When to “Come Out” as Autistic
by Alec Frazier
Editors’ Note: The issue of disclosure is also discussed in the Navigating College handbook. In particular, Amanda Vivian’s chapter entitled “Discussing Disability Issues with Friends and in Class” would make good reading alongside today’s blog post.
For people on the autism spectrum, arguably no situation is tougher than social interaction. The people you hang out with may realize that you do not act in accordance with what some people may think is “normal”. Chances are, you can put them at ease by explaining things for them. For this reason, it can sometimes be beneficial to inform people that you are autistic. However, this can also be a double-edged sword.
Suppose you have been in a common interest group (i.e. a school club, a religious group, or a study group). It is not illogical to assume that these people have your best interests at heart and that it is okay to tell them that you are autistic. I must reiterate though, that telling individual people should be handled on a case-by-case basis, because some people handle the information differently than others.
Suppose you have befriended someone individually. There is a very high probability that if that person spends any length of time with you, they will realize that something may be going on. Once again, choose carefully when and how much to disclose based on how you think the person will act.
If you were announcing to a group of people that you are autistic, make sure that it is at an appropriate place and time. Also make sure that the group as a whole has had sufficient time to get to know you. Please keep in mind that it is not always advisable to take this course of action, as some details of your life should not always be a topic of group discussion.
You do not need to tell your professors, other school faculty, and people you do business with that you are autistic unless a specific issue arises that can be explained by such a mention. It may be a good idea at first to simply tell them that you have a disability. If one of them asks what it is, that means that they are genuinely interested in learning about you, which generally is a positive thing. In that case, you can be honest with them and disclose the necessary information.
If a person does not seem like they will be receptive to the information, or that they will use it against you, it may be better not to make their acquaintance. There is no point to telling everybody that you are autistic. Only receptive people need know.
The key is to remember that there is nothing wrong with you, but if people can’t accept you it may be due to a character flaw of their own. Remember that acceptance and tolerance are not necessarily the same. Everybody has the right to be tolerated, but your true friends will accept you.
Alec Frazier is a 25 year old student with Asperger’s syndrome from Ithaca, New York. He currently attends the State University of New York’s University at Buffalo, where he is currently obtaining his bachelor’s degree in political science.