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Should I Disclose?


Having an invisible disability such as autism or ADHD means that colleagues and managers are unaware of the challenges that you are struggling to deal with an overcome in the workplace. Whether that is related to the sensory differences impacted by the physical environment, social interaction and different communication needs, challenges with executive functioning which affect productivity or difficulties around focus, procrastination and anxiety, it probably means you spend a lot of time and energy factoring your unique needs into decisions you make every day. For example, considering how you are going to manage and recover from a social event, or sustain focus through a long meeting with no breaks in which you are mostly listening, or expected to switch rapidly from on task to another.


Another very important yet tricky decision is deciding whether to disclose your diagnosis and condition to someone. Disclosing comes with various implications and consequences, both positive and negative, depending on the situation. Although disclosing can open doors to understanding, support, and accommodations, it can also lead to misconceptions, biases, or even discrimination. The key thing to remember is that it is your decision who you disclose to, when you disclose and what you disclose. It’s important to think about why you are disclosing – what do you want to happen as a result of sharing this information?


Understanding the Decision to Disclose


The choice to disclose can be influenced by many circumstances. These circumstances range from needing to do so out of necessity, to doing so as a first step toward self-advocacy. But like any significant decision, it's important to weigh the pros and cons before making the choice.


Everyone has their own experiences. You might have been diagnosed early in life and have grown up with an understanding of your autism/ADHD or you might have been diagnosed later in adulthood and this involves reshaping your self-perception.


Past experiences, current circumstances and future goals will also influence your decision to disclose. For example, you may be more hesitant to disclose if you have faced misunderstanding or bullying in the past or you might have found that being more open has helped you find strength in your identity.


The Pros of Disclosure


Acceptance and Understanding: Sharing your diagnosis allows others to better understand you and reduce misconceptions. This helps pave the way for them accepting you for who you are.


Access to Support and Accommodations: In many settings, especially educational and professional ones, disclosing a diagnosis can be the key to receiving necessary accommodations and support. Accommodations are a helpful safety net for many on the spectrum or with other neurodiverse conditions, so they are worth pursuing.


Authenticity: Being open about being neurodivergent can be liberating. It allows someone to be their true self without the weight of masking or pretending.

 

 

Scenarios When Disclosure Might Be Beneficial


Choosing to disclose is not a one-size-fits-all decision. The context and environment help determine whether disclosure is advantageous. The following are some scenarios where disclosure can be beneficial.


Requesting Accommodations or Support

Organisations and workplaces will have policies and protocols in place to support employees with disabilities. Disclosure can enable an autistic, ADHD, dyslexic employees to ask for reasonable adjustments or accommodations, like a quiet workspace, flexible working hours, specific communication preferences, specialised learning tools and software. Workplaces are legally obligated to provide accommodations, but they have to be deemed reasonable.


Building Trust and Understanding

In may be beneficial to disclose to your line manager or to a trusted colleague. It provides context for certain behaviours or preferences and paves the way for open communication. It hopefully also means that if you need to implement coping strategies you can do so without question or judgement.


Setting Boundaries and Expectations

By being open about your needs and challenges, you are better able to can set clear boundaries and expectations. This leads to healthier interactions between you and your peers and reduce your anxiety.


Scenarios When Disclosure Might Be Ill-Advised


Although there are situations where disclosing can benefit you, there are also scenarios where doing so may be unnecessary or even ill-advised. Everyone must gauge the environment and potential outcomes before deciding to disclose, with the following being examples of circumstances that warrant being cautious.


Casual Acquaintances or Short-Term Interactions

For brief encounters or relationships that don't involve personal matters, disclosure may be unnecessary. In a work situation when meeting or working with clients or contacts outside your immediate team you may need to self-advocate if you have a need or strong preference to manage a situation in a certain way.


In Situations Where There Might Be Prejudice or Misunderstanding

Unfortunately, not everyone is well-informed, understanding, or tolerant about autism and other neurodiverse conditions. In environments where there's a high likelihood of encountering prejudice, stereotypes or misconceptions, it might be best to withhold disclosure to avoid potential negative reactions.

 

When Personal Privacy is a Priority

Some people value their privacy intensely and might be uncomfortable sharing personal details about their neurology. In such cases, the decision to not disclose is valid and should be respected. It is always your personal decision to disclose and what you disclose. Some people have a difficulty with over sharing personal information. If this applies to you think carefully before disclosing any personal information.


