My first attempt at writing about autism begins with a direct, three-word sentence: “I am autistic.”
The simple declaration is the most hard-won line in a piece filled with them. It might be the most hard-won line in all of my writing so far. It opens the gates to a world I’ve always lived in, a world I’m only just not describing at length…..a world I hadn’t talked about publicly. This last fact has changed, propelling me into new territory. While it was hard enough to write the line, to speak it aloud was even scarier.
I had agreed to present at a gathering of faculty sponsored by ny university’s Center for Teaching and Learning Excellence, which was curating a series with a more holistic focus: talks by faculty called Identity Intersections. It was a chance to learn about colleagues’ lives and careers.
The center fellow was a trusted friend who had read my first autism essay and expressed appreciation; he wanted more of the faculty to hear my story – the beginnings of it, at least. I felt a calling. I knew I had to do it.
And I knew it would be hard. If it were going to happen, I would have to – if you’ll permit me the analogy – set aside “customs” and “ conventionalities,” and perhaps most of all my autistic “mortal flesh” to talk at the level of spirit. Autism is near to the essence of who I am and how I relate to the world, and I would not be able to account for it in any way but with a depth and fullness that transcends everyday conversation.
Oh how the first line, “I am autistic,” got stuck in my throat as I stood at the podium and faced my colleagues. I guzzled some water, relaxed my neck and shoulders, spoke low into the mic to help steady my voice. I stumbled my way through a preface.
Then I had no other choice. I said the words. I spoke them with a tremble, as one speaks when ego has been set aside. I stood and talked and kept talking.
From “On the Spectrum: Autism, Faith, and the Gifts of Neurodiversity” by Daniel Bowman Jr.