By talking about your autism and advocating for yourself, you make an important step towards feeling comfortable with others. This activity introduces the advantages of being open about your autism, and gives some practical tips.
What do other people want to/need to know?
Different people need to know different things about your autism at different times – just telling them you have the condition doesn’t give them enough information.
Your friends don’t need to know about the definition of autism, but you will make more sense to them if they know why you are anxious around social events, react in certain ways, experience sensory stuff differently or have certain things you need to do in order to feel comfortable, and it means you don’t have to pretend to be someone else around them. Autism affects everyone differently and by explaining how it affects you, you can avoid friends and stafff members making wrong assumptions about you.
How could this affect me?
At university, while you can ask for support from the disability office and other people, and some paperwork can be passed on to your department, it’s your responsibility to tell people about your diagnosis AND to explain to them what that means for you.
Even if somebody knows about autism, it doesn’t mean they know how it will affect you or that they are aware that there are positives as well as negatives to the condition.
“I’m always afraid of being turned away or not being able to explain myself well, or being misunderstood and having that change the way I’m treated.” (Autism&Uni survey response)
So it’s really important to think about not just who you tell or how, but what you tell people who can help you and how comfortable you feel with explaining your needs.
How to explain what you need 1) State the problem clearly and unemotionally (for example: ”I found the cafe too busy and couldn't communicate.”) 2) Explain without getting angry what the consequences were for you (for example: “I needed to leave, but couldn't make the words happen”) 4) Tell the person what you’d like them to know (for example: "I didn't want you to think I was being rude.") 5) Be clear if it might happen again and suggest a strategy (for example: "Can I text you if we're sitting together and I need to leave.")
What to do next?
Talk to someone you trust about your autism and how it affects you.
Being open about your autism means that the stigma some people feel around autism is more likely to go away. Start with people you can trust and specific issues you think they might notice anyway.
A student told us about her experience of telling her friends:
“Because they are aware I feel slightly more like I can be myself instead of trying to fit in although I also think it helps them accept slight differences.
For social stuff it helps as they are aware they can’t just text me and see if I’m free then but should give me several days’ notice – which is nothing personal towards them, it’s just I can’t just be social instantly.
It also helps that if we meet up to do something they know I can’t cope with loud noises, crowds, lights etc. and will ‘switch off’ in these occasions. “
Several students told us that if friends know the individual things they are anxious about, like finding new places or understanding assignment questions, they can get a lot of support from them.
Questions to think about
What are the key ways in which autism affects you?
What aspects might be invisible to other people or get worse at times of stress?
How do you want friends to support you at these times?
Additional information and links
AuVision is an online resource created by the University of Birmingham which guides staff on how best to support autistic students.