In New or Unfamiliar Environments

When entering a new environment or community, it might be wise to first gauge the atmosphere, people, and prevailing attitudes before deciding to disclose. This allows for a better assessment of how the information might be received.


Factors to Consider Before Disclosing


The decision to disclose is complex and requires careful consideration. Before taking this step, it's important to think about various factors that can affect the disclosure’s outcome, such as the following:


The Environment’s Inclusivity

Assess the general attitude of the environment you're in. Is it inclusive and accepting of diverse people? If the answer is yes, then that environment will likely be accepting toward you if you choose to disclose.


Potential Reactions and Consequences

Although it's impossible to predict every reaction, it's helpful to anticipate potential responses. Consider the personalities of those you're disclosing to and any previous indications of their attitudes towards autism or other neurodiverse conditions. If they want to know more about your condition, then consider preparing for follow-up conversations, questions, or the need to provide further information.


Personal Comfort and Readiness

Are you mentally and emotionally prepared for the disclosure and potential reactions, whether positive, neutral, or negative? When choosing to disclose, make sure you're in a stable place and have support systems, if needed. Your support system can include your friends, family, and mentors.


The Disclosure’s Purpose


Reflect on why you want to disclose. Is it to agree reasonable adjustments, build understanding, or advocate for yourself? Knowing your motivations can guide the conversation and make it more purposeful.


The Disclosure’s Timing

Timing is important. Assess whether it's the right moment to disclose by considering factors like the mood, setting, and current circumstances. This can make a huge difference in how the information is received and how the recipient responds.


How to Disclose Autism or other neurodivergent condition


Taking the step to disclose is a major decision, and how it's done can influence the outcome. Here are some tips to consider when opening up about your neurodiversity.


Choose the Right Time and Setting

When disclosing, opt for a quiet and comfortable environment where you can have an uninterrupted conversation. While there, ensure that the person or people you're disclosing to have the time and mental space to listen and engage.


Be Clear and Concise

Avoid providing too much information at once. Instead, provide a brief overview and offer more details if they show interest. You can also try starting the disclosure with a straightforward statement, such as, "I wanted to share with you that I'm autistic." You may want to prepare a disclosure statement beforehand to talk through and share.


Prepare for Questions and Reactions

Anticipate potential questions and have answers ready. Common questions might include "What does that mean for you?" or "How can I support you?" Also understand that reactions can vary. Some might be supportive, others curious, and a few might be indifferent or even negative.


Express Your Needs and Boundaries

Clearly communicate any specific needs or accommodations you might require. Ensure you also set boundaries by letting them know what you're comfortable discussing and what topics or questions might be off-limits. Also the level of confidentiality you wish to maintain.


Reiterate the Personal Nature of being neurodivergent

If you are autistic, emphasise that autism is a spectrum, and experiences can vary widely among autistic individuals. What's true for one person might not be for another. If you are able to share some personal stories, experiences or traits this can provide an idea on what it’s like being neurodivergent to whomever you’re disclosing to.


Dealing with Reactions


After disclosing the reactions you receive can vary. It's important to prepare for a range of responses and know how to handle them. Here's a guide to managing the different reactions you may encounter:


Positive Reactions

  • Response: Express gratitude for their understanding and support. This can strengthen the bond and pave the way for open communication.

  • Action: Build on this positive foundation by sharing more about your experiences, if you're comfortable and discussing ways they can support you further.

 

Neutral Reactions

  • Response: Understand that not everyone will have a strong reaction or a deep understanding of autism. This doesn't inherently suggest disinterest or disregard.

  • Action: Offer resources or information for those interested in learning more. If they remain indifferent, respect their stance but ensure you still advocate for any accommodations or support you need.

Negative Reactions

  • Response: Stay calm and avoid getting defensive. Remember that their reaction is more a reflection of their beliefs and misconceptions than of your worth.

  • Action: If you think it's safe and productive, address the misconceptions and provide accurate information. If the negativity persists, consider seeking support from trusted people or organisations and prioritise your well-being.


Summary


Disclosing is a path that can go in many directions. It's a path intertwined with self-awareness, societal perceptions and the innate human desire for understanding and connection. The potential benefits of disclosure, such as increased understanding, support, and accommodations, are undeniable. However, the challenges, including potential misconceptions, biases and vulnerability that come with opening up, are equally real. It's a balance between helping others better understand you and protecting yourself from potential harm. Whatever choice you make, let it be the one that's best for you.

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