I am a graduate student and as the title says, I have an autism spectrum disorder. My advisor is a very nice person, at least, that is the impression I have gotten. The last few months however, I worry that I have made myself misunderstood many times because of my failure of communicating or not following certain social codes. I have not done anything that is inappropriate at all, I just might have come off at times a tiny, tiny bit rude, which I did not mean to be! In social situations I often get nervous and I think it might have shown in some situations. I am considering whether I should tell him about my autism spectrum disorder or not - I don't want to have it as an excuse for any behaviour, just more of an explanation and maybe better understanding in the future.

Are there any general guidelines on what to do in cases like these?

  • (The linked question is not exclusively about advisor, but some of the answers address it.) – ff524 May 16 '14 at 21:59
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    If you don't want to have it as an excuse, just tell him that you don't expect him to excuse your behavior, just want him to understand it in case he finds it perplexing. – Kallus May 16 '14 at 23:05

As you propose, this has an obvious helpful component.

What's a possible down-side? Well, medical/personal issues are protected information (thinking about the U.S., at least), and in most situations anyone else in whom you've confided is not allowed to disclose anything about it to anyone else. We can see the sense in this. However, it does sometimes create a burden and/or awkwardness, insofar as the people in whom you've confided are prohibited from using what they know to explain any questionable actions on your part to anyone else...

The operational point, then, is to pay attention to any close interactions with people outside your immediate group, in whom you've confided, that might generate a need for explanation.

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    You raise a valid point, good sir! – Derelict May 16 '14 at 23:39
  • Are there legal statutes prohibiting anyone from disclosing anyone else's medical information? Or does it depend on the specific company, field, etc? – Robert May 17 '14 at 5:23
  • In the US, there is a body of policy "HIPAA" (Health Information Privacy...) that approximately prohibits such disclosure... I'm not a lawyer... – paul garrett May 17 '14 at 13:52
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    @paulgarrett I'm not a lawyer either but my understanding is that the HIPAA privacy rule only applies to health care and related organizations. If your institution provides your healthcare then this might apply to them, but you can't assume that all medical info is always protected, at least not by HIPAA. – Robert May 17 '14 at 18:00
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    @Robert, I agree, HIPAA applies primarily to health care people, but that and related university policies and (varying) state privacy laws seem (in my anecdotal experience) to say that information offered/obtained "in confidence" is protected. At the very least, people can and have filed grievances about such things, rightly or wrongly. – paul garrett May 17 '14 at 18:06

I see no reason not to tell him, or anyone else you work closely with. telling your co-workers about this condition will eliminate these concerns about coming off as rude.


A disability is something you can take pride in overcoming. The Deaf people in my office certainly do. Others, such as amputees and the learning disabled, can choose to conceal their disability or they can freely admit to it. You get different benefits either way.

I've chosen to trust that people will regard my dyslexia and ADD the way I do: as just two of thousands of challenges I deal with every day. You should watch me try to finger spell. It's pathetic. :) Still I try. If you worked with me I'd rather know what your deal is then wonder.

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