This topic was recently requested on one of the forums I belong to. I have also been asked about it in person on several occasions.
The question is “Should I tell my boss at work about being an Autistic Spectrum Individual?”
I am of two minds on this topic. But before I get into that, I want to ask you a question… Would it make your work life any better if they knew?
There are many contributing factors as to whether or not you should advise your workplace about your condition. Do you live in a right to work state? Is your condition contributing to issues in the work place? Are you comfortable doing so? Was your condition known to you when you started working there?
Let’s start with the application process. Most companies have a spot on their application that asks something along the lines of, “Do you have any conditions that would prevent you from performing the tasks associated with the position you have applied for?” Many Autists will answer no to this, as we are capable individuals… but later on, we find out that we were wrong – Sensory issues, stress, NT behavior and more make it difficult to complete tasks and work for us. In this case, one has to wonder, should I go ahead and tell the, at this juncture? To this, I can only say, it all depends on the place you are working. If they are decent people, then there is no harm in telling them once it is discovered that you are having issues.
However, many employers are not as accepting and sometimes are downright ignorant, rude or worse in situations like this and will point out that they have it in writing that you do not have any issues that would prevent you from doing your work. They are within their rights to terminate your employment due to a fraudulent application.
So, in this situation, I have to say it is a matter of personal discretion. Most companies will bend over backwards to help a handicapped individual, when they are advised of the condition. Some will not.
If you are comfortable telling your future employer that you have a disability, then do it from the outset. It is much easier to start with everyone knowing than it is to change a paradigm later on in your employment.
“But won’t that keep me from getting the job?”
It is a very real possibility that this is the case… but I want you to ask yourself… “Do I want a job where they wouldn’t hire me simply because I have an Autistic Spectrum Disorder?” I know the answer to that. I have been through it. The answer, I think, is a resounding, NO. You don’t want to work for a company like that.
The reality of it all is that (in the United States, at least) it is illegal for any company to discriminate against anyone in the work place for any disability that they might have. This means that they cannot decide against hiring you based on your disability. Further, they are required, by law, they are required to make reasonable accommodations for disabled individuals in the work place.
What if you are not diagnosed before you start the job and after years of working for a diagnosis, you finally get one? Tell them. Straight up, tell them without hesitation. They cannot terminate your employment for getting sick, and they are required to accommodate (within reason).
I know it can be hard, but we need to be open and honest about our condition. Until recently, I had a lot of problems with admitting my condition… to anyone… One day, I had to take my Big Sister to the hospital… If you have ever been in a hospital emergency room in a big city, then you will understand what I mean when I say that they are rude… in the extreme…
Then the Sister Person said the magic words – “Special Needs Adult.” Their attitude changed and suddenly, the people at the hospital were nice, personable, and willing to make concessions to keep her comfortable physically and emotionally. By admitting that she was an Autistic Spectrum Individual, her life became easier.
It took me a while to accept that this is what I needed to do, but I eventually did it. If it weren’t for that decision, this series wouldn’t exist. Hell, this blog wouldn’t exist. Honestly, that is the key to self-advocacy… Acceptance of your condition. If you cannot accept your own differences, limitations and gifts… then you can’t expect others to do it.
But I digress… because… well – REASONS!… So it all comes down to the following questions… Do you feel comfortable enough to tell people about your condition? Is your particular brand of Autism such that you need accommodation? Are you having issues with any of your co-workers that would benefit from them knowing about your condition?
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then my advice is to tell them. It can’t hurt anything.
But the answer is ultimately something that you have to decide for yourself. My sister calls it “The Dollars to Nonsense Equation.” Essentially, how much nonsense are you willing to put up with before it becomes an untenable situation? I wish I had a more firm answer for you, but honestly, it needs to be considered on a case by case basis. I, for one, feel that in 99% of cases, the answer to the question is a resounding yes… Tell them.
Knowledge is the first step towards awareness. If they don’t know, they can’t even begin to become aware… We are each responsible for our own advocacy… Yes, there are groups out there that specialize in Autism Awareness and Advocacy, but not one of them is you. None of them have your particular brand of Autistic Spectrum Disorder… So the best person to talk about your Autistic Experience and Perceptions is you. Don’t be afraid to do so.
Images in this issue SHAMELESSLY stolen from the following sources: