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Thread: How I told my boss I was autistic. #autism #ActuallyAutistic

We were talking one day, and I slowly spiraled into an anxiety-fueled outburst. I didn't realize how bad it was until she followed up with me to ask me to please not yell at her in front of our team. /1
We debriefed, I tried to rationalize where that anxiety came from with some success, but I still felt concerned. Why didn't I know I was yelling? Where did that reaction come from, anyway? How did I know I wouldn't do it again?

I thought, it's time to figure this out. /2
I was 31, I finally had a good stable job, and I was ready to get to the bottom of this issue that had been plaguing me forever. Why was it, when I was at my most controversial or surprising or offensive to people, I had no idea I'd done anything out of the ordinary? /3
Why was I so bad at recognizing jokes, and even worse at making them? Why did I sometimes feel that everyone was tuning into life on a different frequency than me? I was getting faint echoes of what they were hearing, but I wasn't on their wavelength. /4
I was starting to hear about how autistic women looked very different than the stereotypes I'd grown up with. An old curiousity came back. Maybe this was the answer after all. I started the assessment process.

In the meantime, I told my boss I was undergoing assessment. /5
That was for goodwill, because I wanted her to know I was working on whatever caused that initial outburst. What was great was, that's when she told me she had ADHD. She knew all about getting assessed and finding coping mechanisms and living with a difference. That was huge. /6
She also decided to tell HER bosses about my assessment. She asked my permission first but seemed to think they'd want to know. It's a very tight knit team and for all I knew, there were other behaviors of mine that needed some explanation. So I said OK. /7
It's also important to add that I told her about my psychologist deciding to test my IQ in case I was "just" gifted and not autistic at all. This meant when it turned out I WAS gifted, I shared that along with my disclosure that I was autistic as well. /8
Not every autistic person can tell their boss they also have an above-average IQ. This wasn't a big shock because of my graduate degree and also I talk like a huge nerd, but it put my disclosure in a different, more privileged perspective & I want to acknowledge that. /9
Everyone's first question: "Do you need accommodation?"

They meant, different start times, a different workstation, something big. I didn't think I did. That was a key decision because it meant no one had to tell HR about my disclosure. It stayed within the team. /10
Eventually, I bought ear defenders, & had to explain that I could hear file cabinets closing on the other side of the floor. So we discussed a few ad hoc strategies, like moving my desk to a slightly quieter spot within our area, and using a small quiet room nearby, if needed./11
In the meantime, I had weekly one-on-one meetings with a new manager (the one who helped me today), and I saw those as my chance to plant the seeds of an autism education.

First things first: we need to talk about spoons. /12
We needed a common vocabulary to make it OK to feel drained & not up to something. This wasn't just for me - it was also for my manager, because I knew I could be exhausting at times. I had seen people run themselves down trying to keep up with my various needs. /13
What do I do as an autistic employee that's so draining for a manager?

I ask BIG questions. Lots of WHYS and WHAT IFS. I ask them out of nowhere, when you're on your way to a meeting, like it's the most normal thing in the world & should have a perfectly simple answer. /14
I get cranky. It's the sensory overload. It's all the things about office work that don't make sense, that everyone else has accepted & forgotten, but I can't. It's an email someone sent me with either an ominous or an innocent smiley face (which is it? what does it MEAN??). /15
I say the things everyone else knows not to say.

I find patterns in our work that you don't see, and I tell you about them like they're perfectly obvious, and then I talk about expanding on them and documenting them. All in the same 2-minute conversation. /16
I observe your rhetorical strategies and mirror them back to you, on the assumption that the way you talk to others is how you want others to talk to you. Admittedly this has a low success rate, but I've learned some truly helpful behaviors this way so I keep trying. /17
I struggle with things you don't even think twice about. I cruise through tasks that take you hours. You ask for an inch of thought, and I give you miles. You ask me if I have that list we were just talking about, and I give you the wrong one. /18
I digress.

I also needed to help my boss understand autism in general, and I had to take it slow. I look for "learning moments" or chances to mention my autistic traits. I reference studies (or Twitter posts) I've read and reference facts about autism if it seems relevant. /19
I also try to talk about the rest of my life (rather than dodging & withdrawing, as is my instinct). I talk about how I spent my weekend, plans with my partner, Dungeons & Dragons and books and astronomy (aka special interests). It's about giving a full picture of who I am. /20
It also helps, in a way, that I have anxiety. People are very familiar with it, so my boss knows to check in with me when I've had a setback in my work. She asks how I'm doing, I admit that I needed to take some steps to manage my anxiety, and I tell her what those steps were./22
I think an important part of the process was creating physical & visual reminders of my autism and anxiety. My cube is overtly cheerful, with little plants and flowers. I leave my ear defenders lying around. I have mental health leaflets pinned up. It has a "wellness" vibe. /23
That's intentional. I want someone standing at my desk to find themselves reading my homemade list of recharge techniques, or my printout of an anxiety meditation practice. I think of it as Visual Reinforcement. Having "come out" as autistic, I don't want to hide it anymore. /24
My theory is, I want my bosses to remember I'm autistic even when I do something good, to balance out the times I know they'll remember it when I do something bad. I want to slowly build a full, realistic picture of myself as an autistic employee in their minds. Warts & all. /25
Are you "out" as neurodivergent at work? How did you disclose to your bosses, and how did you communicate to them about your needs? /26 @scottkarp #NeurodiverseSquad #ActuallyAutistic #autism #Neurodiversity
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