Self-Advocacy is an Invaluable Tool in the Workplace

Many late diagnosed Aspie women have come to believe the negative views of others and internalized it. We’ve grown up plagued by rejection.  

To help us pick up on the nuances of conversation and relationships, we’ve developed mental scripts: a set of “how to be normal” instructions that we’ve accumulated throughout our lives. This is how we should act, but don’t. We believe there is something wrong with us because it doesn’t come naturally. And this is what we compare ourselves to.

But what we didn’t know is that it’s the wrong instruction sheet!

Is it a wonder that so many of us find relief in our diagnosis? When I received mine, the realization hit me – I belong somewhere. All my life, I tried to wedge myself into the wrong social puzzle. Instead, there are others like me. 

I wanted to shout it from the rooftops! 

Instead of allowing people to whisper about my weirdness, I could offer up a word to reframe their expectations of me: Asperger’s. What I didn’t expect was the level of disbelief that followed. They either didn’t believe me or wanted me to continue to act as normal as possible because it made them uncomfortable. I’m still weird to them. *shoulder shrug*

I get it. When a person fits in the “normal” group, they don’t spend much time trying to understand anyone with a divergent experience. 

And they say I’m the one that doesn’t understand empathy. Pffft. Yeah, right…

But disclosing my diagnosis to those in my close circle of family and friends was one thing. Disclosing to my employer, well, that was another. 

Why did I choose to disclose to my employer? 

Well, to put it bluntly – I was hoping for some support. It was a long shot, and I knew that. But with COVID-19 sending my anxiety through the roof, I wasn’t adapting well. And my company was spraying Diversity and Inclusion rhetoric into the crowd. So, I hoped for the best. 

At least, disclosing allowed me the opportunity to request a few accommodations. 

With incessant meltdowns, I didn’t feel like I had a choice. But if I had the opportunity to take a deep breath and weigh my options, I’m not sure I would have disclosed. I’m not sure I would have needed to disclose.

Pros and Cons

There are plenty of reasons why you shouldn’t disclose. And, unfortunately, I’m living some of them right now. I’m ostracized more than I already was (because, you know, weird) and pigeonholed into common autistic stereotypes. Before my disclosure, I had a lot more autonomy in my position. Now? Well, now, I’m micromanaged. Do you want to know the worst part of it? The more micromanaged I am, the higher my anxiety. The higher my anxiety, the more mistakes I make, thus reassuring management’s belief that I need micromanaging. It’s a vicious cycle. Never mind the track record of success I had before the disclosure.  

They play off my Aspie experiences as “everyone feels that way.” Thankfully, my disclosure experience isn’t completely bad. I’ve heard and read horror stories. But I can’t sweep my Asperger’s under the rug.

Aspie in the workplace tip: Employee resource groups are a great place to find support and resources. (Unfortunately, my company didn't have one for neurodiversity, so I had to start it myself.) 

For some, disclosure can be an invaluable tool. Disclosure can provide you the support, flexibility, and understanding you need in your role. It’s your choice, no one else’s.

Either way, what I tell any autistic woman who is in the throes of deciding whether to disclose at work is this: 

The best thing you can do for yourself is to learn how to self-advocate with confidence. 

It is essential to recognize that self-advocacy and disclosure are interrelated. Self-advocacy involves knowing when and how to approach others to negotiate desired accommodations to achieve mutual understanding, fulfillment, and productivity. 

Stephen M. Shore

No offence to Stephen, but you can self-advocate to a certain degree without disclosing your diagnosis. It’s not completely interrelated because some divergent thinking does occur with the neurotypical spectrum. While disclosing can open the door to honest conversations about accommodations, it isn’t always necessary. Each person is different and that includes our needs. Many workplace accommodations for autistic individuals can be aligned with traditional business etiquette not often practiced these days.

For example, is it difficult to remember details of an assignment when given to you verbally? Follow up the conversation with an email recapping the discussion and end with this question: “Is my understanding of your request accurate?” I love doing this. Ending the email with a question informs the other person that you expect confirmation or correction. If I misunderstood something, they will correct me. If we are on the same page, they will confirm it. An email following up a meeting is a throwback to old school professional etiquette. And it never hurts to have everything in writing anyways.

The point is: there are ways to work around it disclosing.

More important than disclosing is that you know what you need. When you know what support you need, you can better determine if a simple request can cover it or if a formal accommodation is needed.

If you know how you best process information, you can determine what you need for support. Then, learn how to ask for it. Seeking out a coach or another trusted individual can help you evaluate the approach to requesting specific modifications or accommodations. (Remember those employee resource groups I mentioned earlier?)

Speak up for yourself – your needs are important for your success. If you know what you need, you can determine the best approach for getting it. And sometimes, you can avoid full disclosure of your diagnosis. Learning the best way to self-advocate can make a world of difference for you.

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