I have a regular commenter, who openly states that he chooses not to tell his work colleagues about his autism (Aspergers specifically), out of concern for how it might impact on their attitudes towards him and his work. Today I found this piece about someone’s similar (and very real) concerns about work colleagues’ attitudes towards their Aspergers too. It’s clear that such concerns are well-grounded; people will be tempted to think of you and the quality of your work differently, merely because you have a diagnosed condition of some description.
But it is also clear that judgment is not just for autism or Aspergers or depression; it’s to do with the person doing the judgment making decisions from a usually ignorant stand-point (they don’t know much at all about the condition, the idea of diagnosis is what puts them off), and that the person doing the judging has erroneously confused together the quality of a worker and their work, with the condition. As if the condition pre- and over-determines the outcome of the work relationship. Whilst also forgetting that many people all around them have diagnoses unannounced, or problems as yet undiagnosed.
When one hears about a diagnosis, you’d hope the reaction would be polite interest and enhanced understanding and patience. It seems that might be an unrealistic expectation, at this time. I am hopeful (ever hopeful) that as awareness of autism increases, so will understanding; that autism does not predetermine personalities, intelligence, skills or inabilities. It is a condition that brings with it certain (and at times, significant) challenges, but those challenges are not insurmountable; particularly by the time the person at issue has made it to adult-hood and to the point where they are actively seeking and applying for jobs.
I see the autistic people in the workforce now, as lighting the way for my son. They are clearing the rubbish and ignorance out of the way, with the evidence of their amazing work-place accomplishments despite (and sometimes because of) their autism. But when I read and hear and see that they are often actively keeping their diagnoses a secret, I worry that the link between autistic people and amazing work, continues to go unrecognised. However I fully understand their decision to hold back that knowledge; not just because it might hurt their earning and ability to support their families, or their career prospects. But because their diagnosis should be irrelevant. Surely all that matters is they do their job and they do it well. There should be no pressure to tell everyone that they have a diagnosis, but neither should there be any shame attached to that pronouncement.
Hiding one’s autism isn’t always an option. When it’s severe enough to be noticed very quickly, but not so severe that the person is largely unemployable, it’s all the harder to even get your foot in the door. I have been extremely pleased to see a growing number of organisations and initiatives set up to find jobs specifically for such autistic people; promoting their sometimes considerable and rather unique talents, whilst also actively supporting them through the employment process.
So where will my own son fit in to all this? At this point in time, I could foresee him sitting between these two broad groups of people. His autism might always be obvious and debilitating, or it might become significantly less so over the next decade; he has had very real progress over the past two years alone. Either way I do foresee him being employable and seeking employment.
I wonder then, whether my current actions are hurting his chances.
I am trying to raise awareness and understanding of autism, a large part of my motivation in doing so is to make his future brighter. And I’ve put him in special programs, and now in a special school, with the aim of increasing his skills and overcoming his challenges. But along the way have I – do I – over-expose his identity, in such a way as to lessen his chances of employment and inclusion as an adult?
There are a couple of places (at least) on the internet, where his name is directly linked with autism – sometimes as a simple consequence of him being my son and me fighting for “my autistic son”. Then there is the fact of his enrolment at a special needs school; his name and educational past now eternally linked with his disability. I’ve done these things with the best of intentions, and more specifically, in his best interests. But unless future workplaces and work colleagues can be made to understand that this condition he has, and this special help he needed, do not mean that he is unemployable, then there is potential that I have hurt his future already.
What a horrible and frightening thought.
So all the more, I must fight to make people understand that autism does not mean unemployable. And I passionately ask – once the knowledge is no longer a danger to your employment, perhaps at retirement if it must be that way – that autistic people speak out proudly and loudly that they worked and their work was most excellent.
A lot can happen in the next decade, before my son reaches adulthood. I will continue to do all I can to make those happenings, positive ones. Not just for my own son, but for every autistic person who just wants the chance to live up to the very best and most they can be.