Friday, August 22, 2008

Disclosure in the workplace for autists, is it helpful?

Today I read a blog entry by Zach Lassiter whose claim to fame was the Zazzle t-shirt fiasco where autism speaks was wrongly accused of trying to block his t-shirt that was unflattering to them. He writes aboutproblems with his work. One of the things he writes about is the fact that his employer knows about his autism spectrum disorder. Yet disclosure of his disability has not seemed to have helped this young man with his work problems. Disclosure of a diagnosis is given as a solution to the problems of employment for persons on the autistic spectrum. I tried this one time in the past and it still resulted in my getting fired from a job. Michelle Dawson also did this with her employer Canada Post and apparently it cost her the job she had with them and I think she has been litigating this for a number of years. Also, I know of one computer programmer whose disclosure did not help. Another person whom I knew who worked in a public sector job whose autism caused them serious anger management problems and social judgment impairments. Because of poor social judgement he used the computer for unauthorized uses, had numerous angry fights with the boss and was transferred to a mail room position within the organization where he had no access to an email account or computer. The pressures he experienced finally forced him to resign. Had he been employed in the private sector he would have been fired. They were aware of his diagnosis when he was hired. Disclosure did not help him.

Among the many simplistic answers given by neurodiversity proponents is one ND person who claims that if people did not get the idea that autistics were toxic waste dumps and people did not get the impression that autistics were bad, then employers would hire them and they would not have problems in the workplace. This solution is akin to disclosure. It is one of the simplistic solutions that neurodiversity people offer that makes their movement so dangerous.

What if someone were to apply for a job and tell the prospective employer that they had an ASD. What are the chances they would be hired? The interviewer would realize that if the person feels a need to disclose their disability there must be something wrong with them. One argument made for disclosure is that some autistics may have sensory problems, like certain bright lights affecting them, or certain perfumes or other things with a distinct odor that co-workers might use that would be a bother to the autistic employee. What are the chances of the whole office accommodating them? Also, if the accommodation were minor and did not put too much of a burden on the company, it is possible the person could just say, they might like to work in a room without bright lights. Assuming the autistic person's deficits were so mild that they had no other liabilities, then this might be all that is necessary without telling them about the specific diagnosis of autism.

If the person with autism has trouble concentrating and makes an above average amount of errors, who would think that the employer would make accommodations for this just because the person has autism? This is certainly not realistic. What if it was a job for which is usually not the forte of an autist, for example sales jobs where there is a lot of social interaction and behavioral issues involved. If they are not competent at this job due to autism, is it realistic to think this will be overlooked when disclosure is done?

What if the person in spite of their autism was just as competent or even more competent at doing the job as the NT? They might ace all of the pre-employment tests. Certain idiosyncracies that they have might not come out in the wash right away. Their problems might not be terribly overt at first blush. Then they are hired to do the job. They are an incredibly good worker. Perhaps the best worker in their office. But they talk in a very loud voice. They demonstrate poor social skills when engaging in small talk with their co-workers. They might make "stimmy" movements. They might flap their hands, make strange facial grimaces and scowl at people who might become frightened thinking they were angry. Would knowing this person has autism save them from being fired? I believe the answer is no. The employer might be too polite to tell the person they are being fired for their behavior. They might come up with a completely bogus excuse, for example claiming they are running a productivity study on the employer and then falsifying the study and claiming they are much too slow. This happened to me at one of the jobs I was fired from. If the person has problems with executive functioning and does not shower properly or have proper hygeiene, will their foul B.O. be tolerated just because they have autism, again, no.

These things should be common sense to anyone in the autism field or to any person who knows anything about what happens in the workplace to autistic people. Those not on the spectrum have never walked a millimeter in my shoes let alone a mile. They have no notion of what happens to us in the workplace and how hard these things are. Some of these people can only give "an ivory tower" analysis of the situation.

Disclosure is still given as a quick fix simplistic answer. It misleads persons with autism and their loved ones that there is an easy way out. Some of these might be very mildly 22 year old autistic kids (at nearly 53 i consider someone 22 a kid) who have never been in the workforce and whose relatives are not autistic so they don't understand. They will think it is okay to disclose their diagnosis. They think it will not matter to the employers. They are mistaken. This is a dangerous mode of thought.

