Should I Disclose My Autism to a Prospective Employer?

If you have autism spectrum disorder, should you disclose that fact when you’re interviewing for a job? If you’ve been hired without sharing your spectrum disorder with your boss, should you tell him or her about it?

For people with ASD, whether to disclose their diagnosis is a complex and deeply personal question, says Leslie Long, vice president of adult services at Autism Speaks, a research and advocacy organization that focuses on autism across the spectrum and throughout the life span of people with ASD and their families. “Disclosure is a very individualized decision,” Long says. The Americans with Disabilities Act prohibits employers from discriminating against people with ASD. It requires employers with 15 or more workers to provide a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability.

Though the law is clear, and some firms recruit people on the autism spectrum, there’s no guarantee a prospective employer or a work supervisor will welcome someone with ASD. Long has spoken to people with ASD who have disclosed their spectrum disorder to a boss or a prospective employer. Some had good experiences, in which their boss or potential manager was supportive and, when needed, provided reasonable accommodations called for by the ADA. Other people with ASD have told her they felt stigmatized after disclosing their spectrum disorder. “I don’t think people (with ASD) should disclose unless they need to,” Long says.

[See: 6 Ways to Train Your Brain for Healthy Eating.]

Tina Hamilton, chief executive officer of myHR Partner, a human resources outsourcing firm with clients in 27 states, agrees. If an employee or prospective worker feels he or she is 100 percent capable of doing the work without any accommodations for his or her ASD, there may not be any reason to disclose, she says. “Trust also plays a (role) — can the individual trust the company that they work for or are seeking employment from?” Hamilton says. Companies that have managers who have educated themselves about the capabilities and potential of people with ASD can help prospective employees and workers feel comfortable about disclosing their condition, she says.

ASD includes a range of cognitive, motor and behavioral challenges. The spectrum disorder can lead to sensitivity to light and sound, poor eye contact and the inability to read body language and other social cues. About 44 percent of children diagnosed with ASD have average to above average intellectual ability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A diagnosis of ASD includes several conditions that were once diagnosed separately, including autistic disorder and Asperger’s syndrome, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. ASD can also include pervasive developmental disorders, a group of disorders characterized by delays in the development of socialization and communication skills, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Autism is the most common of the group of brain disorders that collectively form the ASD, according to The Arc, an organization based in the District of Columbia that works to protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and supports their full inclusion in society throughout their lifetime. Some people with autism have difficulty reading social cues, like body language, and engage in repetitive behaviors. Many people with autism need structure and a set routine to perform at their best. The work environment is also important for some people with ASD who have difficulty concentrating on their tasks if their desk is located in an area where there’s a lot of foot traffic, Long says. “It may be important for that person to have a work space where there are limited distractions,” she says.

If you have ASD and are considering disclosing your spectrum disorder to a prospective employer or a boss, experts recommend these five strategies.

Research the employer’s record on ASD issues. Read the company’s website to see if it has any programs or resources for people with ASD, says Janine Rowe, assistant director, careers and disability at the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York. The existence of such programs and resources “would signal to a job candidate (or new workers) that the organization understands it has a diverse employee base,” Rowe says. Such resources and programs would suggest the employer wants to provide support for people with ASD to give them every chance to succeed.

[See: 10 Ways to Support Self-Sufficiency for People With Disabilities.]

Consider the work environment and your specific role. There may be aspects of your work environment that necessitate disclosure, Rowe says. For example, you may be assigned to a work area in a noisy section of your workplace where there are many sensory distractions. If that’s the case, it’s probably best to disclose your ASD to a job interviewer or a new boss, with the goal of working together to find a solution, Rowe says. In this instance, finding a quiet work space, or allowing the employee to wear a sound-muffling headset could be a solution.

If you choose to disclose to a potential employer, think carefully about the timing. If you’ve decided you should disclose your ASD to a potential employer you’re interviewing with, don’t do so until you’ve got a job offer, says Elaine Varelas, managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management and leadership development consulting firm headquartered in Boston. It’s probably not a good idea to tell a potential employer about your spectrum disorder during an early interview. “You don’t want to disclose anything that might screen you out of the interview process,” she says. “When you disclose your ASD, in the same breath communicate that it won’t pose a problem to doing the job well. The company is looking for reassurance that you’re a strong candidate, that you can do the job and this won’t cause a problem.”

Be proactive in finding solutions. If you decide to disclose your ASD to a potential boss, offer potential solutions, Varelas says. For example, you could provide the interviewer a list of 10 ways that you’re best managed. It could include suggestions like you work best when you get tasks in writing, rather than verbally, or that you do your optimal work when you email your progress on a project to your supervisor on a daily basis. “It can’t be 400 directives on how to be managed,” Varelas says. “You don’t want to be overwhelming.”

[See: 10 Concerns Parents Have About Their Kids’ Health.]

Be honest and don’t be embarrassed. If you disclose your ASD to a potential employer or a boss, be direct about your spectrum disorder and don’t be ashamed, says DC Manning, 27, who has Asperger’s syndrome. He lives in Rome, Georgia, and has volunteered with the Autism Speaks advocacy team to get autism insurance reform passed in his state. People with Asperger’s typically have difficulty with social interactions and a restricted number of interests, and they desire routine. They also tend to have remarkable focus and persistence and an aptitude for recognizing patterns. “Don’t be ashamed of the fact you’re autistic,” Manning says. “Autism is not who or what you are, but simply how your brain processes the world.” For example, one day, when he was working at a restaurant owned by his family, Manning was scheduled to work as a waiter. He arrived for his shift in a waiter’s outfit of slacks and a polo shirt. But the supervisor — his aunt — said she needed him to work in the kitchen that day. “I needed a few minutes to refocus,” Manning says. “I was mentally prepared for interacting with the public that day. In the kitchen, (workers) have a less formal way of conversing. If you ask me to change what I’m doing in the middle of something, allow me a brief period to reset and refocus.”

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