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If I want to apply for a PhD scholarship that requires a cover letter, should I disclose that I have Asperger's Syndrome? If so, how detailed should I describe my condition? It's not something that I enjoy talking about, sort of like InquilineKea. Since I was only diagnosed recently, I'm thinking of writing a few sentences that mainly highlight the positive aspects, and how it could really benefit the research group. (I have worked as a teaching assistant, and have never gone through situations like this so it should be OK.)

I have already told my professor about the AS, but was hoping to get further advice from folks in this forum.

Edit: This is what my careers advisor thinks. I want to show that I can add value to the research group -- these attributes are directly and indirectly related to AS.

I certainly think if it is something that you can manage well you don't need to disclose it at the beginning of the application process. If it's something that affects your working then you should disclose it. Either option I would present it in a positive manner. Ultimately you want to sell yourself for what you can do for them and how you can add value. Whether you disclose it in your letter or at a later stage of the process is up to you. Just keep it positive.

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    With any disability, "don't disclose without a specific reason" is a good blanket policy. Do you have any reason for disclosing? You certainly don't owe anyone the information. – jaia Aug 4 '15 at 21:01
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    I wonder too, what is motivating you to disclose this information. How do you think it would be beneficial for them to know? – ewormuth Aug 4 '15 at 23:09
  • @ewormuth - Careers advisors on cover letters: "Make your [job] application unique...", etc. – Medulla Oblongata Aug 4 '15 at 23:23
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    Hmmm. Is that the only thing that makes you unique? I guess you could organize your cover letter around a story of how Asperger's hasn't held you back, how you've achieved many things despite it, including successful teaching. To me, it might depend on the kind of scholarship you're going after, whether disclosing or even focusing on it would be appropriate. – ewormuth Aug 4 '15 at 23:27
  • Yes, I was thinking about structuring the cover letter like that. Just didn't want to make a huge deal about the AS. – Medulla Oblongata Aug 4 '15 at 23:30
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I would think not. While it would, by default, be considered illegal (in the US, at least) to discriminate based on an asperger's diagnosis, putting it in your application makes it valid information for them to make an assessment of your worthiness. There are extremes to which this cannot be taken, but they are legally allowed to discuss all (legally) provided information, and they will have extra leeway in defending against discrimination suits on data the applicant volunteered. If you tell them your age in your application, then it is not illegal for them to talk about your age during the hiring process; if you do not provide it, it is illegal. You are rather explicitly saying "here's a fact about me, so please take it into consideration in determining whether or not to hire/admit me". The law does not require them to magically bleach their memories of what you have clearly and explicitly given them and pretend the elephant in the room isn't there.

Some applications may have a separate form in which you can disclose "diversity" information such as race and ethnicity. These are supposed to be kept anonymous and unavailable to the actual hiring committee. They are just meant as data collection methods to establish they are compliant with laws regulating discrimination and diversity. If this form asks you about mental health matters, you could certainly feel free to respond to it if you are comfortable with doing so.

I personally wouldn't volunteer any protected information if there wasn't something else in the application that made it sort of obvious, and could be very negative if left unaddressed. A prolonged period of unemployment may warrant some sort of comment, for example.

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    I agree that disclosing it here is a bad idea, but I disagree with almost everything else. The part about disclosure making it "public" and allowing for discrimination is almost certainly untrue. – Bill Barth Aug 4 '15 at 21:25
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    Says who? Your gender will be apparent from your application, usually, but they're not allowed to discriminate on that basis. Etc. – Bill Barth Aug 4 '15 at 22:09
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    I have had conversations with several people with many years of experience on hiring committees. A point that often came up was that if I, say, put down my date of birth on the application, then they were allowed to discuss my age as a result (but they don't have to). It's an elephant in the room at that point, and I volunteered that information. If I don't give it, they're not allowed to. I would have extra troubles proving they engaged in illegal age discrimination when I tacitly approved age as a topic of consideration. The law gives them extra leeway when the applicant does this. – zibadawa timmy Aug 4 '15 at 22:22
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    I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is that the law (at least in the U.S.) in fact does require employers to "pretend the elephant in the room isn't there", in the sense that discrimination is just as illegal regardless of who disclosed the information or why. Maybe I'm wrong about this, but the only way to be sure is to consult an expert. (Note that many people with extensive search committee experience have only a vague understanding of the actual laws in question, and they sometimes develop their own idiosyncratic interpretations that are not shared by the actual legal system.) – Anonymous Mathematician Aug 4 '15 at 23:27
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    Go not to the Lawyers, for they shall say both "it depends" and "how much will you pay me to argue it your way?"... If you want a free legal opinion, try the Law area of Stack Exchange. Here, I think the answer is "we're not sure and legal matters tend to be ruled Off Topic." – keshlam Aug 5 '15 at 0:16

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