Now that we’ve covered the different types of disclosure (the “what”), let’s talk about why you might disclose. This post will be a bit shorter, mostly because we’re really pushing the limit of my artistic abilities here.
I’m a logical thinker (except when it comes to anxiety disorders, where I’m phenomenally irrational). I tend to approach relationships strategically, through a lens of transitions. If I’m going to give someone information about myself, there has to be a reason for that – and once I figure out that reason, it might cause me to change my mind about what information I want to give.
This is getting abstract. Let’s look at some examples.
Example #1: When I meet other students at school and I think I might want to be friends with them, I disclose as a litmus test. I want to see how they will respond, and then I’ll use that response to figure out if I’m still interested in friendship. I also didn’t feel like I had much to lose. If they reacted negatively, I wouldn’t want to spend time with them – and if they were the type of people who were actively mean to autistics, it would be good to find that out sooner, rather than later. (Fortunately, I haven’t encountered any such people.)
Example #2: A little later on in the trajectory towards friendship, when I’ve already established that a person would make a good friend, I disclose because I want them to have the appropriate context to understand my behavior. This way, they know that I’m paying attention to them even though I’m not making eye contact. They understand why I’m rocking back and forth. They get that I’ll never go to a party with them, and that it’s nothing personal.
Example #3: At the start of college, I registered with the disability services office. I disclosed just about everything to them, because I wanted accommodations. I also knew that my information would be protected by laws as well as ethics – more on that here.
Example #4: When I’m talking to a professor, I want accommodations to be implemented, which is a little different. Again, there’s a legal component: disabled students have no obligation to disclose the nature of our disabilities to professors. Professors know that if I have an accommodations letter, I have a reason for getting accommodations. I don’t have to tell them anything more, but I’ve found that sometimes, when professors know more, they can sometimes offer useful suggestions for implementing accommodations.
Case in point: for one of my lecture classes that I did online, there was a ton of background noise in the videos. This extra auditory input caused me so much distress that I couldn’t understand what the professor was saying – or watch for more than about 20 minutes without being on the verge of a meltdown. I knew that I needed an alternative to the videos, but I wasn’t exactly sure what that alternative was. I decided to explain the problem even though I didn’t have a solution in mind. My TA then told me that closed captions were available. I promptly switched to using those, and it made life (and the class) a lot easier. Collaborative problem solving at its finest.
An interesting thing to note here is that I didn’t actually use the word “autistic” when communicating with my TA about this. The relevant part had to do with auditory processing specifically, and while I was comfortable with full disclosure, this information alone didn’t “out” me – not all people with auditory processing issues are autistic. I actually didn’t care much about this part, since I’m pretty open about disability, but it came in handy when I was trying to figure out how to express my needs. “Ahhh I’m autistic help me” is a less informative explanation than “I am struggling to make use of course materials because I have atypical auditory processing.”
We’ve now arrived at a) the “how” of disclosure and b) another stunningly smooth segue. I’ve outdone myself. Head on over to the next post and you will have learned all there is to disclose about disclosure.