Help! Do I have to tell my co-workers that I am in the Spectrum?
Is it worth trying to explain to colleagues that my vagueness comes from being on the spectrum? Or admit that my view is not everyone’s cup of tea and going from there?
Sometimes I talk to young journalists trying to choose between the two jobs. They talk to me about the workload, the prestige, the ways forward, and a million other pros and cons. More than half the time, I would say, they are surprised by my first question because it has nothing to do with the factors they mentioned: “Which group of people do you want to work with?”
Prioritizing my work relationships from the beginning doesn’t come naturally to most people, in my experience; it certainly wasn’t for me. But as I get older, I realize that when I choose a “more enthusiastic” job than the opportunity to collaborate with people I admire, I always regret it. Many of us spend more time with our family members than with some of our closest colleagues (both remotely and IRLs), so it’s worth spending time and making sure it’s the people you want to learn from.
It’s a preface to pointing out that all of this is obvious: you don’t have to tell anyone that you’re on the spectrum that you don’t feel so comfortable with, but I hope you’ll find yourself where you expect to be. If you are surrounded by people who respect you and listen to you care about you, they will want to know what is affecting you and knowing will only deepen your relationship. If you’re not sure if your workplace is inclusive enough, think about how other groups of people are treated: Is the office accessible to wheelchair users? Are people of color excluded from group discussions or rarely promoted? Are women really treated equally? If they don’t pass the test, and you are able to get into the position of having enough confidence to tell your co-workers, skip the opportunity.
That said, I don’t have autism, and I realize that this advice, while irrelevant, is just as accurate as you don’t deserve, and therefore less helpful. As with all things, it can be helpful to consult friends who are in the same situation or people in your professional network. One of the advantages of being a semi-professional counselor is the ability to call and get great people their great advice. So: Eric Michael Garcia He’s a tremendous freelance journalist based in DC who covers politics and politics. He is also the author We are not broken, the upcoming book on how social and political systems can better serve people with autism. The book has a whole chapter on being autistic in the workplace, and it starts with Eric’s reports. It is an experience as an autistic person who has worked in the editorial offices of several notable publications.
Eric Anonymous was very clear in answering your question: “I would never tell anyone to report their autism to the detriment of their job or their ability to feel comfortable at work.” One subject he interviewed for his book told him that he had never revealed autism without remorse; he has also heard many horror stories about non-inclusive workplaces. So he recommends looking for some of the markers I describe above and if you decide you can’t stay open, developing a robust support system for tutors and friends outside of work can be a sound board. On the other hand, if you believe that your workplace is a safe space to be, sharing can serve as a sign of trust that strengthens your relationship as a colleague (as well as friends).
Surprising to me, one of Eric’s most notable tips for dealing with a person as an autistic person at work is basically the same whether or not to tell colleagues. “You always have to apologize and insult someone when you do,” he says. “Anyway, you can say, ‘Sometimes I can be plain or too rude, but I don’t want to cause insult.’ It’s inevitable that some people won’t like you for one reason or another, but try to better correct your corrections with your co-workers. A lot of mis-communication between autistic and neurotypical people is due to misconceptions about how autism works, says Eric. It’s not that autistic people can’t empathize, it’s that they have processing problems. In other words, they may not realize when they have hurt people, but when they are informed, they will apologize. If they don’t, they say “they’re just stupid”.