Telling people I’m autistic is something that I’ve definitely gotten better at doing since last August when I received my official diagnosis. I’ve been extremely open about being autistic in my local writing community and haven’t hesitated to tell people who know me well in real life aside from a few family members whom I feel hesitant about.
However, I still haven’t done anything public on a large scale like making a Facebook announcement or even telling one of my parents.
On one hand, it’s not complicated at all. It’s a simple thing. It’s who I am.
On the other, the “awareness” and misinformation spread by “awareness” campaigns makes it a little trickier and I’m not extremely comfortable with wide-scale announcements of many things in the first place.
Even in real life, when I tell someone “I’m Autistic” before getting to know them I really have no way of knowing what assumptions they might make based on what they know about autism and autistic people.
Maybe they don’t know anything in which case I’m working with a fairly blank slate who should be receptive to my explanations. I’ve had some very positive interactions with people who knew either nothing or very little of autistic people before I told them about my neurological status.
Or the person could be well-versed in the verbiage and reasoning behind the neurodiversity paradigm. Maybe they’re autistic themselves or have loved ones who are autistic adults and who have introduced them to less pathologizing ways of looking at us. Those people are wonderful when I disclose to them. They often congratulate me on my diagnosis (seeing it as gaining necessary self-knowledge) and are usually more than willing to help support me in difficult situations in the future.
But, the person could also be an “autism parent” (denoting a very specific type of parent – follow the link for more info) or a close friend to one. Maybe they think that I’m a disease to be cured, a scourge upon the earth that needs to be eradicated, a gigantic pain in the ass for them to “deal with,” or even maybe subhuman.
My usual plan of action, keeping those things in mind, has been to first explain the areas in which I struggle the most. I generally focus on the struggles that are most relevant for the person in question to know about before I ever mention the word “autistic.”
I give an example of this technique in my letter to the dentist post.
This method has been quite successful, I think. No matter where the person is coming from, they need to understand how being autistic affects me in my life and in the ways that they’re most likely to be around during.
Sometimes I don’t actually use the words “autistic” or “autism” if they aren’t fully relevant to the situation and/or my relationship with the person.
But, I question whether that last sentence is the appropriate way to handle this. The parts of my life that I show others are often very carefully curated and have been so for most of my life. Because of that I think that I’m pretty good at passing for allistic when I have the energy and find it necessary to.
Of course, the negative side of attempting to pass when I can is that it wears me out very quickly. I periodically need to disappear and am unable to consistently handle simple tasks like checking my email regularly or daily basic self-care routines.
I’ve also felt my entire life that I’m constantly lying or being disingenuous when I try to pass – something that happens almost automatically now in a self-preservation type of way. I feel as though I’m losing myself when I have to be around allistics on a regular basis – especially when they don’t know I’m autistic.
So, disclosing to people I see fairly regularly can be very important for my own wellbeing to prevent burnout, meltdowns, and shutdowns in the long run.
More importantly, on the negative side of not disclosing, is the knowledge that some of my neurosiblings don’t have the option to try and fit in. They have to disclose. They cannot “pass” for any significant amount of time – cost or no cost.
If I “blend in” when I can then where does that leave those who can’t?
If “blending” costs me so much in energy expenditure then couldn’t I use that energy better to disclose and be a more visible advocate to help destigmatize the label “autistic” for those who have to disclose their neurology in order to survive?
I still don’t think that I’ll be making a Facebook announcement anytime soon, but I’m going to be quicker in the future to disclose that I’m autistic even when it might not be strictly necessary. Even when something like, “I don’t remember faces.” or “I have sensory issues relating to X.” might have sufficed in the past.
Of course, when I have disclosed that I’m autistic, nobody I’ve told has been surprised at all, unless they literally just met me beforehand.
So, maybe I don’t actually blend in or pass nearly as well as I think I do in the first place, past very brief surface introductions. In that case, I’d rather give people an accurate label than have them make unfounded assumptions based solely on how I come across to them, which leads me back to the people who are misinformed and will make those assumptions even with the correct label.
I can’t be certain either way, which means that I shouldn’t make the decision to disclose based primarily on the potential reactions or assumptions of allistics. I need to instead make that decision based on what I believe to be the best interests of myself and my neurosiblings.
It seems clear to me that everyone’s best interests, in *my case, involve more autistic disclosure on my part rather than less. At least, anytime it’s safe to disclose, I should. In the short term, this makes me very nervous, but in the long run, I believe this approach will be worthwhile in a myriad of ways.
*I want to be very clear that this post is just outlining my thought processes surrounding my own autistic disclosure. I think that this issue is a very personal one that everyone will have to think through for themselves. There is no one “right way” to disclose that one is autistic. What’s best for you in your situation might look drastically different compared to how my process has looked, looks now, and may look in the future.