To Disclose or Not to Disclose, That Is the Question

When, if ever, should you disclose to an employer that you are on the autism spectrum? Should you tell them in the interview? Should you tell them after they’ve hired you? Should you tell them only if a problem arises? Should you never tell them?

I have tried them all. If I tell them in the interview, I haven’t been hired. If I tell them after they hired me, whether or not a problem arises, I have been let go. And if I never tell them, well, I’m still on the spectrum, and I still experience the world as I do and behave as I behave, so then I just end up thinking everything is going just fine, and then suddenly I’m unemployed.

In my experience, people are extremely prejudiced against people on the spectrum. When I disclosed at Lockton Dunning, my supervisor immediately got the ball rolling on getting rid of me, and told me on the day that they did get rid of me that they had no intention of accommodating me. When I disclosed at Dallas ISD, I ended up in a race against the administration on whether or not I would get the accommodations I needed versus whether or not the administration would get rid of me by putting me on a plan, etc. They won.

The decision of whether or not to disclose is a personal one. Some don’t think they should have to hide who they are (that’s my position), while others have the position that it’s better to have a job and to not cause any problems of any kind. But because people think of autism only as a set of problems rather than a combination of problems and advantages, it seems that people shy away from keeping us around.

And let’s face it, there are a number of social problems involved in our employment.

We have a rather egalitarian outlook, and are likely to treat the cleaning people the same as the CEO. Even if we know better, having observed others, we still end up treating everyone more or less the same. While everyone else gives treating everyone the same lip-service, the fact is that if you do treat people the same, you will find yourself in a great deal of trouble in life.

We have trouble prioritizing. The ability to prioritize is very important for most work nowadays.

We have a tendency toward literalism. So even if we are helped with prioritizing, we will prioritize in exactly that way. If you have some complex way of prioritizing, you had better make sure you’re specific if you want us to do it that way. And that’s only the beginning of the problems that can arise with our literalism.

Of course, we are also good with attention to detail, strong concentration on our task, and tasks that require very creative thinking. You won’t find an autistic yes-man, though this is either good or bad, depending on the boss.

I suspect there are jobs in which disclosing isn’t a problem—tech jobs especially—but for most jobs, in my experience, the worst thing you can do is disclose. Only when we change people’s attitudes toward the autistic will our prospects improve.

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