So the class is now more than half over, and it’s definitely been quite a ride. I’m definitely learning a lot, and I even got an award for my poster and research a couple of days ago! (What I’m going to do with a fancy bottle of champagne, I have *no* idea, but I will figure something out. )
I have lots I want to discuss, and very little time to actually discuss it – we’re in class from 8:30am to 6pm, then there’s “mandatory” socialization and European style (read: 2-3 hours long) dinners after that. I can usually get away for a few hours to decompress, but I have to eat. So hyper social, hyper exhausting, very full days = I’m exhausted and don’t have any time to write. Tonight, however, I am hiding from everyone in the group, because there’s a really nasty stomach bug going around, and I haven’t gotten it yet (*knocks on wood* *runs for her life and cowers under the bed*), and thus, I have time to write. What follows will be a series of posts (I think) on my experiences thus far, and in particular, how autism plays into all of it. They’ll be relatively short, but hopefully interesting. This one is about recognizing autism.
It took me approximately 20 minutes before my “aut-dar” (autism radar, like gaydar) identified another autistic individual. The stimming in his seat, especially when he got excited, was a dead giveaway. Talking with him later only confirmed my suspicions. One of the instructors is also almost certainly autistic. He and I got on very well, and had some incredibly interesting intellectual conversations. When I grow up, I want to be just like him. And I quickly became seen as the little quirky one, befriended by a lovely woman who jokes to me that she likes to “enable” me. For example, I was sitting during mandatory socialization beer hour, and there was a stack of euro coins on the table, of all different values. I decided I’d see if I could sit them all up on end, in order from largest to smallest, so it looked like a descending row of coins. Once I’d managed that (it provided a good 10 minutes of challenge for me), she looked over to me and said “but wait, you’re missing some…” and provided me with 4 more coins to add to the line. When teased by the others around her, she grinned and said she likes to enable me and my quirks. It’s always nice to find those people.
But I digress. The thing about autism and academia is that it’s super prevalent, but not spoken about. Nearly everyone who has gotten as far as I have in academia is at least somewhat quirky, though there are a fair number of us who are most certainly autistic. I think probably more than the 1% prevalence thought to comprise the general population. The great thing about academia is that for the most part, those quirks are tolerated, accepted, and even nurtured. But no one talks about them. I haven’t asked any of the now several students I suspect to be autistic if they are, and they don’t ask me, though we have all interacted specifically, and I think we all know. Most certainly many others here have also picked us out. The word “Autism” is almost taboo in academia. It’s never really discussed, and as a result, not really addressed. But here, it’s OK, because rather than having a label, or a thing, you can just be. And for me, that is the best thing of all. We can simply live our lives, quirky, happy, surrounded by other intelligent, quirky people, and never have our abilities called into question. And until that changes, we autistic academics get to do what we do best: living along side our peers, researching, thinking, asking questions, and doing the science we love to do. Stimming right alongside with the best of them.
p.s. to those of you who want to tell me that I would do everyone in the autism community a great service by being an “out in real life” autistic scientist, to show the people around me that there are autistic people who are good scientists, and to show others that even if they are autistic, they can do what they enjoy: I somewhat agree, but at the same time, when it is a non-issue, and has the potential to become a very real major-issue if I actually say it, I simply find it not worth the risk at this time. It may not be the most selfless decision nor is it the best one for the autism community. But it’s my decision, and at the moment it’s what I’ve chosen to do. Right now it’s a non-issue.
p.p.s. I’m currently writing several other posts which I am going to schedule for the next few days. Feel free to check back soon