I work in a really great place. Seriously. After freaking out my future manager by asking during my interview if I would be able to have time off to go to the vets if my cat was ill, I still got the job. I should have known then that it was a match made in heaven. I followed up the job offer letter with an email outlining all the things I wouldn’t be able to do because of my Asperger’s, which was swiftly met by a referral to Occupational Health. With hindsight, and some well-meant feedback from my now very happy manager, I realise that my initial approach was somewhat crass and ill thought-through, but hey, I had only received my diagnosis the week before and had over-committed to my plan to disclose.
I’ve actually had a good experience of disclosing at work, but I thought I would start my post with a couple of blunders that are probably unique to me and could easily have been avoided. Maybe. If I was more aware of what was and wasn’t socially acceptable. Anyway, I’m very sceptical of selection procedures, and have a lot of faith in large companies with equality policies. Therefore, I chose to disclose *after* I had formally been offered the job and had accepted the offer of employment, but before I started working there.
I should add that a very astute acquaintance told me when I first left university that I would be best served getting a job in the public sector with its large, transparent, ‘equal opportunity’ employers. I took this seriously, and it has served me well. In my employment first in the council, then the NHS and now at a university, I have benefitted from clearly defined employment policies that support me as a differently-abled employee.
During my induction, my manager, the occy health nurse and I decided it might be useful to circulate a short email to colleagues explaining a few useful points. Whilst I didn’t think of this on my own, I did think it was a brilliant idea and (accurately) anticipated that it would reduce my anxiety. It removed a lot of the expectations I would otherwise have placed on myself on others’ behalf, because the email tackled specific insecurities and sources of problems that I have had in the past. This is verbatim what I sent round:
I have Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and [manager] and I thought it might be helpful for people I work with to know a bit more about how it affects me as it varies between individuals. Having AS means that I think differently to most people and although I have lots of strategies that I use, it sometimes means that I behave differently too, which out of context can be misinterpreted negatively as being rude, over-sensitive, unhelpful or aloof.
Four things that will probably help us develop the best working relationships are:
1. Please be direct in communicating verbally with me – I don’t get hints, subtleties, nuances, reading between the lines, office politics, implied meanings etc, which are used more than words in communication. I only have the words to go on, so please say what you mean and if you want me to know something or do something you need to tell me (explicitly specifying if information is sensitive or confidential). An example would be saying ‘please close the window’ rather than looking cold or saying that you are cold.
2. Please be specific about what you want – I sometimes ask a lot of questions that may seem obvious or trivial when you do tell me something. This is not me being difficult, I simply want to understand exactly what you want in a way that fits with how my brain categorises information. An example would be specifying how many of something you would like, rather than ‘some’ or ‘several’.
3. Please give me (constructive) feedback – if I haven’t done something the way you wanted, please tell me, otherwise I will do it the same way again next time. Please also tell me if I have said the wrong thing. I always like to do/say the right thing, sometimes I am not able to tell what that is without your help.
4. Please don’t be offended if I don’t appear to be very sociable – I might not remember to say good morning or goodbye, I might not acknowledge you until you acknowledge me, and I might decline your offer of coffee or lunch, but that is because my social needs are very different to most people and very definitely not because I don’t like you or want to get to know you. This aspect of my AS has caused me the most difficulties, because people apply their motivations for that action to my behaviour, which are very different.
I am very open about my AS and am happy for you to share this information with anybody who might benefit, and to ask absolutely any questions about it :-)”
Looking back, it perhaps undersells me a little, but my perception of others’ expectations of me really stresses me out. I assume that they expect the same utmost perfection that I expect from myself. Therefore I pitched it at what I felt I could achieve on a bad day, when everything else is grinding me down and I have no ‘social fluff’. Incidentally it turns out that outwardly these changes are so subtle that *no-one* else notices – other people can’t tell the difference between days when I do and don’t have social fluff!! Therefore it is probably pretty accurate!
I guess ultimately, disclosure is a very personal thing, both in terms of how and when, and in terms of whether to do it at all. I do it everywhere because it dramatically reduces my anxiety, which allows me to excel at my job, but also, I hope, because it helps to tackle any stigma associated with having an autistic spectrum condition and challenges stereotypes people may have. It has on the whole been met positively by managers and colleagues and I would definitely do it again.
Credit for the inspiration for this post goes to Musings of an Aspie.
© Catastraspie, 2012.
- Disclosing Autism at Work: Strategies and Supports from Karla’s ASD Page (30daysofautism.wordpress.com) – further info, resources and things to consider regarding disclosure