Although I’d like to think this is not true, I may have risked my career by coming forward. Tenure-track professorships are high stakes affairs – many would like them but few get to have them. To admit to a neurobiological difference may be seen as admitting to a weakness, a professional flaw. I fear planking a seed of doubt: Did he disclose this during the hiring process? Does this affect his teaching?
Of course it affects my teaching, though it’s complicated – some facets of autism are problematic while others are strengths. One of Has Asperger’s most frequently quoted lines, for example, is a testament to the obsessive focus typical of people on the spectrum: “It seems that for success in science or art, a dash of autism is essential” This focus mostly makes me better in my roles on campus. It is a gift of neurodiversity.
But would my colleagues entertain darker questions? Questions like: Should his job belong to someone else? Someone better equipped to handle the daily stresses of university life? Especially after reading Steve Silberman’s sweeping book NeuroTribes, I can’t ignore centuries of abuse, mistreatment, and a near-complete misunderstanding of autistic people. And one need only read comments on any autism-related social media post to see that (to put it charitably) suspicion about us is alive and well.
These questions hit me in the gut. My university has been very good to me, and I should know better than to indulge these ugly thoughts. But hopelessness creeps in, and it’s easy to start thinking that at any moment someone will call me to their office and take away my ability to earn a living and support my family, and that will be that.
But my job is also much more to me – it’s a vocation, a calling. I believe in story and I know some things about writing and I love mentoring students. I believe in promoting flourishing through the humanities. I love being an English professor. I overidentify with my career, sometimes equating it with my self-worth. I am terrified of the rug being pulled out from under me for being autistic, and I hope and pray I did not invite such a gesture.
From “On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity” by Daniel Bowman Jr.