Why Aren't Neurodistinct Employees Disclosing to Their Employer?

Disclosure is the contingency that, in theory, unlocks mechanisms of support for neurodistinct employees. Many researchers and self-advocates suggest that disclosing neurodivergence can benefit employees greatly. Employer allies are eager to support neurodistinct employees and build neuroinclusive enterprises. So why is it that most neurodistinct employees do not disclose? By listening to self-advocates, we know that the risks can overshadow the rewards.

The Dichotomy of Disclosure: Benefits & Costs

During a recent keynote presentation, a neurodistinct speaker offered this quip when asked why more neurodistinct employees aren’t disclosing: “It’s none of their damn business.” The crowd’s enthusiasm for his response captures the sentiment of neurodistinct self-advocates. Unveiling an oppressed identity is painful for many, so why do employers attach critical support mechanisms to this contingency? The stage has not been set for disclosure to be the default. Neurodistinct employees’ experiences with firings, demotions, being underestimated, ostracization and bullying are likely more present in their minds than the upside of accommodations. It is no wonder that masking is the default for most neurodistincts who’ve suffered the consequences of previous disclosures. Some neurodistinct employees work their entire careers without disclosing and prefer it that way.

In the same breadth, other neurodistincts describe the benefits of disclosure. Many feel more accepted and understood post-disclosure. Miscommunication between neurodistincts and neurotypicals lessens as different communication styles and behaviors are accepted. Neurotypicals are often more amenable to arrangements where their neurodivergent colleagues’ strengths are acknowledged and barriers supported. Discussing their identity and support needs during the application process can help candidates assess their congruence with employers. Being your authentic self improves mental health by easing the psychological distress associated with masking. Neurodistinct children and emerging adults benefit from seeing openly and proudly neurodistinct adults.

How Employers Can Do More

Bottom line: disclosure is a roll of the dice. Employers must understand that disclosing is a deeply personal choice. Neurodistinct employees should be supported, retained, and promoted regardless of whether or not they choose to disclose. The ultimate evolution for neuroinclusive employers demands more than simply offering a catalog of support to employees who disclose. Instead, true neuroinclusion requires creating an environment where disclosure is unnecessary. All employees should have access to support without divulging their identities. While aspiring to this goal, employers should take steps to address the barriers to disclosure:

  • Providing a regular cadence of check-ins and feedback during onboarding and transitions to new roles Promote neurodistinct leaders. Neurodistincts are more likely to feel safe as their authentic selves when they see themselves at the organization’s top level.
  • Take the employee’s lead when it comes to support needs. No “one size fits all” or “silver bullet” solutions exist.
  • Create a streamlined, confidential mechanism of disclosure.
  • Foster a psychologically safe, Neuroinclusive workplace where Neurodistinct employees can safely show up as their authentic selves.

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