HR says I have a moral obligation to tell everyone I’m autistic — Ask a Manager

Autistic person in the workplace here — approaching 45. I’m finding that people are increasingly aware of autism around me in other parts of their lives and what has benefited me is being on a team of people who have grown up with the concepts of neurodivergence embedded in their upbringing, and who are bringing kids into the world who are also neurodivergent. It’s a big shift towards support and empowerment and seeing it as just something else about an individual person rather than the sum total of their identity. (And yeah, I agree, we can be good at predicting human behaviour; I studied politics/international law at uni and participated afterwards and it’s uncanny how I could anticipate things before they happened. And, truth be told, a bit scary. I stopped writing fiction when my ideas started mirroring real life geopolitical specifics a little too much. Like, plague and Russian sabre-rattling kind of predictive.)

Basically, just keep on being a good colleague and a supportive person. Respect work needs and see the workplace as a collective. Easier said than done, and it’s tempting to be of the dog-eat-dog, everyone for themselves rat race, but it’s important to maintain your own integrity if you want standing to hold others accountable.

Kinship matters to me as well — because I’ve been open about things, I find I’m trusted with other people being forthcoming about their issues and being able to help them in return for what I get from them.

Remember that you’re not going to be the only one with issues or struggles — it took me longer than you might expect to know that I wasn’t the only one with issues in an otherwise perfect world (and that made me feel less alone than I had before). Do as you would be done by; I’ve had a lot of support from other people and I’ve trained myself to be a supportive, safe person for others to come to. You don’t have to declare your own issues to be there for a colleague with anxiety or who is having a bad day; mental health awareness campaigns in the workplace IME emphasise people engaging with others over social activities in order for people to pick up cues to people’s moods and emotions and get to know them on a more fundamentally human level. My boss does camera on meetings because she can pick up from people’s faces if anyone is struggling, and she models looking after her own mental health, taking leave when necessary, and tells us that she can support us if through other personal issues. It’s happened with me before and it was lovely to know that she /cared/ (and could let me sit out a meeting in order to sort the situation out), even if she couldn’t do much to directly assist. One of my colleagues who is on the spectrum has difficulty masking and so cameras on mean she can support him when she can see he’s not in a good place.

Basically, what goes around comes around. Be a gentle person who shows they have time for others and the ability to listen as well as be heard. Know that even the big guy in the suit in the head office has their weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For example, one of the managers I support got stuck in the interest rate trap with her mortgage that has conversely benefitted me with my husband’s legacy, and suddenly had to get used to being short of money at the end of the month and having to ask her adult children for help. Beyond the sharp dress and the nice car she was struggling financially and missing meals. I offered her help just as a fellow human who lucked out on the money front; she declined (payday was only a week or so ago), but I was prepared to go into a shop and get her basic groceries. It was offered as a friend having something she didn’t have, the same way my mum sent a small stipend to a fellow teacher she knows in Uganda who was caught during the pandemic without a safety net and becoming ill from a lack of a good diet, or how on Christmas Day last year, while dropping me off at my husband’s aunt for dinner, she saw a guy in the otherwise deserted street looking anxious and talking into a phone and asked if he needed a lift anywhere. (She’s totally done that before. We got a free tour guide and recommendations on how to save money off the tourist trail when on holiday once because she offered a random guy a lift between towns. I suspect trust breeds trust; later in that trip she got bitten by a large dog because she got too close to someone who wasn’t all that trustworthy — she didn’t just trust any old person, but being proactive about helping out when needed paid for itself in what we saved by finding road motels and seeing more of the actual country that were in with s local context rather than just hopping from place to place. I definitely know all too well that some people can abuse your trust — someone swindled me back in March and I only got the money back because of laws mandating banks to help victims of fraud out — I’m not stupid, but quite often to do some good in the world you have to take some calculated risks.) It’s not Lady Muck stooping to help out the peasants; it’s a fellow human who has trying to help out someone who hasn’t.

Also try not to make any one person the embodiment of your anger. No-one is at fault for just being who they are; none of us chose our bodies and none of us can change them. What we can change is our attitudes, actions and approaches and seeing each other as individual human beings with talents and weaknesses helps put actions into context and discern who’s trying but failing and who is simply /not trying at all/. The trap social justice falls into is often making heroes and villains out of messy, ambivalent/equivocal situations and unnecessarily pursuing the sort of over-aggressive justice that leaves everyone worse off in the end. (As they say, an eye for an eye and we’re all blind.)

It’s hard, but being a good person and a responsible colleague is just generally good all round. Be the change you want to see; be the responsible one and the forbearing one and in the long run you will have a bit more grounding to ask for help when you need it.

Best of luck and I’m rooting for you. Above all else, take care of yourself. I’m sending you all the best vibes in the world and all the solidarity a virtual fist-bump can bring.

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