Navigating Interpersonal Relationships with Invisible Disabilities

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Trigger Warning: mention of mental health diagnosis labels - depression, anxiety and trauma and developmental diagnosis of Autism. No detailed discussion or explanation of any of these topics is included.


Disclaimer: This is based on our personal experiences and will not encompass everyone's opinions or life experiences. Anything we share is a suggestion. We are not healthcare professionals.


Working with others and developing relationships is complicated without a disability, but adding in factors like anxiety or trauma creates layers of complications. But these can be managed if all people involved want to make it work.


Disability & Professional Relationships


Feeling invalidated in any setting is hurtful. However, when you have trauma, anxiety or depression it can be a minefield of emotion when words feel like judgments. In a workplace setting everything changes. Interpersonal interactions and appropriate behavior can be a gray area. See, if you struggle with self-image and have endured consistent invalidation for your opinion, it can be a job wrecker when that happens at work/in your workplace


The key to a successful workplace relationship is respect. Mutual respect from all parties. It is not always about which person is right or wrong. There is a middle ground that can be hard to navigate for anyone.


If you struggle at work due to your disability, make an accommodations request. These are meant to help you navigate the complicated workplace culture, including communications that feel confrontational. Ask Jan is a great resource to learn"what accommodations you can ask for and how to request them." If the website helps with both of those things add both, but if not, the first half will do.


Friendship & Disability


When you live with trauma, it is easy to feel less than. Always question a person's intention and always wondering if they are telling you the truth.


Imagine growing up with a developmental disability. You are told to fix this, improve this etc. Even without a disability, this would hurt. Add a cognitive delay to the mix and it is a nightmare.


Socializing as a person on the autism spectrum is hard for us. It is exhausting and tiresome to try and socialize "normally." Making and keeping friends is a struggle because we don't understand social complexities.


Can we? Yes. But the amount of effort it requires to become social is not worth the fleeting results. Once you find a friend, it hurts to hear things like, “You need to improve social skills,” or “You really need to fix your stimming.” We believe, as a friend, you should accept us as a whole.


Friendship is challenging with neurotypical people. Friendship on the spectrum is complicated. The best way to navigate autism/autism or neurotypical/autism relationships is patience. Realize that the person you see is what you get. Don't try and change them. Encourage them and share positivity. Honesty goes a long way, but there is a fine line between honesty and apathetic brutality.


You should NEVER try and change your friend or point out "flaws". If it's not broke don't fix it, and if it's not hurting themselves or others, leave them be.

Cruel words cannot change a disability. Words that hurt are unnecessary in general, but truly have no place between friends. So be kind, accepting, and supportive of those that matter to you regardless of disability status.


Check out these great places for disability supportive resources and information!


“Job Accommodation Network.” JAN, askjan.org/.


The Job Accommodation Network is a resource that many people do not know exists. It provides a list of disabilities or conditions that an employee may experience. The website enables the person to search for their symptoms and find reasonable accommodations. This website is an important resource for every employer or employee. The employee and employer can review the options and select what is an acceptable accommodation. For example, if the job requires quick processing and mathematics the employee could request an application or detailed task software.


Radley, Keith C., et al. “Effects of a Social Skills Intervention on Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Peers with Shared Deficits.” Education & Treatment of Children (West Virginia University Press), vol. 40, no. 2, May 2017, pp. 233–262. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/etc.2017.0011.


Social skills will be a challenge for anyone on the spectrum. This article provides information on the effect of early intervention for persons on the spectrum. It will highlight the types of treatments that persons with autism will undergo throughout their lives.



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