Tips for disclosing

I’ll start with a big caveat. I have been very lucky with my experiences of disclosing at work. It does not go so smoothly for everyone.

credit sam smith

Not everyone has an understanding manager, or a workplace willing to adapt for or learn about their needs. Please think carefully about how any of the below might apply to your situation before making a decision about what you’d like to do. If that is difficult, ask a trusted friend or colleague for some advice.

Employment Autism also has information about disclosing at the bottom of their page here.

I got my autism diagnosis at 27 while working in a busy and growing (i.e. chaotic and changeable!) Tech company.

I have since moved to an Analytics job in the Education sector. That means a slower pace, and more opportunities to work independently. Which suits me much better. The job is standard office hours, but I work from home full time in Scotland, travelling four or five times a year down to England for bigger meetings.

There are five ways I’ve shared my diagnosis with colleagues. I’ll describe each one below.

Not all of them will suit everyone!

1. Sharing a “How I work” document

I wrote and shared a document about autism, how it applies to me at work, and how my colleagues can help or support me.

It is aimed at people I work with regularly. I don’t expect them to remember everything (I tell them this!) but sharing the document up front means that I find it much easier to ask for things. And there is less explanation required if I ask to do things a certain way.

My manager sometimes shares this document with new members of our wider organisation as part of their induction to the Data Team. To me, it feels like a relief to know, before meeting someone new, that they already understand a bit about how I work.

For example, the document includes this note: “I sometimes need more time to process information. If you need my input on something that I don’t already know a lot about, send me something to review in advance. You’ll get a much more insightful response!”

When I know somebody has already seen this, I feel much more confident asking for extra information ahead of meetings. Even if they haven’t remembered reading this, they will probably at least remember why I am asking and know that it is a “need” not a “preference”.

So far I have only had positive responses to this. Colleagues have found it helpful to understand more and in some cases, I know it has been a relief to not need to “guess” what might be helpful or not for me.

It also makes it easier for them to ask questions, if something comes up that they are not sure about.

The full document is here.

2. Giving talks

I’ve spoken about autism in some “Lived experience” sessions run by HR at work. These sessions run on a range of topics and are an opportunity for colleagues to learn about things that impact the people around them.

These were a bit scary to do. Especially as an online meeting, it felt like talking at my PowerPoint into the void for half an hour…! Luckily, at the end, people had good questions to ask, and it started to feel more like an open discussion. Q&As can be daunting in themselves but, given the topic, I felt comfortable saying if I wasn’t able to answer them immediately and needed to think about it and respond via email.

Every time I’ve done something like this, it has led to some really lovely conversations with colleagues. Either about autism specifically, or other mental health issues. Being open about how you struggle can make others feel like they can be open too, which is lovely. More than one colleague has even sought an autism diagnosis as a result of hearing more about the topic and recognising traits in themselves!

There is definitely a bit of “imposter syndrome” that comes with something like this. People sometimes ask to speak to me about their own situations, and treat me almost like an “expert” on the topic, which I am not!

I do remind them that, while I can tell them what I think or have personally experienced, there are professionals out there who can help a lot more.

3. Sharing blogs during Autism Awareness week

I was asked to share some information during Autism Awareness Week. Specifically, to respond to some interview questions about autism and how it impacts me at work. I was short on time, so I pointed them to blogs I had written instead. If your workplace also does something to mark that week, it could be a chance to offer to share something if you feel comfortable doing so.

4. Ad hoc sharing when things come up

Sometimes a colleague will do or say something that throws me off, and I need to address it.

I’ve not had any outwardly negative responses to doing this so far, but it is a bit mixed. Sometimes people are just silent and don’t address it (which is fine but feels a bit weird), some people agree to do something a different way and then forget later (so I remind them!), others agree and are extremely positive about the openness and it has improved our working relationships. I’ll give a few examples.

I was being asked regularly to present work in a Monday morning meeting of senior colleagues. Mondays are hard at the best of times because they are transition days from the weekend. Adding onto that the stress of a meeting with senior and unpredictable colleagues who could ask anything(!) was really difficult. Once, a request to attend came in last minute. The topic was something that I knew could be presented by someone already attending the meeting, and didn’t really need a “Data Team expert”. So, I went back to the colleagues who had requested it. I explained (1) that because I’m autistic, fairly unpredictable meetings with a lot of people take a lot more energy from me than it might seem, and (2) the alternative suggestion in that case i.e. a different colleague presenting. The recipients were incredibly understanding. I didn’t attend that meeting. And, since then, I have received fewer requests.

Another example was a senior colleague calling me out of the blue. I didn’t recognise the number, so didn’t answer (as usual!) She followed up with a very vague email asking to call me to talk about “a request”. I emailed back requesting that she put it in an email and I’ll come back to her, and that we can schedule a time to talk about it if it can’t be resolved that way. I explained that I am autistic and so out of the blue phone cal