Should you Tell your Manager at Work that you are Autistic

Before my diagnosis of high functioning autism/asperger’s I was tempted to tell one or two trusted people at work that I might be autistic. Although I almost let it slip once or twice, I managed to keep it to myself until I was diagnosed.

After being diagnosed with high functioning autism, a few months ago, I decided not to tell work straight away. It took some time for me to get used to finding out. It was a big leap from thinking that I may be different to most people, to actual being told officially that I am different. Then realising that I have been different my whole life and will be for the rest of my life.

Once my diagnosis was official I had to decide who to tell. Close family was the first choice. My wife found out the same day I read the official report. Then, over the next few days, I told my closest family members such as my dad, sister, mother in law and father in law. After a couple of weeks I wanted other close family members to know such as my wife’s aunties and uncles. Apart from these few people other family members I have not told anyone else. Although I suspect that the information may have been passed from one family member to another.

The next hurdle was to let work know about my high functioning autism. As I am a learning support assistant, and work solely with people that have disabilities, I am fortunate to be in a job where telling people is easier. I know they will understand what my disability is, as they would have supported many people with the same disability as me, just like I have. I also know that most of the people I work with will be understanding and supportive. But it was still a big step to take. I finally told my line manager a couple of weeks ago when having an annual catch up. He was very understanding, as I thought he would be, which was great. As he had worked with people with disabilities his whole life he said he thought I had asperger’s but did not want to approach me about it. After telling him I told human resources so that they could add it to my file. I can imagine my boss might tell one or two people but hopefully, for now, only a few people know about it.

In the future I need to tell other people I work with, especially those I get on with the most. It might take a few months to tell them but I should have the courage to do this. Having high functioning autism does affect my job in some positive and negative ways. I have always taken the view that the positives more than make up for the negatives and I hope that the other people I work with take this view. I am sure the students that I have worked with will agree, which is the main thing. By telling other people about it they will hopefully realise the reason for my previous awkwardness, weaknesses and differences.

Only time will tell if informing work was the right thing to do. Perhaps if a new role comes up and I have got the courage to apply for it, I should have a fair chance in an interview. For example: if I say the wrong thing (which no matter how hard I try I still slip up even today) then it might not matter, if my eye is not very good (such as starring at the interviewers or not making eye contact) perhaps they will understand why, or if my body language is sending off all the wrong signals (as I have read so much advice on how to show the right body language it probably shows that I am faking) then they might understand.

Due to poor interviews I have lost out on a number of jobs, some of which would have changed my life and taken me down a very different path. Some I may have been able to do and some I would have perhaps found too difficult (but at least I could have tried or succeeded with a few reasonable adjustments). I am sure that the majority, if not all, of the unsuccessful interviews would have been down to my autism. I only go for jobs that I am almost certain to get where I have got more than the right experience, more than the right qualifications and so on. But no matter how much I can act at being the perfect candidate, by reading interview guidance books, researching on the web, spending hours (if not days) preparing for the interview, I come across wrong. So for me I think telling work was the right thing to do and for the foreseeable future, if I go for another job, I will be disclosing my disability on application forms.

Although it was right for me there are many times when being different is a good way to single yourself out to be bullied or treated unfairly. I have worked in a few job where telling my boss and colleagues would have been the wrong thing to do.

If I could offer guidance on this I would say that it is usually right if you work in a company where you get on with your manager, the company understand disabilities and encourages applications from people with disabilities (not because they legally have to but they genuinely want to – you can usually tell the difference) and they can understand the benefits as well as the negatives then it is probably right to tell them. But if your boss and colleagues are the type that make fun of people with disabilities or you feel that they may not understand, care or be sympathetic then it might be best to keep it to yourself or tell them at a later date when you feel confident that it is worth doing so.

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