The Human Side of the Aspergers Diagnosis: Part 3 Telling Others
Posted May 09 2009 12:00am
A Quick Recap Thus far, we've looked at the effects of an aspergers diagnosis on parents (of younger children) and on the Aspies themselves.
In this post I want to look at how other family members, colleagues, teachers and friends react.
Siblings At a very young age, there is little reaction from siblings towards the diagnosis and its effects. Any young sibling reaction tends to be directed towards the perceived "differences", not the label.
This begins to change as the affected child grows older and gets more "special treatment". Its common for mothers to "baby" their aspergers children and this can cause resentment with siblings.
If a diagnosis is revealed to a sibling at adulthood, the result is often denial and dismissal. This is similar, though often stronger than the similar reactions expressed by parents when their adult children receive a label. Older siblings often consider the label an attempt to "get more attention" or a personal attack on their genetics.
Teachers Teachers invariably respond to the diagnosis with "over-simplification" and an underestimation of ones abilities. There is often a degree of irritation and/or sympathy thrown in for good measure.
The worst problems arising from these reactions tend to result in children being placed in "slower" remedial classes, given over-simplified work and generally being mollycoddled for no good reason. Such treatment can often impair a child's academic chances.
The irritated reaction is also problematic and many teachers who simply "do not believe" the condition either make it a personal crusade to get a certain result from the child or otherwise make every effort to remove that child from their class. I have seen instances where labelled children who are considered to be a "disruptive influence" are sent out of class or allocated a special desk simply to keep them out of the teacher's way.
Like all people, teachers have varied reactions. Regardless of the policies and tolerance of the school, not all teachers are suited to special needs students. Parents should pay special attention to each new teacher's performance at the beginning of the year to determine whether the most suitable invidivuals are teaching their children.
Colleagues and Friends Before revealing your "label" to people who don't necessarily have a need to know, you need to carefully consider what you expect from the reveal. You may be expecting sympathy and understanding but how exactly do you want it manifested? Do you just want your boss to be understanding when you feel anxious and need to leave suddenly during the day? Do you want them to feel sorry for you? Do you want them to keep you out of meetings whenever possible?
Your boss needs to be productive too and depending on the size of the company, he or she may ultimately need to be responsibile for its productivity.
You need to carefully consider the reasons for the reveal and decide first whether or not the boss/company can "afford" your concessions. If they can't, then telling them can often be the quickest route to the exit.
If you feel that your boss will be able to provide the concessions you need, then don't just stop with an explanation of your condition. Tell your boss what would ease your "pain". It may be as simple as "don't expect a lot of eye contact but know that I'm listening". You may feel the need to mention specifics like how sometimes you need to shut your office door to drown out excess noise.
The other thing to consider about a workplace reveal is; who should know. In the workplace, news travels fast and even though you've hand-picked the people you want to tell, the chances are that soon "everybody" will know. If you are having issues with a particular employee or if you feel that you may be harrassed as a result, you should either withhold the information or reveal only under private, controlled and documented circumstances, such as a Human Resources meeting. Even then, you should make it clear (and have it noted) that you do not want the information revealed outside of the meeting participants.
Sometimes, a reveal with friends or colleagues can have very positive effects and an older, more experienced (or more confident) person can take you under their wing. Such "protection" is very useful and you should think twice before brushing it off. In every job I've worked in, I've always found such protectors. They do things like discreetly nudge me when I'm taking things literally, showing a lack of empathy or otherwise committing social "sins". This usually enables me to correct my mistakes and avoid the worst of any backlash.