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Should I talk about my diagnosis?

Should I tell professors my diagnosis?

In most cases, you do not need to share your diagnosis or personal information with your professors in order to implement your accommodations or discuss your needs. Whether or not you choose to share that information is a personal decision.

Some students find it simpler and more straightforward to share their diagnosis. It helps them feel more authentic and freer to communicate what they need.

Other students find it overwhelming, stressful, or triggering to talk about their diagnosis. For them, disclosure makes it harder to build relationships with professors and negotiate effectively.

Managing stigma and ableism is another reason some students prefer to not provide details about their diagnosis. Professors, like all people living in our ableist society, can have misinformation or hold biases about disabilities. Some students find it more self-protective to limit the information they share.

If you choose to share your diagnosis, keep in mind you’ll still need to have the same conversation about your needs with your professors that you would have if you did not tell them. The majority of professors are not health care providers nor mental health therapists so they may not know much about your diagnosis. Even if they know some information about it, they will not know how it impacts you specifically. So even if you choose to disclose your diagnosis, you may find the tips below useful in your conversations with professors.

How to talk about your needs

Communicating what you need without focusing on your diagnosis or giving a lot of personal information can take some getting used to. If you talk about your symptoms with a therapist, medical provider, or with trusted friends or family, you may be used to sharing personal information about what’s going on in your life whenever you talk about things related to your diagnosis. These people may provide emotional support, help you think through problems you’re encountering, and manage the symptoms of your diagnosis.

Keep in mind that the role of professors is different from personal relationships, therapists, or medical providers. Their primary role is to teach. Therefore, communication with professors related to your disability should focus on your needs in the academic environment. As a general rule of thumb, stick to details and logistics. Aim to provide information succinctly.

When discussing accommodations

Stay focused on your specific accommodations. If you start by asking professors how they would like to implement your accommodations, the rest of the conversation will naturally stay focused on logistics. You do not need to explain why you have that accommodation.

Example: “I have ____ accommodation. How would you like to implement it?”

Sometimes it’s helpful to give your professor a little information about your barriers or impacts. For example, let’s say you have the accommodation of preferential seating for Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). When discussing how your accommodation will be implemented, you may want to provide some additional information so that your professor understands where in the classroom you will need to sit. However, you can do this by staying focused on the details of your needs without explaining the diagnosis or disability.

Example: “I have preferential seating because I sometimes need to be able to step out of the classroom quickly so I need to sit by an exit. How would you like for this to happen?”  



When making general requests, stating preferences, or explaining behavior

In general, when you need to communicate about things related to your disability, keep it simple and specific and express your enthusiasm for learning.

Example: “Would you mind drawing that for me? I learn best when I can see a concept visually and I really want to make sure that understand this correctly.”


Sometimes students are concerned that behavior related to their disability may be misinterpreted, and they find it useful to discuss this with professors proactively. Rather than naming your diagnosis, you can describe the specific behavior you want to discuss.

“Doodling helps me stay focused in class so if you see me doodling, please know that I’m listening very closely to what you are saying. I want to let you know that because I am very excited to learn about ____ and I wouldn’t want you to mistake my doodling for lack of interest.”

“I find making eye contact very uncomfortable so I will usually look away when you are talking to me. Some people can think that means I’m not paying attention when, in fact, looking away helps me pay attention better. I wanted to let you know because I’m very excited to learn more about ______.”