Picture by Cat Creative PhotographyIn the first part of this blog, I explored whether you should disclose being autistic to your employer. What there is to gain - or perhaps not. I personally use the question ‘what will I get from disclosing that I’m autistic?’ as a means to gain clarity on what I want from disclosure. I do this because being autistic is personal to me, and not something I will share with just anyone, so I want to be sure of the gain from the exchange.

I have disclosed being autistic on a couple of occasions in workplaces and would like to use this blog to share my top tips on how to go about this.

What triggers you?

I’d always advise people to have a good understanding of how they may struggle in the workplace; what triggers may affect them, and to then think of potential solutions to these issues. A trigger can be anything from experiencing sensory issues (the lights, sounds, smells) to the environment more generally (positioning of your desk, whether you have a static desk or not) to the nature of how you are communicated with or asked to perform your role. This all gives clues as to what will affect you going forwards and help to build up an inventory of what your needs are. This is very powerful, as it will give you confidence, as you will no doubt have a better understanding of yourself; how your autism affects you and what your needs are.

Please note that this is a work in progress, and you’ll continue to learn this throughout your life as you continue to experience different work situations and environments.

It’s also important to note that triggers can vary and change over time, and may occur in one environment yet not another

However, the more you can become a ‘self-detective’ and tune into yourself, the more receptive you’ll become to identifying triggers.

And if you haven’t worked before – this is also OK. Because again, it’s about learning more about yourself and what affects you, and how. This introspection will help you in various aspects of your life more generally. I have found mindfulness to be an incredible tool and skill in helping me identify what triggers me.

Can you resolve it yourself?

Once you have your inventory and have identified aspects that you find triggering in the workplace, it’s worth taking a step back to see if you can find a solution yourself. So for instance, I once worked for an organisation that had nowhere to rest or recuperate in a quiet and private space. It was a work environment where meeting rooms had glass walls that ran floor to ceiling, and even the toilets felt like social networking hotspots. Instead, I found taking time out to sit in my car for twenty minutes to practise deep breathing and to do a mindfulness exercise really helpful. In this instance, I informed my manager that I would be doing this, and if I felt I needed longer, then I would block out the time out in my diary (in case someone needed me). It’s also worth speaking with friends and family at this stage to see if they have any ideas or solutions for you. And please don’t feel guilty about taking time out of your working day! Twenty minutes of mindfulness set me up for the rest of the day in a way I could not have claimed back otherwise.

Speak to your manager or another trusted person

If you can’t source out any solutions yourself, then that’s totally OK. Next step is speaking to your manager, or someone else at work who you trust. This can be another colleague, mentor, HR or even a trade union rep. Assuming it is your manager you disclose to, I’d say it’s useful to have allocated time set aside, and to use the meeting to explain how your autism impacts you. You won’t know how much your manager will know about autism – if anything, but it’s more about them getting a sense of how you are being affected, so that it’s a proactive conversation about how they can help you.

You may also decide to send your manager some resources about autism that they can read in their own time. I have done this in the past and it’s been appreciated

When disclosing your autism – don’t worry about your manager and what you think they may or may not know about autism, and what you perceive as their levels of prejudice, if any. It’s irrelevant and will waste a great deal of energy from your end. Plus, it’s not about their personal viewpoint. You’re there to do your job, and if you need support, then it’s your manager’s job to support you through this. It’s about working together to find a way forwards. So keep this your focus.

Requesting your reasonable adjustment

Once you’ve disclosed to your manager, this can lead nicely onto your reasonable adjustment. I would be clear on the issue; how’s it affecting you and what you feel could be helpful in resolving or minimising this. Don’t worry if you don’t have any solutions, as you’re opening the door to a dialogue and discussion around your needs.

Your manager may have some ideas (though perhaps not straight off), or they may suggest speaking with HR or their own manager about what can be done. So don’t expect a response or solution right away.

Be patient

This point really is key. Your manager is hopefully understanding and will take action on your behalf, however it is likely to take some time. I know in my instance it involved an appointment with Occupational Health, and then Facilities came to see what could be done – and shared the available options with me. But don’t be put off – this is simply everyone working to support you as best as possible – and it’s of course within your legal right to have reasonable adjustments made. There are just various steps involved in the process.

Remain open

Do remember that your ideas may not always be possible, and that your reasonable adjustment could be declined. But it’s always worth the dialogue as only good can come out of it, as other solutions that work for both you and the organisation can be explored. If it’s a flat-out refusal you receive with no collaboration, then you can appeal the decision or raise a grievance. If you’re a member of a trade union, then I would certainly inform and involve them at this stage (if you haven’t already). They are there to support you. It’s also in the organisation’s interest to work with you to find a resolution, so do see if you can speak with someone in HR who can help. Try different avenues.

Be proud of yourself

Irrespective of the outcome, you have done an incredibly brave thing. It takes guts and courage

So please don’t forget this. You’re disclosing a part of yourself to others. You’re educating people. You’re honouring yourself and being authentic. You’re doing your utmost.

Also: keep going. I’ve had a reasonable adjustment turned down and I actually ended up leaving this job. It wasn’t ideal and it wasn’t smooth sailing. It felt terrible at the time in fact. But several years down the line - I’m so glad I did leave. I respect the organisation’s decision to decline my request and to not work with me to make things work. Because then - I wouldn’t be working with organisations that are happy to accommodate my needs – as they’re exactly who I wish to be working for. So bear this in mind. And keep going!

Mahlia Amatina
May 2021

 

Check our our other resources on disclosure:

Our section on applying for work has more information on telling an employer that you are autistic.

Employers and work providers also have duties when an applicant or employee discloses that they are autistic, and when recruiting and managing autistic employees.

Our Resources section has more information about services offering legal advice on employment matters.