How to Tell Co-Workers and Friends that Your Autistic/Aspie

High functioning autism/Aspergers is a hidden disability.  It often goes undiagnosed until adolescence or adulthood.  This is especially true for adults who are in their mid-thirties or older.  As being diagnosed at the higher end of the autistic spectrum, or for Aspergers, was quite uncommon over a quarter of a century ago.

After being diagnosed as autistic/Aspergers, one of the most common questions is: should we keep it to ourselves, or let people know.  Our close family probably helped with the diagnosis, so they’d already know.  But should we tell other family members, employers, co-workers or friends.

Deciding Who to Tell that You’re Autistic

Choosing the people you want confide in (about being autistic/Aspie) is very dependent of your own circumstances.  There’s no right or wrong answer, and ultimately only you can choose.  But being autistic means we struggle to make decisions.  And trying to decide for too long, can occupy our minds too much, which may lead to depression.

Most people would let their close family know that they’re autistic.  Especially if they’re the kind and caring type, and it would help them to understand you more.  There’s a chance they may know anyway (as family members often share confidential matters, with each other).

If you’re a child or adolescent, I wouldn’t usually recommend that you tell your friends.  Even our best friends can turn against us through the years.  Then down the line, spread this personal information.  It could then lead to bullying for being different.  But if you have a best friend, and you feel that you can really trust them, then you’ll know if it’s right to tell them.

As an adult it really does get tricky.  You may have more co-workers than friends.  So you might want to tell everyone you’re close to.  It’s really worth weighing up the pros and cons.  Then working out if you can trust the person you tell or not (and trust the people they are likely to tell, such as their close friends).

Pros and Cons of Letting Friend and Co-Workers Know Your Autistic/Aspie:

Pros Cons
They will know the reason for your difficulties, such as: 

  • Communication problems
  • Sensory issues
  • Why you struggle with social interaction and eye contact
  • Why you excel at some tasks but not with others
They could use this against you by: 

  • Having a laugh/joke at your expense
  • Bullying
  • Discrediting your ability
They may be more understanding, if work adjustments need to be made. Could get in the way of being promoted.
They could help you to improve areas of weakness.  Gently and kindly persuading you to try new things.  Or helping you to improve your social communication. You might be excluded from the group for being different.
Help you get a promotion by putting in a good word for you. May be pitied, and left out of things by people who think it’s for the best.  Such as social events.
Build up a closer bond, trust and empathy with you.  
You no longer have to hide who you really are (which can be emotionally draining).  
Being an advocate for people with autism/Aspergers or any disability which will help others in the future.  

What Most People Do

I have read a number of blogs that give advice on whether to tell your colleagues or friends about having autism/Aspergers.

On the Hire Austism blog page, one person said he regretted telling his work colleagues.  He said they didn’t understand what Aspergers was and thought it was an extremely awful disability.  Whilst the author said that after being diagnosed five years ago she still ponders “the pros and cons of being out of the ‘autistic closet’.”

Another blogger called Willow Hope said she told her friends casually.  She was confident enough to say she didn’t care about the friends at school that might not want to help her.  Or about those who might not believe she is on the autistic spectrum.

A good thread about this topic is on Reddit.  Where opinions vary from keeping it yourself, so people cannot use the information against you.  To someone being very open and honest.  He tells everyone he meets.  He also explains how he may unintentionally cause offense, by the things he says.

Maura Campbell on the website SpectrumWomen said to take your time and first think about whether you should disclose your autism diagnosis.  As what you say, cannot be subsequently unsaid.

My story

All of my close family know I’m autistic/Aspie.  But many probably don’t really understand what it means, and have not researched it.  I have always been the same to them.  So although I’m different, they’re used to me.

I have only told four co-workers about my diagnosis, plus my line manager and HR department.  I’m sure they would have told others, but most people don’t really say anything about it.

Out of the few people at work I’ve told, I consider two of my co-workers to be close friends.  It has certainly been beneficial for them to know.  They have helped me so much since I told them.  In many ways they did not even realise.  Such as including me in conversations more.  Plus standing up for me when I’ve had problems in the workplace.

There have been a number of occasions when I have been tempted to tell other co-workers.  Even those that I don’t get on with.  Just to get it out there, so I can be myself more.  But I am glad I didn’t in the end.  I try to fit into work the best I can, but at the same time, I’m comfortable enough to be myself more now.  Especially around my friends.  I am different, quiet around people I’m not close to, sometimes say the wrong thing, and some of my views are quirky and unusual.  But most people accept me for who I am.

