The choice of when to disclose a disability or neurodiversity is personal and will depend on where you are in your life, your previous experiences, and what you’re trying to achieve. No one can or should tell you what to do. However, there are things to consider before disclosing your neurodivergence, which should help to empower you to make the right decision for you.
It is worth acknowledging that there is no perfect solution, only an attempt to make the best decision with the available information. This mindset also allows you to ask for more adjustments or to withdraw yourself from an application or job if new information tells you that this role is not suitable for you without blaming yourself – you’re not psychic!
Neurodivergence, such as ADHD, autism, and dyslexia etc, are considered disabilities and are protected under the Equality Act 2010 from direct and indirect discrimination, harassment and vicitmisation in the workplace and at all stages of the recruitment process. This means that your employer has to make reasonable adjustments to avoid you being put at a disadvantage to your colleagues and can only ask limited questions about your health, disability, or neurodiversity during the application process.
However, the Equality Act can be complex – it protects neurodiverse people from discrimination, but only if our employers could have foreseen the issue and are acting in a way that disadvantages us.
If you don’t disclose your neurodivergence then you reduce the risk of things like unconscious bias in the interview process or your treatment in the workplace – what they don’t know they can’t use in a bad way towards you.
However, you are not protected against things your employer does not know about, so if they are making choices that disadvantage you and you have not disclosed then you cannot hold them accountable for those disadvantages.
There’s a difference between questions asked by interviewers and questions asked during vetting (often talked about as security clearances for certain jobs). While the interview is about your skills, personality and fit to the job, security vetting is about whether you pose a security risk, usually, before the business asks you to keep secrets. Normally there’ll be some paperwork handled by the employer, but the very personal questions are handled by an external body and kept secret from your employer – all they (and you) find out is whether you’ve been cleared. In vetting, it’s in your interest to be open because the main thing they’re measuring is whether you’ve got any personal secrets that you’re ashamed enough of to be blackmailed. The third thing they’re looking for is a bit thornier – they’ll want to know whether you are able to keep secrets. They’re specifically allowed to ask you about all the things like sexuality, politics and disability that are not normally allowed to influence your employability.
The last issue is that some neurodivergent people may find clearance additionally challenging – you probably need to be prepared to answer questions that’ll look a bit biassed (autistic folks might need to explain that even if their job is their special interest they’ve got enough self-control not to talk to everyone about it, ADHDers might have to talk about impulse control, etc.).
Diversity, equity and inclusion are super important, but they’re also a bit of a bandwagon – every company wants to look good and diverse hiring is something that’s increasingly being measured and published. The challenge is to find businesses that are actively engaged rather than ticking boxes, which is something you’ve started doing by asking around about employers. Are they taking risks to employ people with disabilities, such as running a training programme that comes with a promise of employment afterwards?
You may choose to disclose when you know you can offer an achievable solution to any challenges. For example, saying “I can achieve anything that anyone can, I’ve just had to be a bit creative about how I get there, because I can’t always follow the same path everyone else seems to” can make you look like a stronger candidate.
This question is about starting from a position of power – you want whoever you’re working with to let you manage your neurodivergence. Infantilising you or being inflexible about how they address your needs is a massive red flag.
There’s no point in hiding something that may put you at a disadvantage against other candidates. For example, If you have a big gap on my CV that could only be explained by disclosing your neurodivergence, or your grades were lower than might be expected etc. then it might be to your advantage to explain why.
You don’t have to tell people you have a disability or neurodivergence, but “why is there nothing on your CV between these dates?” or “why are your A-level grades too low to have gotten into Oxford Uni normally?” would be fairly standard questions to find out about inconsistencies. One thing they’ll be looking for is whether a CV is accurate. They also might be looking for other things that people try to cover up that put gaps in their work history, like having been in prison, so sometimes you may rather explain your neurodivergence than take a risk that they think it’s something else.
There may not be much point in hiding your neurodivergence if you won’t find aspects of the interview accessible, because you would be disadvantaged against other candidates without telling them why you may be scoring lower.
For Example, you may struggle with contributing in a group interview where people have to fight to be heard. To make sure that they didn’t think that they were employing someone who could never attend a meeting you could explain that:
Think ahead about how people will interpret requests for adaptation, to ensure you can reassure them that you can succeed in the job, you may just need to take a different approach.
For example, people may struggle with giving presentations due to social anxiety, or inversely because ADHD makes them talk quickly. Dyslexic folks might struggle with any materials given during the interview or need more time on psychometric tests. There’s loads of small things that might be judged differently if you don’t disclose before the interview.
Being cynical, if you were disclosing up-front you may ask for your first interview to be via phone or Teams as one of the adaptations. The reason for this is some big companies try to have a policy of interviewing every qualified disabled candidate. On paper it looks great, but it may not guarantee that the interviewer is disability friendly. If they’re just going through the motions then you may want to be screened out before it costs you money or travel time.
The goal of all candidates in an interview is also to show themselves in the best light possible – all interview candidates are selective about what they share, it’s not necessarily the place for radical honesty, and if it was anything other than a neurodiversity nobody would expect you to state what some people will see as your biggest weakness on your CV, in an application or at an interview. It’s okay to choose not to if you think it would disadvantage you.
“Because I didn’t have to and didn’t feel like it” probably doesn’t reassure them that there isn’t a whole load of things you didn’t tell them about earlier that would have changed their opinion of you.
“It’s something that I never know when to mention, but now seemed like the time” or “it’s hard to talk about and I needed to work out what I wanted to say” are softer approaches.
“I’ve had a lot of experience of disability discrimination and just wanted a little bit of time to get to know you and the business” may be accurate for you, but could be more than you may need to share.
It’s okay not to be comfortable disclosing immediately.
You may need to be allowed to “binge work” eg. working fast with extreme focus, then burn out and need a break. You may not need to work less hours, but you need to condense your hours into fewer days and have more downtime to process all the social information, while still having days when you don’t think about work.
Some days you may feel incapable of sitting still or concentrating and having the right to flex work days may be better for everyone.
Understanding why you need what you do helps you explain to people and get what you actually need rather than an approximation that they think is good enough. It also helps to know how you can flex for the employer without burning yourself out – you may work in an office fine if you need to be there for in-person meetings, but constant 9-5 may remove any balance in your life.
If you disclose to an interviewer or a line manager you may choose to set a boundary around who they told. For example, you may want to be able to tell your manager and colleagues yourself, in your own time, in a way that lets you answer their questions and diminish the risk of them getting the wrong end of the stick.
There’s a downside to partial disclosure. For example, the risk of making other employees think that you get “special treatment” and they might end up feeling uncomfortable.
This blog was submitted by one of our community members on our neurodiverse mentoring programme.
If you would like support to disclose your neurodiversity at work or during your application, please contact us.