This guest post is by Autism Speaks staffer Kerry Magro.
To disclose or not to disclose my autism to an employer has been one of the more challenging questions I’ve faced during my adult years. Today it’s one of the more challenging issues for those with autism facing potential employment opportunities. For many on the spectrum, it can be a daunting task due to society’s general lack of acceptance of disabilities and differences.
The question of disclosure first came up for me during one of my first part-time positions working in New York City. I had accepted a research position with the responsibility of looking up different analytics for professional athletes and teams. Technology and numbers had become an asset for me. My job responsibilities, mainly plugging names and numbers into an excel spreadsheet, were clear and I didn’t feel overwhelmed.
I didn’t need any accommodations, and my first few weeks were going by very well. I had already made several friends and was feeling like a part of the team. Than one day my employer was listening to me talking about my volunteer work in the autism community. He than asked me a question that froze me completely…
“Why did you get involved in the autism cause?”
I blurted out, “I have autism myself, so I got involved to help people like me.”
My employer responded with a smile and said, “That’s awesome that you are volunteering towards the cause.”
His response left me ecstatic. I felt confident about disclosing to him after his positive reaction. Two years earlier, I came out to my peers in college for the first time about being on the autism spectrum, so I could become a disability advocate. Since then, whenever someone would find out that I have autism, their usual response would be, “I would never have known!” But I’ll never forget that day when my employer decided to appreciate my volunteer work.
My advice for those on the spectrum who are joining the workforce is to self-reflect on your strengths and weaknesses every single time you go into a new employment situation. As a motivational speaker, I share this message when I talk to employers about hiring and retaining employees with disabilities.
When accepting a job, carefully read the job guidelines and see what accommodations if any you may need to succeed in that position. After that, figure out whether disclosing is the right thing for you. Whether you talk to your employer about receiving accommodations is an individual decision. If you believe you need them though, go in with confidence, because those accommodations will maximize your potential at your
Around 80-90% of adults with autism today are unemployed or underemployed. Children with autism will grow up to be adults with autism and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of helping them find meaningful employment opportunities when that transition happens.
I hope you find something you love to do every day. People with autism tend to thrive when we are working with our key interests — but that is true of anyone. I’m doing something I enjoy, something I hope to keep doing my entire life, and I hope you can do the same.
At Autism Speaks we've just launched a new initative called TheSpectrumCareers to help individuals with autism find employment. You can learn more about TheSpectrumCareers.com here