Written in March 2023
Whether to disclose your neurdivergence at work, or indeed any other setting (such as in interest-related clubs and groups, social settings and in healthcare or financial settings) is a decision that is not taken lightly by autistic and/or neurodivergent people.
Disclosure can result in difficulties with interpersonal relationships and interactions, lack of access to opportunities, and being treated negatively. Non-disclosure can result in difficulties with interpersonal relationships and interactions, lack of access to opportunities, and being treated negatively. It's the old “damned if we do, damned if we don't” thing.
When we do disclose and have negative experiences as a result it's down to a lack of understanding and acceptance on the part of the others. Stereotypes, as well as personal experience lead people into perceiving autistic or neurodivergent people in a certain way. Perhaps all they know about autism is what they see portrayed in the media, or they have an autistic relative/person in their life and expect all autistic people to be like that person*.
If we don't disclose and we have a negative experience as a result it is again down to a lack of knowledge and understanding on the part of the others. Perhaps if they knew about our autism, they'd be understanding and accepting? The problem is that we've all had, or heard about enough negative experiences post-disclosure, that actually “coming out” is incredibly hard and potentially damaging for us.
Personally, I prefer to disclose and then deal with the reaction, using the opportunity to educate and answer questions. I'm not always in the right headspace to deal with this, however, so I don't always disclose autism. If I'm in a situation where I'm having a problem processing spoken words (and that person doesn't need to know any more than that specific issue) I may disclose sensory processing disorder (SPD) or auditory processing disorder (APD). It would be great to be able to disclose autism without risking discrimination or mistreatment, but we aren't there yet.
In some social situations disclosure has led to a sort of conflict, where the conversation partner engages in “gotcha” tactics, trying to “catch me out” or disprove my neurodivergence. I'm prepared for that to happen, so I pick those moments carefully, avoiding them if I don't have the energy, or am not in the right headspace to deal with the conversational battle.
I disclose, and educate because I am (often) in a position to do so. I am eloquent and able to sustain eye contact, putting people at ease when they interact with me. I am tolerant of assumptions and misconceptions from strangers and have no problem with people making “mistakes” when learning about neurodivergence. I am privileged in my communication abilities, in a way that other autistic people may not be, so I feel a sense of duty to bust myths and educate when it is appropriate.
*This is an issue which affects all autistic people, but especially adult women/female presenting people who often have a markedly different autistic experience and expression than that of a 5-year-old boy who loves trains, if I may use a stereotype to illustrate the stereotype problem...