When and If to Disclose ASD | Organization for Autism Research

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This blog post has been adapted from “Chapter 4: Vocation and Employment” of OAR’s resource “A Guide for Transition to Adulthood”. 

disclose

When considering a possible job, it is important to consider when and if your young adult will disclose if they have ASD.  For employment opportunities, if they have had assistance securing the job and is being provided with job coaching, the primary question becomes not should they disclose, but rather what information is relevant to disclose and to whom?  Remember, in all cases, disclosure is a personal choice, and there is no law obligating anyone to disclose that they have a disability.  However, to be eligible for accommodations under the ADA, some level of disclosure will be necessary.  Once, disclosed, that information legally must be kept confidential by the employer.  

Self-Advocacy

interviewOnce your young adult is hired, the role of advocate needs to fall less on you and more onto them.  Self-advocacy skills are considered critical to success in most jobs.  In fact, there aren’t many mechanisms by which you, as the parent, may advocate on their behalf.  Each individual will need to learn both how and when to disclose, in addition to how much information they need to disclose, in what format, and to what end. 

Aside from knowing what supports they need, your young adult must now effectively communicate those needs.  How and when to disclose is a skill-set that is critical to the process.  Your young adult is an expert on their experience of being a person of the spectrum and has the unique opportunity to let others know, to the extent that is possible and appropriate, what it is like.  However, it is important for them to understand that disclosure is not an “all or nothing” proposition.  Disclosure can be much more complex and personal process than simply saying, “I have autism spectrum disorder”.

Pros and Cons of Possible Disclosures

On the Application/Cover Letter

Pros

  • Allows applicant to relax about employer possibly finding out.
  • Prepares the employer to consider what accommodations they are able to offer.

Cons

  • May harm your young adult’s chances  before they have a chance to demonstrate strengths and capabilities.
  • No way of knowing if the reason they were not hired had to do with their diagnosis.

Other Considerations

  • Immediate disclosure may make finding a job more difficult; however, when your child does find employment, they are less likely to have autism-related problems on the job.

At the Interview

Pros

  • Offers the opportunity to answer any questions about autism and its impact on the job.
  • Discrimination is less likely in person.

Cons

  • Too much emphasis on diagnosis may distract from discussion of your young adult’s strengths and abilities.

Other Considerations

  • Your young adult will need to be comfortable answering questions and leading a discussion about autism and how it affects them specifically.

After Hired but Before Beginning Work

Pros

  • If the hiring decision is changed and you are sure your young adult’s ASD will not interfere with their ability to perform the job, legal action is warranted.

Cons

  • Employer and personnel department may distrust your young adult and feel they should have disclosed beforehand.

Other Considerations

  • You and your young adult will need to evaluate your young adult’s ASD to determine its impact on the specific job duties and be able to explain specifically that it will not interfere with their performance.

After Beginning Work

Pros

  • Your child will have the chance to prove themselves before disclosing.
  • They will be able to discuss autism with their peers at work before disclosing.
  • Your young adult may be protected by law if disclosure affects employment status but ASD does not keep them from performing their job safely.

Cons

  • Your young adult may be anxious at work if they are unable to disclose their diagnosis immediately.
  • Employer may be upset that they were not told sooner.

Other Considerations

  • It may be harder for your young adult to disclose the longer they wait.
  • It may be unclear who they should tell.

After a Problem

Pros

  • Your young adult will have the chance to prove themselves before disclosing.

Cons

  • Employer may be upset that they were not told sooner.
  • Could perpetuate myths and misunderstandings about autism.

Other Considerations

  • May be difficult to re-establish trust with coworkers and friends.

Never

Pros

  • Less chance of discrimination based on stigma around ASD.

Cons

  • Risk of being fired for reasons that their employer may have been more understanding about if they were aware.
  • Could perpetuate myths and misunderstandings about autism.

Other Considerations

  • As your young adult become more confident with their performance may not be hindered by having ASD, the issue of disclosure becomes less important.

For more information about timing options for disclosure or positives and negatives about disclosing at various stages in the job/education search process, see Appendix J. 

If You Decide to Disclose

Characteristics Framed as Employment Strengths 

In real life, patterns of behavior previously considered to be potential  challenges may actually help in the workplace—things like attention to detail may be especially valued at a quality assurance position, and punctuality is always valued in any workplace.  Take a look at how specific capabilities and challenges that your young adult faces can be turned into assets:

  • Nonverbal –> May be less likely to disrupt fellow coworkers
  • Limited social interest –> May stay more focused at work and not waste time 
  • Strong sensory preferences –> May enjoy working in a quiet office 
  • Is very schedule- or rule-bound –> Comes to work on time, takes breaks on time, and returns from breaks on time

Accommodations on the Job

According to the ADA, a qualified employee or applicant with a disability is an individual who can perform, with or without reasonable accommodation, the essential functions of the job in question.  Reasonable accommodation may include, but is not limited to:

  • Making existing facilities used by employees readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities
  • Job restructuring or modifying work schedules
  • Acquiring or modifying equipment or devices; adjusting/modifying examinations, training materials, or policies; and providing qualified readers or interpreters

An employer is required to make an accommodation to the known disability of a qualified applicant or employee if it would not impose an “undue hardship” on the operation of the employer’s business. An undue hardship is defined as an action requiring significant difficulty or expense when considered in light of factors such as an employer’s size, financial resources, and the nature and structure of its operation.

handshake workReasonable accommodations under the ADA for individuals with ASD can include:

  • Longer training periods
  • Written lists of tasks to complete and the time of day they should be completed
  • Removal of seriously distracting sights or sounds in the workplace

For a more complete list of reasonable accommodations specific to autism, see Appendix K.

Educating Employers and Coworkers

Should your young adult choose to disclose, both employers and coworkers need to be educated about ASDs so that they can offer support when necessary.  They will need to be trained on how on how to best work with your young adult.  Be sure to emphasize areas where they will need help, along with their particular strengths.

Workplace-Specific Social Skills

Although social skills may not be necessary for your young adult to perform the actual job, they may be needed to help them keep the job or be more socially included at work.  The social skills demanded vary from place to place, but there are basic skills that every employee should know.

Your young adult with ASD may need assistance or training to perform functions in these areas:

  • Personal presentation
    • e.g. appropriate clothing, cleanliness, interpersonal greetings, etc.
  • Communication skills
    • e.g. expressing preferences, listening skills, obtaining help when needed, etc.
  • Social behaviors
    • e.g. awareness of personal space, tolerance of schedule changes, general manners, etc.

Disclosing is a very personal and case-by-case choice.  It can be a very important decision during the transition into adult life. OAR’s A Guide for Transition to Adulthood is a comprehensive handbook to the many areas that parents should consider while assisting their young adults through their transitions, including the transition to employment.  Available in both English and Spanish, you can order or download a copy today for more information!


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