A reader asked:
I’m an autistic student who’s starting college next fall. I’m wondering if I should tell my roommate(s?) about it first, or if this will affect the way they think of me. I like to think that I can “fit” in normally with everyone, but I might have some quirks that will annoy them. I’m worried I won’t be able to make friends, I’m not sure what to do.
This is a really personal choice, and there’s no one right answer here. Some thoughts:
There’s a really good book and website about dealing with college as an autistic person called Navigating College. It talks in practical terms about a lot of different issues, including the question of disclosure. I would highly recommend reading it.
That said, here’s what I think I know about disclosure in general:
- Autism is highly stigmatized, and most people will see you as less of a person if they know you’re autistic.
- Sometimes it’s safer not to tell people, or to say something like “I have a neurological disorder that makes it hard for me to (whatever the relevant thing is).
- If Google knows that you are autistic, it can make it harder to get into school, get an internship, or get a job
- Keeping autism completely secret creates a major barrier to friendship; hiding a fundamental aspect of who you are makes everything a lot harder
- If people don’t know you’re autistic, then you always have to wonder how they’d treat you if they ever found out.
- If people know you’re autistic, then you face a lot more mistreatment, but you also find out who you can trust. Sometimes, that’s worth it.
- There isn’t a right answer here; all of the options kind of suck, and which approach is best for you is a highly personal decision
And a few things I think I know about disclosing to roommates:
- In college, roommates are often not friends
- They’re just people you have to minimally get along with enough to share space peacefully
- In some ways it’s better if you’re *not* close to your roommate; a fairly superficial relationship can be more conductive to living together
- If you aren’t close to your roommate, there’s probably no reason they *need* to know you’re autistic.
- It’s also possible that they’ll treat you better if you don’t tell them, since most people think that autism means you’re unable to understand or care about other people.
- So, unless you’re generally open about being autistic (which can be a good strategy), it might be better to err on the side of not telling your roommate.