By talking about your autism and advocating for yourself, you make an important step towards feeling comfortable with others. This section introduces the advantages of being open about your autism, and gives some practical tips.
In the past, your parents or teachers or other people who helped you might have done most of the talking – they knew all about you and could help explain to other people how an autistic spectrum condition affected you socially and educationally.
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.
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 and Asperger Syndrome, 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.
90% of parents in our Autism&Uni survey said they had to advocate for their children so they could receive the support they need at school. Students in the surveys said they find it difficult to explain difficulties related to their autism, which might partly be because before uni other people were on hand to do it for them.
“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)
What to do next?
Talk about your autism with people you can trust
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 with 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. “
If academic staff know how autism affects your learning and what might make you less anxious, especially if you tell them in plenty of time, they’re more likely to be able to help you. You need to be specific, and your disability adviser can help you come up with strategies you can share.
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
- Who should I tell about my autism?
- How much detail do people need from me?
- What are the advantages for me in telling people?
Additional information and links
If you feel you need to talk to someone impartial rather than your friends or peers, you can take advantage of the free confidential counselling service offered by UCA. You can find information on the service here.