Self-disclosure is the act of us sharing personal information with others. Whether we intend to is quite another matter! We self-disclose in the mere process of wearing particular clothes, our pastimes, the company we keep, the causes we fight for. We self-disclose with the music that we play in the car, well-known figures that we might follow on Instagram, holding hands with someone in public – everything we do outside of our own little world gives clues to others about who we are. Many of them are harmless and many actually help us to form social bonds with other people, without us saying a word. Neat!

Intentional self-disclosure is something that we need to take responsibility for, in order to protect ourselves. Our personal information is ours to share if we wish, or sometimes if we need to, in order to get appropriate support – from a GP, a trusted friend or a therapist, for instance. Self-disclosure to an audience that is unknown is a bold and potentially reckless move – on social media, or the school drive, for instance. Once it’s out there, it’s out there. This is an incredibly empowering feeling and it can also go horribly wrong, particularly if you don’t get the reactions that you had hoped for OR if that information gets into the wrong hands. And yes, I do speak from a vast amount of personal experience! We need to think very carefully before we share and ask ourselves why we’re doing that. What do we gain from it? What do others gain from it? Will this little piece of personal information make others feel more open to share too? Is the self-disclosure risk worth the potential gain for yourself or for others that you care about? Only each individual one of us can answer these questions for themselves – no one else can answer them for us.

If you’ve read anything else on The Gentle Autistic site, you will be scratching your heads now and possibly shouting at the screen that I’m clearly a chronic over-sharer as I seem to have laid my entire life out for everyone to sift through. Yep! I’m a hyperverbal, autistic ADHDer – of course I am!

I am aware of the risks involved here. I have taken certain precautions to protect myself and the members of The Gentle Autistic community. For instance, I’ve switched off the comments option on each page which is such a shame, but trolls will be trolls and we’re having none of that here, thank you. The membership of our community groups is controlled, the content is private, and carefully monitored by trusted admins and moderators. The shared neurodivergent experiences on this site are anonymous and have the absolute stamp of approval of their authors.

Anyway, all of this soapbox talk is leading up to the big question that I intended to open with:

SHOULD WE SHARE THAT WE ARE NEURODIVERGENT? 

The answer to that, only we can decide for ourselves, and this will vary in each particular situation. The telephone banking assistant really doesn’t need to know you’re autistic or ADHD, unless you feel their attitude towards you will be improved if you divulge it. For instance ‘I’m autistic and I’m struggling to digest what you’re saying – please speak more slowly’. I find that one very effective actually, and I’ve never had anything other than positive responses to it.

I have chosen to share my auDHD very publicly, everywhere that I consider it:

1) will give those people the opportunity to treat me with respect and recognition of my differences

2) will help those people understand why being around me, and me being around them, has not always been easy or predictable

3) will educate others, as part of the drive to remove, or at least reduce stigma and ableism

4) will increase my opportunities for practical support

and, most importantly of all

4) to be as loud as possible about what being a late-diagnosed autistic woman is like, with the absolute determination to help as many others like me to find their true identity and, in doing so, hopefully find peace and that all important autistic joy.

So for all those reasons, I self-disclose a lot, though I’m cautious now. There’s still a lot I only share with those I completely trust not to abuse it and misuse it (reading the gaslighting glossary entry feels relevant here).

I have been surprised and delighted by how overwhelmingly positive my autistic ‘coming out’ has been. I do have fabulous friends, so I shouldn’t be surprised by that! There are a few people that have surprised me in a sad or disappointing way, and I imagine that is true for most of us. You can’t predict how others will respond to your amazing news – indifference, awkwardness, enthusiasm, relief – all these and more have been my experiences, and I’m sure I’m not alone there.

And if you feel you’ve disclosed too much about yourself and wish you could turn back time, be gentle with yourself. People are far too busy focussing on their own complicated lives to spend too long thinking about yours… That awkwardness will pass 🙂

This is your identity, if you want it to be. And if you want it to be just yours forever, your wonderful, personal, precious identity – that is completely okay. Remember, you don’t have a responsibility to tell others who and why you are. It’s your life and it’s your choice.