Is it worth trying to explain to my colleagues that my frankness stems from being on the spectrum? Or just recognize that my approach is not everyone’s cup of tea and go from there?
I sometimes talk to young journalists who are trying to choose between two jobs. They tell me about the difference in workload, prestige, advancement paths, and a million other pros and cons. And more than half the time, I would say, they’re surprised by my first question, which has nothing to do with any of the factors mentioned: “What group of people do you want to work with?”
Prioritizing workplace relationships from the start doesn’t come naturally to most people, in my experience; this is definitely not the case for me. But as I get older, I realize that when I chose a “more chic” job over the opportunity to collaborate with people I admire, I have always regretted it. Many of us spend more time with some of our closest colleagues (whether remote or IRL) than with our own family members, so it’s worth making sure they’re people with which ones you really want to spend time and learn.
All of this is a preface to say the obvious: you don’t need to tell anyone you’re on the spectrum if you don’t feel comfortable doing so, but I hope you find yourself in a job where you do. If you are surrounded by people who respect you and listen to you and care about you, they’ll want to know what makes you, and knowing will only deepen your relationship. If you are not sure whether your workplace is inclusive enough, consider how other groups of people are treated: Is the office accessible to wheelchair users? Are people of color marginalized in group discussions or rarely promoted? Are women really treated equally? If they don’t pass the test and you are able to put yourself in a position where you can trust your coworkers enough to say so, jump at the chance.
Having said that, I am not autistic and I realize that this advice, while not irrelevant, is less specific and therefore less useful than you deserve. As with everything, consulting with friends or people in your work network who are in the same situation can be very helpful. But one of the perks of being a semi-professional counselor is the ability to call brilliant people and get their brilliant advice. So: Eric Michael Garcia is a formidable Washington-based freelance journalist covering politics and politics. He is also the author of We are not broken, an upcoming book on how social and political systems can better serve people with autism. The book contains an entire chapter on Autism at Work, which draws on Eric’s reporting and his own experience as an autistic person working in the editorial staff of several major publications.
Eric’s response to your question, Anonymous, was very clear: “I would never ever tell someone to reveal their autism at the expense of their job or their ability to feel comfortable at work.” A subject he interviewed for his book told him that she had never revealed her autism without regretting it; he also heard a lot of horror stories about non-exclusive workplaces. So he recommends looking for some of the markers I describe above and, if you decide you can’t be open, developing a strong support system of mentors and friends outside of work who can be a fund of. resonance. If, on the other hand, you think your workplace is a safe space to be who you are, sharing can work as a sign of trust that strengthens your relationship as co-workers (and even friends).
Surprisingly to me, however, one of Eric’s most important tips for coping as an autistic person in the workplace is basically the same whether you’ve told your coworkers or not. “You can and always should apologize when you’ve offended someone,” he says. “Either way, you can say, ‘Sometimes I can be blunt or too rude, but I don’t mean to offend.’” It’s inevitable that some people don’t like you for one reason or another, but you still can. strive to be better with your coworkers by making amends quickly. Many communication errors between autistic and neurotypical people, Eric says, result from misperceptions about how autism works. It’s not that people with autism can’t empathize, but that they struggle to process. In other words, they may not realize that they have hurt people, but when informed, they will apologize. If not, he says, “they’re just idiots.”