Telling people at work about your autism and how it impacts on you is important – this is beyond the official “employer disclosure” talked about in another toolkit article. It is more about helping you to talk to others in general about autism, and how it impacts on you.
Before you entered higher education you may very well have found that your parents, carers, teacher or other people may have done most of the talking on your behalf. They knew about you and could explain how your autism affects you socially and educationally.
While you have been studying, you will have become more confident in talking about this yourself but it can still seem daunting. It is your decision about who you talk to, and what information you want to tell . You need to be comfortable in what you say and explaining your needs, but also highlighting your strengths and skills. This is all about being able to be an effective self-advocate.
How may this affect me?
Different people need to know different things about your autism and the impact it has on you. Just telling people you are autistic often does not give them enough information to understand how it impacts on you, and what they can do to support you. However, talking about your autism is a very personal decision. You need to be comfortable in talking to others about your diagnosis and how it impacts on you.
Colleagues at work do not necessarily need to know about the definition of autism but it may help if you can speak to them about the impact it can have on you in situations at work. For example if you are anxious around social events, react in certain ways, experience sensory sensitivity, or have certain things you do in order to feel comfortable. If your work colleagues have this knowledge, it means you do not have to pretend to be someone else around them and it will help them to understand you, and why things may happen.
As an example, if you have issues with social situations, knowing this helps avoid the awkwardness that can arise when someone starts a non-work related conversation. If you have sensitivity to noise then it can help people to understand why you ‘switch off’ in loud environments. If you get hyper-focussed on work it can help colleagues to understand why you seem oblivious to what is going on.
You may find initially with new work colleagues you are not comfortable talking about your autism and this is absolutely fine. You may need to feel you can trust people before you start talking about it. However, you can talk to a close friend or family member if things at work are impacting you as this may help to clarify what you are feeling. It helps if they are someone who knows you well as they can help you understand how others may perceive you.
Before you talk to colleagues and new people about your diagnosis, you need to be clear about what you want to disclose and how it impacts on you. This is where talking to a trusted person about your thoughts and feelings will help you clarify your needs.
What can I do next?
Talk to a trusted person first so that you can better understand what is appropriate to share and how that may impact you.
Even if somebody knows about autism, it does not mean they know about how it affects you or that they are aware of your strengths as well as your challenges.
It may be very helpful to think about the following situations and what challenges you would encounter as well as strategies or support that have proved beneficial in meeting these challenges.
Communication and social interaction
- Meeting and talking to new people
- Asking for help, explaining what you need or expressing your point
- Joining in with small talk and conversations
- Understanding unwritten social rules and what is expected in a social situation
- Fear or panic of being around others
- Feelings of being overwhelmed
- Judging others reactions
- Working as part of a team/group
Flexibility of thought
- Understanding what others are thinking or feeling
- Dealing with unexpected changes to daily routine
- Dealing with new situations
Sensory sensitivities – Hypo or hyper sensitivity to any of the following:
- Light e.g. fluorescent light
- Sound e.g. tapping pens, chewing
- Touch e.g. material, heat/cold
- Smell e.g. food, perfume
What are the specific challenges for you in terms of working?
Think about how you reacted when in education and/or work environment and how you deal with the following
- Learning new skills such as how to use a piece of software or how to write a report
- Concentration and focus – do you get hyper focussed on details?
- Organising and managing your workload including working to deadlines – is this something you struggle with or is it a strength?
- Managing your time including attending meetings and working within specific hours i.e. can you work to a specific timetable such as 9-5 or are you better with a more flexible arrangement?
- Preferred working environment – do you work better with no one around? Would working from home be better?
- Motor skills affecting typing/handwriting
It is also important to think about your strengths and skills – think about:
- What do you enjoy doing?
- What are you good at?
- Particular skills you have gained through education or work experience
Personal Attributes – which of the following qualities represent you?
Knowing what represents you helps you to understand your strengths and this is where talking with a trusted person can really help you.
- Excellent memory (i.e. ability to recall details/retain information from revision/research)
- Ability to see things from different perspectives
- Visual thinker
- Attention to detail and need for accuracy
- Problem solving skills
- Researching skills
- Honest and authentic
- Good levels of concentration and focus
- Reliable and punctual
- Outcomes focused
- Quick to learn new things
- Ability to follow instructions
- Methodical and systematic
- Good presentation or verbal skills
- Technical skills and ability
- Diligent and conscientious
- Ability to identify where improvements can be made
- Ability to work well in a team
Understanding your strengths but also what you find challenging will help you to work out what you need to be able to advocate for yourself. Your autism enables you to bring many positives to the working environment as well as presenting some challenges so being able to talk effectively about it will benefit you.
It can seem very daunting the first time you walk into a new environment but being able to advocate for yourself and explain the impact your autism has on you will benefit you over time.
Additional information and links
You can also remind your employer about Access to Work. This is the UK governmental organisation which supports adults with disabilities in the workplace. Here are their contact details:
Access to Work: https://www.gov.uk/access-to-work
Telephone: 0800 121 7479
Textphone: 0800 121 7579
Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm