How to Handle Disclosure of an Autism Diagnosis at Work

Disclosing an autism diagnosis can be a difficult decision for autistic employees who are seeking workplace accommodations and may find disclosure of a diagnosis crucial to obtaining those work accommodations.

Now a UK study interviewing 24 autistic individuals has shed some light on the process, including practical tips for handling disclosure at work. 

Here are what autistic jobseekers and employees should do to handle disclosure. 

  1. Seek to review your organisation’s policies on disclosure and legal protections for disabled employees. 
  2. Disclose selectively at first to an immediate supervisor.
  3. Involve HR if needed on exploring your options on how and when to disclose
  4. Seek outside help from organisations such as the UK-based National Autistic Society and AS Mentoring that can provide advice on disclosure and the protections afforded to disabled individuals in the workplace

As for employers who wonder how to handle disclosures of autism diagnoses, here are what researchers recommend: 

  1. Increase your understanding of autism within the workplace through individualised autism training, ideally involving the autistic employee and focussing on the autistic employee’s strengths, experiences and needs. 
  2. Avoid general autism training, which can promote problematic stereotypes and harm the autistic employee. 
  3. Have a clear process for disclosure and ensure there is follow-through with supports put in place to ensure disclosure has tangible, lasting effects. 
  4. Have regular evaluations by autistic employees of the adjustments put in place to ensure satisfaction, and a pathway for autistic employees to provide feedback when adjustments are not working 
  5. Invest in diversity training and clear guidelines on legal protections for disabled employees
  6. Adapt hiring practices such as practical evaluations instead of face to face interviews

What makes a successful disclosure of an autism diagnosis?

According to the researchers, there are three factors that influence the success of an autism diagnosis: 

  1. Understanding of autism – when colleagues and bosses had prior knowledge of autism, disclosure was often a positive experience
  2. Willingness to make adaptations – when appropriate adjustments were made, disclosure was a positive experience
  3. Organisational culture – organisations that are positive and inclusive of disability generally influence the positivity of a disclosure 

How is Disclosure Viewed Generally?

The study found disclosure outcomes were often mixed, with some people saying that disclosure led to problematic stereotyping. As one person commented: “people assuming I’m good at everything because I am good at one thing, and people assuming that I’m terrible at everything because I am terrible at one thing. In other words, the assumption of a flat autistic profile is hugely problematic.” 

Another person commented that disclosure was a disadvantage in recruitment. “They had been very happy with my written tasks during the application process, but the feedback I got about the interview was that I didn’t fit in there, and they were concerned I’d need adjustments to the training process. Which are both thinly veiled code for “You’re too autistic”. 

But others reported having improved mental health and wellbeing after disclosing their autism diagnosis: “I have become much more open about it because the response to disclosure has always been positive, so I feel able to mask a little less and live more authentically, which is good for the wellbeing.” 

And others reported that the disclosure had a positive impact on their organisation. “I don’t regret disclosing in that organisation because I believe it did good even for the organisation. Now they have a proper procedure where, if someone needs a disability adjustment, it is dated, it is in black and white, it can be followed.” 

Read the study here. 

This article was originally published on Neurodiversity Media. It has been republished with permission.