Final Thoughts

I find that when I have a decision, and I’m unsure what to do, my default option is keep things the same.  I believe it’s a very autistic mindset as we don’t like change.  Although not telling people might feel right, it does feel good telling people that you’re autistic as it takes it off your mind.

Everyone’s individual circumstances are different.  There are workplaces, I was employed at in the past, where I would never even dream of telling people I was autistic.  Then there have been others were I would definitely tell some of the kinder people.  If the circumstances are right for you, then perhaps tell one or two people you trust.  Then let it slowly develop from there, before confiding in others.

2 thoughts on “How to Tell Co-Workers and Friends that Your Autistic/Aspie

  • March 7, 2018 at 12:42 am
    Permalink

    Dear Shaun,

    I truly enjoyed reading your post. Your words are exactly reflecting what I think.

    I’m struggling with my high functioning Autism on a daily basis. I’ve never disclosed it at work because there might be disbeliefs and don’t want it to be interpreted as crying—for—pity. (This has happened when I told my teacher in college)

    Anyways, today, a coworker called me an a-hole within a rough conversation we had and later for “apologizing” he said that I’d been being known as office jerk and he’d just vocalized it.

    It was a wake up call for me. I used to think being respectful to others and doing a good job should be enough, but apparently eating alone or not getting too much close to colleagues marks you as being the office jerk.

    Your post got me thinking; should I disclose after all?

    Last time I disclosed (after being diagnosed a couple years ago), it cost me my marriage of 15 years, It’s true, no typos! My wife couldn’t believe or accept me being autistic for the fact that it’s high functioning and long story short we separated. So I have a bitter experience revealing I’m autistic.

    Now, I’m torn by this dilemma; to keep it to myself and remain the office weirdo or disclose it and wait for its consequences.

    What would you do?

    Best Regards,
    Sean

    Reply
    • March 7, 2018 at 4:56 am
      Permalink

      Hi Sean

      I’m really sorry to hear about your separation. It must have been an awful time for you. Going through the diagnosis process and coming to terms with it yourself is difficult enough but then not having the support where you most expect it is awful.

      What I have found from life is one person’s opinion is not necessarily what everyone thinks and there are even times when people talk behind your back but don’t mean any true harm or malice by it, probably think your an all right kind of guy, but just go with the flow of other people’s opinions.

      I really wouldn’t let the opinion of this person and what he has said affect you too much. Where I work I know some people don’t like me that much but in life it’s natural. But there will always be people that do like you as well, always.

      I have had the good fortune of working with several people like us with high functioning autism and find we are overly professional, reliable, follow the rules and strive to do the best job we can. At times, to other, people it seems we are a bit aloof and even a bit of a jerk as we don’t fit it with their ideals.

      It is your choice but if it was me in this situation I wouldn’t tell anyone. If your boss is happy with you and you know you do a good job then I would keep doing what I do. If there is someone who you know definitely doesn’t like you, stay professional with them, but don’t try too hard to try and get them to like you. They are not worth your effort. If you spot one or two people that you get on with more than others try gradually to get on with them a bit more and to strike a closer friendship. It may mean staying in, once in a while and joining them for lunch or making the first move in some way like sitting with them at a coffee break but it’s worth it. If you can get in with two or three people and form a close group where you all look out for each other then you will be happy at work and the opinions of those outside the group won’t matter.

      If it comes to a time when your job is on line. Say if your boss calls you in and says something like your not gelling with people etc etc then you might want to disclose it in private to that person. But, for now in my opinion it will probably add fuel to the fire.

      So many people just don’t understand or want to understand what autism is. I come across prejudiced all the time, even from people who are quite close. There are friends I haven’t told as I know for certain they won’t believe or accept that I am autistic. They think that you can’t be disabled as your clever and independent so it must either be a mistake or they label a person for anything these days even when not much is wrong. It takes very caring and understanding people to accept and even believe that we are what we say we are and these people are unfortunately quite rare. It is something so personal that I know I would only tell close friends if I had to but even then with caution. When I was first diagnosed I had this uncontrollable urge that I should be telling people so they can understand why I’m different. These days that urge has gone, I know I’m different but I don’t feel that I have to tell people the reason anymore. They accept me or they don’t. But at the same time I do make steps to fit into their world.

      Reply

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