During my adult life I have had quite a few different jobs and career starts. I have had moderate successes and abysmal failures. I was never in a position to make a disclosure of my neurology. I was in fact just in the process of investigating and discovery of my autistic being when I lost my last full-time position. A position in which from an actual work perspective I was very successful at.
One of the positions I held over the years was that of primary teacher. At this time I was aware of my daughter being autistic and so was already on the road to new knowledge and understanding in terms of the neurodiversity paradigm. I had a lot to learn and a long journey to travel.
I taught in primary school classrooms for four years. In that time I taught a number of autistic children both diagnosed and undiagnosed. It was a privilege to be a part of their young lives for the time they were in my care.
To Disclose or not to disclose that is the question.
Perhaps the most heartfelt question I was asked by the parents of these children was whether to disclose to the child that they were indeed autistic.
Alternatively was not the question but the determination not to tell the children the reality of their neurology. I believe this is a mistake. I understand the motivation and the good intentions behind it I think, however I can’t countenance this action as in the best interests of the child.
I am reminded of friends and acquaintances I have known over the years of my life who have discovered as adults, young adults and teenagers that they were adopted. It seems that it is common for the overwhelming sense in these situations is of betrayal and deceit. This is at times coupled with a sense also of understanding why they felt different within the family unit.
I think there are some parallels here in not disclosing to children that they are autistic.
The personal situation I was in was not one where I was in a position to be disclosed to, however, I was in a position to experience much of what the child who has that disclosure withheld from them.
A common reason for not disclosing is verbalised as not wanting to label the children. Not wanting to saddle them with a label that will limit them or have negative connotations.
This is a flawed argument. Children are experts at labelling each other, especially in the absence of an appropriate and proper label, which, for the autistic child often ends up being:
- The shy one.
- The weird one.
- The strange one.
- The idiot.
- The nerd.
- The geek.
- The uncoordinated.
To name a few.
Children are also much better, in my opinion, in accepting and understanding difference and diversity when they are given modes and methods of understanding it. If they are able to associate behaviours, attitudes, responses etc with something that is a real thing, a diagnosis of autism for example then they are able to then make sense of why their fellow classmate acts in the way they do.
Once they have some of this understanding they can in fact develop, foster and build genuine, caring, and mutual friendships between the neurotypical or allistic children and the neurodivergent or autistic children. It is in fact a wonderful thing to see occur in a group of children.
It is my contention then, that without a truly compelling reason against it that full disclosure to the child should occur. Would we consider withholding a condition like cancer, leukaemia, or diabetes from our children? Then neither should we withhold a neurological reality from them.
I wish to goodness I had had a genuine and sense-making label for why I was different as I journeyed through my childhood. I may not have walked my childhood believing I was broken, wrong and destined for failure in life.
Coloured I guess by my childhood experiences and my teaching experiences I walk through life now as a full disclosing autistic. It is now a rare situation where I am unwilling to disclose the fact of being autistic to the people I associate with, work with, study with etc.
There are times when I may withhold that information. These times are when I am of the belief that prejudice will occur to me if I do, that I am likely to be ridiculed and discounted. It is however, in my experience, only a temporary withholding of that information. I lived for over 40 years pretending to be “normal” (whatever that means) I won’t now journey through life pretending I am not autistic. I just won’t do it. It will do me or those I associate no good at all.
When it comes to employment, I intend to enter any employment situation with full disclosure. If I am not given a position due to that disclosure then so be it. Perhaps it is discrimination, most likely so, proving it of course would be something of an arduous task.
The key point here in disclosing to employers or potential employers is that it is wrong and ineffectual to complain that accommodations to assist are not provided if the employer does not know and understand why it is that they are needed in the first place.
Yes, I am out and proud as an autistic man. It may not be right for everybody but it is right for me.
My future is a bright future as an autistic man, doing what he can to achieve all he has the potential to do. It is becoming clear to me more and more each day I walk this planet that I am at greater odds of success in that venture as fully disclosing autistic than as an autistic man who is pretending to be normal.
I’m different not less. I succeed and achieve in embracing and living my best in that difference and not in pretending it is not there.