Tuesday, April 23, 2013

I’m Autistic. Should I Self-Disclose?

I’m Autistic. Should I self-disclose? 

It depends.  There are pros and cons to self-disclosure, and a lot has to do with the context you are in, and how much you trust those around you.  This can be hard to figure out.  This short piece will list some potential pros and cons to think about when deciding about telling people in a particular place and time about your Autism, and also give some tips about how to figure out how you feel about your context.

This can be scary territory.  Remember, self-disclosure is a very personal topic.  There is nothing to be ashamed of in being Autistic.  There is also nothing to be ashamed of in keeping yourself safe.  It’s a balancing act.

If you have read this blog before, you know that it is written by someone who spent the early professional years mostly “in the closet” (trying to not let anyone know, with various amounts of success) and then recently decided to widely and deliberately self-disclose in all sorts of public, so therefore has comparison knowledge about both situations.

Six Good Things About Disclosing
1. You don’t have to worry about people finding out because you are in control of them finding out
2. You get a chance to educate people about things you need, or about Autism in general, instead of listening to people just make assumptions all day
3. You can access legal protections (you can get these by disclosing only to the HR office, or the appropriate authorities; you don’t have to tell everyone)
4. It is easier for others in the community online and in real life to find you and make friends
5. You can feel a sense of pride in who you are, and hold your head up high, and not hide
6. You can march in parades and join solidarity groups like ASAN, which gives you more power in life!

Six Not So Good Things About Disclosing
1. Some ignorant people will suddenly act like you are automatically incompetent and talk down to you
2. These same types of people might decide to leave you out of things if they are not already doing that
3. Other people might be afraid to approach you or ask you questions because they are nice but they don’t know what Autism is and they are scared of new information
4. Some people believe false beliefs about Autism, and they might apply these to you
5. Explaining about things too much can make you kind of tired
6. Other well meaning people who are nice but don't understand might make you do more things because they need a token disabled person, which also makes you tired

You might notice that the good things and the not so good things are sort of equal in weight, so they don’t automatically make the decision easy.  This is where the context and people come in, but people are hard to predict.

So to figure this out, you really have to think about yourself.  Here is a grid about what you might think when you read the above lists that can help you decide.  You can use it to read the Pro and Con list again, and see which reaction matches yours the most.  Then, see if the answer that the grid gives you feels good.  Remember, there’s no right or wrong, there’s only your choice of what is comfortable.   Also remember you don't have to tell everyone there is: you can make this choice in stages. And you don't have to tell anyone.  It's up to you to do what you want because you are you and you are the one who chooses.  When I finally told the world, I was very glad I did, though, just to let you know one person's experience.  You can sort of tell because of who I am on the rest of this blog that the positives outweigh the negatives, for me.  Best of luck to you on your own journey!

***Note from Ib: This blog post and the next are general questions asked of me in general and answered more widely.  I am working on the answer to "Dealing With Family Matters" who has a very delicate and important personal question that has been in the hopper and it's taking me a while to actually work it out.  DWFM... I am asking for a lot of family advice and also input from wise people I know on your dilemma and I hope I can help!


  1. Another awesome post Ibby. Gonna share all over. BTW, you need to listen to tmw's radio show!

  2. Great way to sort it out! Thanks. It will help many. Reposted.

  3. This is AWESOME! I love your ability to break these complex issues down into comprehensible, easy bites. Thank you, Ibby!

  4. Great post for people who have the choice to self disclose or not. Important to remember that not everyone has that choice, for example in my case my autism is obviously apparent as are my learning difficulties. Thank you.

  5. I would add that if you work or volunteer in a helping profession, it is probably NOT a good idea to disclose. In my experience, in those situations, once people know you are autistic, they will subtly push you out of positions where you have responsibility, or where you will have direct contact with people being helped. People will also refuse to trust your judgment about interpersonal situations if you disclose to them. Sometimes they will do these things even if they are outwardly supportive of your being an autistic person in your position, or if they work with or parent autistic people. These days, I rarely disclose except when it's necessary for me to receive appropriate medical care or accommodations. Even online, I never disclose while using my real name.

