Mahlia discusses disclosure

To disclose, or not to disclose?

My work is based around arts-led advocacy work around neurodiversity, which openly translates a positive and impactful message. I work with a variety of mediums, mainly visual art, but also writing, installation and video – all of which creates a dialogue with visitors at my art exhibitions.

Though I speak very openly about being autistic in my artistic career, and this is the core foundation of being an artist, I haven’t always disclosed to my managers and work colleagues in more formal employment settings

How does that add up, you may ask? Well, firstly it’s important to state that disclosure is a complex issue made up of many facets – all of which are different for each individual – not to mention how the context of the role and industry adds further intricacies into the mix. This blog focuses on my personal views and experiences of disclosure. I also wish to add that I’m employed in formal employment settings in addition to my art, as I have a portfolio career.

At the very outset of any job, I always ask myself ‘what will I get from disclosing that I’m autistic?’

As simple as it sounds, this questioning is helpful as it enables me to be clear in terms of what I want and need from my employment. I also feel that this enquiring nature hones back to the point that being employed is an exchange: your skills and services, in return for remuneration and other benefits.

I personally find that being autistic is private to me. I share this information with those I choose to. Having said that, I’ll always ensure that I tick I have a disability at the recruitment stage, so this information is held at a HR level. This again is only held with HR – anyone who interviews you, or your future managers and work colleagues won’t be privy to this information. I find this reassuring that it’s known at some type of level, but then I control who to tell further down the line. This can be as you start your new job, later on in your employment journey – or perhaps never.

I’ve only felt the need to disclose being autistic when asking for reasonable adjustments (which I have done) – or if I’m struggling

People often ask if I’ve disclosed at the interview stage, but I’ve never felt it to be relevant here – you may not get the job, plus you may not wish to work for the organisation. It’s all too soon.

So, going back to my original question of ‘what will I get from disclosing that I’m autistic?’ – I’m ultimately checking if it will be helpful to disclose, and whether it will make an actual difference to me. And this all depends on various factors: the work environment, modes of communication with colleagues, social structures – and the company culture as a whole. For example, it may be the case that I have a colleague who talks out loud to themselves and dist