One of the things teens and young adults with disabilities can often struggle with is whether or not to disclose a disability to their teachers, employers, or even whether or not to talk about it with friends. Let me start off by saying that the decision regarding whether or not to disclose a diagnosis is a very personal one. I cannot sit here as I write this and tell you as a young adult, a parent, or a professional whether you or the young person you love or serve should or should not disclose his or her diagnosis.
However, I can say that choosing to do so has helped me and has had a very positive impact on my life. I have three main diagnoses – not just one – including mild cerebral palsy, a learning disability, and an autism spectrum disorder.
It Is Okay to Ask for Help
I was told at a very young age that I had disabilities and that I might need help with some things. I was also told that it was okay to ask for help, and I was used to going to physical and occupational therapy after school and spending summer vacation, at least a portion of it, in tutoring.
There was a time in my teen years until approximately my early twenties, in which I experienced low self-esteem and resisted accepting my diagnoses and my life for what it truly is. I began to notice that my opportunities, life goals, and especially social activities were different than those of my friends. With time and the support of mental health professionals, I was eventually able to accept that our paths may be different in life, but also to understand and see that the path I’m on isn’t bad. I have gotten to that point now, and I’m happier for it.
Why I Chose to Disclose
I chose to disclose because I did not want there to be any sort of doubt or confusion in a professor or an employer’s mind as to why certain issues may occur. They were not related to laziness, poor organization, apathy, problems with authority, or a lack of self-discipline. Any issues would likely be related to a medical diagnosis, something beyond my control that I should not have to apologize for or act as if it doesn’t exist. I told my employers right from the beginning and I’ve had a great experience at work. I love it. Most of my professors in college were more than happy to work with me, too.
Socially also, I know that at some point, my disability will show up. The thing about living with disability is it will touch all aspects of a person’s life: at school, at work, out to dinner with people, even grocery shopping over the weekend. Socially, I tend to be very observant of a person’s demeanor and personality before I start hanging out with them. I pay attention to the kinds of things they talk about and see if our interests and ambitions are similar. I pay attention to how they behave around other people. Do they act entitled, pushy, or bossy? Or are they more fun loving, relaxed, go-with-the-flow kind of people? In what ways have I seen compassion and sensitivity in them?
Also, I have to say, I do like people with a good respect for education. I listen to the words they use in conversation as well as their sense of culture and worldliness in general. If all this looks good, then I will see about meeting up with them. I know it can take a lot to put yourself out there socially. I knew that there was a world outside my bedroom, and I didn’t want to spend the bulk of my days there alone when I could be off living life and having fun. I knew I deserved that, and I knew that my family deserved to see me happy. Disclosure is sometimes intimidating and difficult, but it has truly opened up possibilities for me, rather than closing them off and I’m so happy I did it.