  6. There is also a political aspect of disclosing- coming out- that I think needs to be considered. I'm not autistic, but I have other disabilities and have gone through similar issues. I'm in no way saying that anyone should martyr themselves or disregard Ibby's chart, but coming out in the LGBTQ community was a major way that the community advanced its civil rights. This has direct bearing onthe mental health and (invisible) disability communities. If I tell a client that I have ADHD, for example, they can decide to fire me, think that I do a pretty good job "even though" I have a disability, or not really give it a thought, as my past performance doesn't change because they now know something else about me.

    On the other hand, as happened recently, a client who thought i was ignoring him at times realized that I was just overloaded and felt better about our relationship.

    Either way, the more people who disclose/come out the more accurately the neurotypical world will come to experience the broad range of autism.

    I think a lot of people believe they have never met an autistic person. Imagine the benefit of their finding out otherwise!

  7. Wow, Anonymous and Kisekileia bring up two super important and almost opposite points that I did not make, because I was writing from kind of a middle life of a kind of privilege on either side.

    A lot of people got in my business when I was supposedly hiding it, and this was a giant cause of stress for me, but I am indeed able to go for a while without people knowing much about me, and I just worked harder and harder to learn to look or act closer to "normal" over the years. So Anonymous, I'm really sorry I forgot to really give credit about the privilege level that I have of being the kind of person who is able to pull that off to any kind of extent. A lot of my friends have no choice so in that case this is not a relevant article and might even sound insulting, and I don't mean it that way.

    But I'm also concerned about Kisekileia's experiences, because it sounds like another kind of terrible, and also, I have worked in helping professions all my life. There might be another type of privilege that I also have which makes things easier for me on this side, because, Kisekileia, I think when I disclosed everyone was sort of "Oh....that explains a lot." As a result, for me, because I am sort of noticeably "something," it might have given some people a chance to cut me more slack, whereas for you this is apparently not happening, and you are being mistreated worse than in my chart of how the ignorant people in my life are toward me. And I am sorry that I did not think of that; and I think people, if you are more like this, and this sounds like the people you are around, please do take care and listen to Kisekileia's caution. Thank you.

    Also this reminds me to explain what I mean by "privilege" which is where you accidentally don't think about how your life has been easier than someone else's until they point it out to you. This is because you are in your life, and they are in theirs, so it's not really visible without their assistance or reminder. I wrote a little article about it for Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, here:


    and it sort of explains why my point of view was narrow and why it is so important to have friends and helpful commenters to widen it. Thanks folks! Keep the knowledge coming!

    And thanks for the kind words everyone, Love! xxoo


    1. http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2013/03/privilege-is-not-game-but-we-can-win.html

      I don't know how to make it clickable, please copy-paste it if you want to read the piece. :)


  8. Rob! Hello! You wrote while I was writing. It has been very empowering for me to be involved in the political aspect of things.... Note to Kisekileia, actually...feel free to ping me on secret twitter direct message or something if you want me to gather an electronic posse to help enlighten anyone, for example. ;) They won't have to know who it's about, right? But everyone can use a little enlightenment, if they're heinous to their coworkers!

    It's really amazing, for me, having community. That thing in the Pro list has changed my life. And when bad things happen to our friends, we can have each other's backs.

  9. Hi Ibby,
    I think it is really sad that we need articles like this. But we do, so I am glad you wrote it. It is clear and helpful, and gave me some things to think about. Thank you.
    Michelle Sutton

  10. Don't disclose in South Alabama.

  11. Good to know, thanks Matt Helms! Anyone else have any local information specific to geographic or institutional culture? For example, I found out for me in a University setting (Education Department) it has been a better idea to be widely disclosed because then more people will know how illegal it is to break your ADA rights and they cannot hide it. But I do not imagine this would be the case in all settings even in a University context because not everyone is familiar with the law so they might just go for it. :/