When I was diagnosed autistic in my late 20’s, it was as if suddenly I’d been handed my brain’s instruction manual. That diagnosis was the tool to unlocking my success, so naturally, I wanted to share it with the world. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that talking about autism with people outside of the autistic community could be tricky.
Outdated Assumptions about Autism
People don’t know what autism is or they think they know what autism is because they saw autism on a TV show or know one autistic person. Most of the time people’s assumptions are based on outdated stereotypes that don’t bring to mind someone like me – a thirty-something, female, marketing executive with bright red hair and winged eyeliner.
Work has always been a place where I can thrive, assuming I’m working for an organization I believe in doing tasks I love. I firmly believe that I’m a great employee because I’m autistic NOT in spite of being autistic. When accommodated, and my autistic nature is respected, I’m a very dedicated and loyal employee who spends less time socializing then her peers.
At this point in my life, I need accommodations to be the best me I can be within the workplace. Being openly autistic allows me to explain why specific office environments won’t work for me, helps people to understand when I’m distant and ensures people let me get everything in writing.
Disclose or Not Disclose?
Disclosing within the workplace is complicated. Depending on the employer, it may not be advisable. I had one employer flat out tell me that my requests were unreasonable because “everyone wants to sit in a quiet corner with natural light and it wouldn’t be fair to give one-person special treatment” when the lighting in the office was making me PHYSICALLY ill. There are many common excuses – “You’re trying to get out of something” or you are asking for “something extra.” I find employers who don’t care about the comfort of their employees are not worth my time.
Then there are the dreaded looks of pity and disbelief “Are you sure?” “Wow, I would never have guessed” or “you must be very high functioning.” People are trying to be nice, but the truth is, they think they know what autism is and you don’t fit into that picture OR they are now putting you into their assumptions of what autism is, and are now changing the way they think about you.
Was I alone? How many autistic professionals were still hiding in the darkness, unable to be open and honest about their true nature in fear of stigma and discrimination? Is being openly autistic in the workplace still too dangerous for many or are professionals starting to come out of “the autism closet” in the workplace?
I know that the answers to many autism-related questions lay with two hashtags: #ActuallyAutistic and #AskingAutistics and as I’ve done many times before, I type my question:
Any other #OpenlyAutistic professionals out there? I’m openly autistic online and at work. Anyone else? #ActuallyAutistic #AskingAutistics If NOT – why not?
I’m an openly autistic senior software developer. I declared being autistic when advocating for accommodations. I also gave a presentation at work to educate colleagues about autism. I’m a director on the board of autistic-run non-profit @AIMautistic
Alexandra Forshaw, @myautisticdance
As an advocate yes, I am. As a person approaching a judge as such, no I’m not. The legal system has a biased rigidity. STILL. There are many autistics in the Field & few in my area, are out. We are educating the law per se, about autism so that our future counterparts CAN be out.
I’m an openly autistic midwife. It took me awhile, because there’s a lot of ableism in the medical field and I knew it could be rough. Being autistic ABSOLUTELY makes me a better care provider, it heavily influences my personal practice style in a positive way.
Arden Kindred, @ardenkindred
I really wish I could be, but unfortunately my field is far too ableist for that. I hope that someday the culture will change enough that I can be openly autistic, but in the meantime, I choose to keep my job.
Speech Autist, @SKP_SLP
I’m out online. At work (I’m a teacher) I didn’t tell anyone at first, then one or two people. Cautious because people have so many wrong ideas about autism, and I’m not sure how comfortable I am with it being known among kids I teach.
Fergus Murray, @MxOolong
I’m a piano teacher, private & in schools. I’m much more open online than at work, but if it came up, I wouldn’t hide it. I think some guess anyway, as I don’t mask.
Madge Woollard, @funkiepiano
Openly autistic. I have the luxury of being in a creative field where everyone’s something! I was already established enough when I was diagnosed to be confident people know I can do my job. I don’t personally like to treat it like something to reveal, just a fact of who I am.
Sara Gibbs, @Sara_Rose_G
Since “coming out” I’ve been able to correct misconceptions and “urban myths” and yes, i think everyone in my department has seen me have a meltdown at one point. Embarrassing but important for them to realise that even though I LOOK and ACT NT I do still have problems.
Pete Little, @FormerlyPete
Read more #AskingAutistics articles by Christa Holmans, Neurodivergent Rebel
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