April is Autism Awareness Month, and in helping to promote awareness of autism, I’m pleased to provide an excerpt from the book, Living Well on the Spectrum by author Valerie L. Gaus, Ph.D. The book is a self-help book that helps a person with an autism spectrum disorder identify life goals and the steps needed to achieve them.
One of the concerns I often hear from people with an autism spectrum disorder is about work and their career. In fact, just last evening while hosting our weekly Q&A on mental health issues here at Psych Central, the question came up whether a person should tell a potential employer about their Asperger’s (the mildest form of autism).
While I am not a lawyer, my suggestion was that it probably wasn’t relevant for many jobs and not something that I personally would share with a potential employer during the interview process (while you’re trying to put your best foot forward). But as I said last night, it all depends on the situation, the specific job and its responsibilities, and how comfortable the person is talking about these concerns with a stranger and potential boss. It’s something that I feel like can always be shared later, after the job is obtained.
Read on for the excerpt…
Work is one of the greatest sources of pride and fulfillment for adults. Making an important contribution to others and maintaining financial independence are crucial to health, happiness, and self-confidence. Yet the majority of adults on the spectrum are either unemployed or underemployed. This is one of the most devastating issues for my patients and their families.
If you are on the spectrum, you may be having difficulty finding or keeping a job, or dealing with the multiple stressors that come with work life. Many of my patients ask me if they should disclose their ASD (autism spectrum disorder) diagnosis to their employer. Depending on your diagnosis and the extent to which your ASD differences have affected your work life, you may be considered a member of the class of people protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Employers are required to make “reasonable accommodations” for any employee with a disability who is otherwise qualified to do the job.
This law covers all types of disabilities, but disclosure and accommodation can be a very delicate issue for people with ASDs. ASDs are not obvious, like visual or other physical disabilities. Also, the needs of employees with ASDs will vary greatly from one person to the next.
Because this is a legal issue, I advise you to consult an attorney specializing in disability law before disclosing to an employer. I always advice my patients to ask themselves the following questions and make sure they can come up with clear answers before moving forward on disclosure to any person. If you have any difficulty answering these, you may want to discuss the issue with a trusted person who knows you well.
- Why do you want your employer to know about your diagnosis?
- How do you think disclosing your ASD diagnosis to your employer will improve your work life?
- Are you prepared to ask your employer to support you in a different way or to accommodate you in specific ways?
- What are the risks involved in telling your employer?
- If you are not sure about the risks because you do not know the person well, could you ask for an accommodation (such as a modified workday) without revealing your diagnosis?
Excerpt reprinted here with permission.