Many people in the autism community are concerned about the impacts of the decision to disclose how their brain works. Even having disclosure be optional is an aspect of privilege; for some, fitting in is not an option. With chameleon abilities and checking my honesty, my Asperger’s may have been fully optional. I could have been considered quirky and had everything about me explained by my intellectual and emotional aptitudes and sensitivities.
However, in a world of therapists trained to look out for differences in brain wiring means that I probably would have been detected anyhow (as in my interview story below). I am also fortunate to have the love of a good woman, to whom I early disclosed my Asperger’s.
Might more Aspies obtain professional and personal benefits from intentionally self-disclosing?
After finishing my Master’s in Counseling Psychology in 2011, I interviewed for a position working at a therapeutic day school. The economy was rough, and I needed a job. My interviewer, who later became a great mentor and friend, suggested that I could very easily work at a fancy private school. He didn’t realize that I had already interviewed at a couple. I held my tongue.
I had entered that interview intending to present as an extrovert with a 120 IQ; for the first time in my life I had internalized that being fully myself might hinder my chances at being understood, accepted, and invited in.
He reviewed my resume, and said that I was obviously very intelligent. I took a risk, and I asked if we could talk more about that. I told him of my plan of taking on a role for the interview, and he said “That’s not who you are.”
I have since learned that in the work we do, self-acceptance is more important than similarity, because clients can trust your integrity and be given the freedom for their own self-acceptance.
He said that working with the students would be easy, and the real challenge would be winning over my co-workers. He was on my team, and I was hired onto his.
I live with a woman who loves me to death even though I sometimes annoy her to death. My partner Sara eats up my brilliance and spits out occasional pouting and irrational anxieties. There are challenges that are not going away, and she is tender and warm with these. There are aspects of my patterns of preference that are optional, and she challenges me to be an adult and stretch.
This tension between accommodating Aspie preferences and adapting to typical patterns requires clear and vulnerable communication.
When we go to restaurants, she gives me preferential seating. I am fully encouraged to ask the server for a table in the quietest part, and I choose which seat I want based on the likely stimulation of restaurant sounds or street activity. I normally choose the seat with the least stimulation, and that helps free me to pay attention to our connection. Sara’s allowing for my preference is helpful because I can often hear, track, and subsequently be distracted by four conversations at the same time. Sometimes, at work and in relationship, it is up to me to use my flexibility.
At my job, I dealt with being hit, spit on, and having rocks thrown at me. Aspie detachment helped me keep my cool and respond with compassion, and sometimes with emergency-inspired humor to de-escalate a crisis. This both utilized my strengths and showed my flexibility.
There was a time I received an accommodation, and it involved a holiday party at a restaurant in Jack London Square in Oakland. I parked and entered the restaurant at the designated time, and I was the first person there. When my boss arrived, he ordered a beer and I did not, as I felt confused and vaguely overstimulated. I had been bitten that day while holding a child’s legs during a physical restraint in a crisis, and I internally blamed a co-worker for failing to keep the child’s face away from my back. I asked my boss for his blessing for me to leave, and he gave it easily. In hindsight, having a beer could have helped me stretch and have a positive experience, but that is a different essay.
A year later, with the same Agency in a different position with a different boss, I also left the holiday party early. But I am growing; my family was in town and took Sara and me to the nice restaurant that I had left the year before. This shows the importance of balancing acceptance with high standards.
Autism freed me up to talk about giftedness. Asperger’s inspired me to re-connect with my creativity.
The lead character in the film Adam disclosed his Asperger’s and then named a few people that he identified with. If you are considering self-disclosure, give yourself the gift of choosing your three favorite Aspies as role models. There are many lists of famous people believed to be on the autism spectrum, and those of us in the club can detect others. My personal top three are David Byrne, Franz Kafka, and Miranda July.