Saturday, 26 April 2014

Aspergers and disclosure and out-ness and passing

Within three months I'll probably be a uni student again: new city, new home, new course leading to a new career.  It's been coming for a while, and it's fantastic to have a clear plan after the existential malaise that's followed me around since I left my old job a year ago.

But you don't look...
But it's brought with it a stack of questions about how 'out' about Aspergers I'm going to be, both while I'm studying and in the workplace afterwards.

On one hand, ever since I was diagnosed I've been really open about it, disclosing up front in any situation where it might be vaguely relevant.  I've felt that was important, because it gives people a reason for my quirks and social anxiety/shyness/general trouble with people before they jump to the conclusion that I'm stuck up, a bitch, or have something against them personally.  A secondary consideration is that it's also important from the awareness point of view, showing the world that Aspergers isn't all maths-clever little boys who love trains.

On this same hand, as a uni student with a disability I'll be able to get help and resources to get me through the course successfully.  (One of the universities on my shortlist is currently researching how their disabled students cope, although that wasn't a deciding factor in my choice.)  But from what I'm hearing on the grapevine, these services can be patchy.  I've heard some really encouraging stories, but also some that make you think twice - like the Autistic person who was told by a student services psychologist that their disability was "not a communication issue".

Then there's the issue of documenting this Aspergers business in the first place.  I don't know if you're supposed to get a certificate or some paperwork when you're diagnosed, but I didn't.  When I've had to 'prove' my diagnosis (when I took part in some research, for instance) I've had to get a letter from the place where I was diagnosed written specifically to cover that situation.  I don't have anything that says "yo, this person has Aspergers".  It'd be handy sometimes.

Thanks to my several moves in the last few years, the place I was diagnosed is in another city.  Getting paperwork is going to involve either travelling for an appointment (assuming I can get one, afford it, and fit it in around my current job) or finding someone else to sign off on my diagnosis.  I doubt I'll be able to do either in the next ten weeks.

On the other hand, would life be easier if I just kept it to myself?

I pass a lot better than I used to.  My self-awareness, social skills and self-esteem have come a long way in the last couple of years.  I've learned to manage my energy and deal with sensory irritants more effectively, and am starting to get a handle on the body awareness and executive function stuff.  The things I really struggle with - free-form unstructured alcohol-based socialising for instance, which sounds trivial but is a major means of networking for both pleasure and business in these parts - aren't things that a uni or workplace assistance program are going to be able to help me with anyway.

So, if I can handle it on my own and don't need help, maybe by outing myself I run the risk of calling attention to differences that would otherwise go unnoticed, and creating more problems for myself than if I was just the shy, odd one.

(This raises a vexed question: if Aspergers is defined as a clinical impairment in X, Y and Z, and through hard work, luck or good therapy you manage to chip away at X, Y and Z to the point you no longer have a clinical impairment... do you still have Aspergers?  That's a complicated point and one for another time.  But don't think it's not on my mind.)

Starting at the bottom of the ladder in a new career, especially as an older graduate, I need to present myself as eminently employable.  I don't want to risk that by appearing to come with provisos - especially if I don't need to.  If there's nothing to be gained from disclosing, and I'm not entirely sure there will be, maybe I should just be quiet about it.  Of course the awareness and advocacy issues are still reasons to disclose, but my first priority needs to be earning a living.  To drag Maslow into it, I need to make sure I can put a roof over my head and food on the table before I can worry about the more complex issues of self-actualisation.

This, however, is based on the theory that I will be able to fly under the radar and cope as an undisclosed Aspie.  Maybe I will.  Maybe I won't.  I won't know until I start.  I guess I can always come out later if it all starts hitting the fan, but once out in my new setting I can't go back in.

In the meantime, it's giving me plenty to think about.