation by sharing more about your experiences, if you're comfortable, and discussing ways they can support you further.


Neutral Reactions

Response: Understand that not everyone will have a strong reaction or a deep understanding of autism. This doesn't inherently suggest disinterest or disregard.


Action: Offer resources or information for those interested in learning more. If they remain indifferent, respect their stance but ensure you still advocate for any accommodations or support you need.


Negative Reactions

Response: Stay calm and avoid getting defensive. Remember that their reaction is more a reflection of their beliefs and misconceptions than of your worth.


Action: If you think it's safe and productive, address the misconceptions and provide accurate information. If the negativity persists, consider seeking support from trusted people or organizations, and prioritize your well-being.


Conclusion

Disclosing one's autism is a path that can go in many directions. It's a path intertwined with self-awareness, societal perceptions, and the innate human desire for understanding and connection. Every autistic individual's experiences are unique, and the decision to share their autism with others is influenced by various factors, from past experiences to future goals.


The potential benefits of disclosure, such as increased understanding, support, and accommodations, are undeniable. However, the challenges, including potential misconceptions, biases, and vulnerability that come with opening up, are equally real. It's a balance between helping others better understand you, and protecting yourself from potential harm.


But amidst the complexities, one truth remains constant – every autistic individual has the right to their narrative. Whether they choose to disclose their autism or keep it private, their decision should be respected. Ideally, we would live in a world where autistic individuals are free to be themselves and embrace their autism without facing backlash, so disclosing would be a given.


Sadly, that’s not the world we live in, so disclosing is instead a carefully considered decision, but it would be nice to live in that world where anyone, not just autistic individuals, are allowed to freely be themselves.


Regardless, to every autistic individual contemplating this decision: trust in your journey, know your worth, and remember that your story is yours to tell. Whatever choice you make, let it be the one that's best for you.

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