I admit I have no alternative to disclosure as an easier answer for those on the spectrum, but for those who are old enough to remember the old Hannah Green story, autistic persons were never promised a rose garden.


Unknown said...


If there is no disclosure, and discussion of the challenges specific to that person, it is difficult to see how those challenges can be accommodated.

In Canada employers, and prospective employers, have a duty to accommodate a person's disability up to the point of undue hardship. Without disclosure I don't see how that duty could be fulfilled.

Anonymous said...

Please point to any post by someone holding the ND belief where they say disclosing your diagnosis will solve problems today. If you can't then you are making things up again.

jonathan said...

hi anonymous obviously you did not read my post carefully. I just gave one example of a neurodiversity person who said that disclosure was a good idea. You can type autism diva toxic waste dump into google and find this. Also you can read the book ask and tell by Stephen Shore or read Stephen Shore's other writings on line about disclosure. Steve is against a cure for autism and has some neurodiversity leanings. You can re-read the post and see about zach lassiter and the others who tried disclosure though not all of those examples were persons who believed in neurodiversity. Actually most of the people who I know of who proposed disclosure as a solution were not part of the neurodiversity movement, but it is an idea that is commonly proposed by persons who look for easy answers and in most cases it clearly does not work.

Socrates said...

>80% of people refered to the National Autistic Society's "Prospects" employment agency, gain and keep jobs.

Anonymous said...

Stephen Shore is not ND, you lose credibility when you make things up. Best to stick to with what you know.

Anonymous said...


Its more important to Jonathan to get attention than to thoughtfully understand the positions he takes.

lurker said...

anon, I'm at least glad Jonathan gains attention for some of the problems a lot of people just don't want to talk about. Like the reality that there are some who actually lack competence in their jobs, who would be without employment because of that. I wish more attention was called to the absurdity of telling employers one is autistic when they don't have autism in a disabled way, and all they have to deal with are a few sensory irritations.

Anonymous said...


It isnt as easy to get accomodations as you portray. A medical designation from an MD is required. Some of you folks claim there are a bunch of self diagnosed people out there living off welfare but then you say that when these people do work, they are not qualified to do the work. Really, few of you really critically think through your convictions.

lurker said...

I doubt the self-diagnosed are living off welfare. I bet they have jobs with no problems because they aren't really impaired. When those people talk about pesky things like not wanting go to office parties or minor sensory issues at the workplace, or crying for no meaningful reason or whatever, it obscures the actual difficulties in doing work that the truly disabled on the spectrum face. I don't want people handing out sympathy to people who have no impairments holding them back.

You have to realize I'm not talking about you high functioning non disabled self diagnosed people when I'm talking about the people with real impairments. That's a distinction that some are trying to pretend isn't real.

Anonymous said...


Then who were you referring to by saying that there are autistics that are in jobs they are not qualified for? Also, please provide a link or something to qualify your statement as it seems to be a blanket statement made against an entire group of people.

lurker said...

anon, don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about. I don't need to provide a link. There are likely lots of autistics not becoming employed in the first place because of inabilities, and in some cases because they can't be educated to be qualified for some jobs.

So the few that are lucky to gain employment likely will be qualified. But still, there could be a few that have a hard time doing the job, who still have impairments. Why don't you prove that no autistics with jobs have a hard time doing them? So you can convince people that only you super smart ones exist. I'm tired of your contempt against the truly disabled, who you are trying make people forget.

Anonymous said...

"The employer might be too polite to tell the person they are being fired for their behavior."

That's a shame. Someone being fired deserves to know why he or she was fired, so that he or she can do better next time seeking another job.

Someone being fired for scaring co-workers deserves to know it was for scaring co-workers, for the same reason! The way one treats other people has consequences: other people have the right to assume you actually mean what you say and do and respond accordingly.

"These things should be common sense to anyone in the autism field or to any person who knows anything about what happens in the workplace to autistic people."

Those things should be common sense to everyone in any field who's not totally self-employed!