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Version Twelve

22:30 03-May-22

Just One More Question …

It's Tuesday night, 12 days after I got my diagnosis. I have a few things I want to say that have come from the dissemination of information that I mentioned here.

I mentioned before that there are people, specifically authority figures from my past, who I want to know about this, for reasons that make sense to me (and possibly not to anyone else). I sent out an e-mail bomb this afternoon to 15 of them that I managed to find contact information for, and I have hopes that it will eventually reach 17 of them. This is what I said; I sent them a link to that page, which is a letter I wrote to them. As of this writing, I've gotten a response from one of them (a professor I took three courses from in graduate school), and I have not read it. I'm afraid to read it. How stupid is that? It's very me, though. At some point, that fear will dip, or I'll accidentally open it, and I'll read it, and things will be okay, but right now, not happening.

For those of you who may not know, I worked at Parkland College for 13 years as a part-time faculty member in the Mathematics Department. I started there in Fall 2007, before I was awarded my master's degree, and I left in December 2020. One of the things I did the last six years or so I was there was to serve as a Senator for Part-Time Faculty in the PCA Senate. I had permission in that capacity to send an e-mail to a college-maintained e-mail list (I had "permission" as in I had to petition Campus Tech for the ability to do that, and it was granted) which had about 700 recipients. I hated sending those e-mails. I knew it had to be done, and I got appreciative feedback on occasion, but still, bombing 700 people with an unsolicited e-mail with my name on it, that I wrote, was extremely uncomfortable. After I left Parkland, I did not intentionally look at my College e-mail. I accidentally opened it once, and I got bombed with Notifications for Department Meetings I'd missed (after I'd left); that was a whole lot of no fun. Also after I left, I got a couple notes in the mail from one of my colleagues. I didn't open them; I couldn't bear to open them. (I did eventually open them, but I had to bring them to my therapist's office and sit there with her when I did.)

I don't know whether my autism has anything to do with me being like that, being … I guess "afraid of what other people say" is the best way to describe it. It's totally me, though. It's also not like I can really separate the autistic parts of me from the rest of me, because there is no "rest of me".

I've been on the phone with a couple people the last two days, telling them about this. (I am rapidly reaching the point where I can no longer count the number of people who know about this, and that's not a bad thing at all.) One question I got asked, by one of them, was, "How do you think that this has affected your life?" Another question I got asked, by the other one, was, "Is this what caused you to leave Parkland?" I want to address those here, in this forum, because those aren't simple questions.

How do you think that this has affected your life?

It would be easier to say where it hasn't; I don't think autism has ever impeded my ability to breathe, so there's that.

I kid, somewhat, but this is an impossible question. Being autistic does not define me, but it is an integral part of who I am. I've said before that there has never been a version of me that was not autistic. It affects me constantly, and it always has, even when I didn't know about it (which was forever until very very recently). I still don't understand everything about that; realistically I never will understand everything, but I will yet know and understand a lot more than I do now. It is possible to look at some things in my life now and say, "As an autistic person, I had difficulties that a neurotypical person might not have, and I didn't understand that." That might be what that question is getting at, and I think I've got examples left, right, and center on these pages, and I'll find more. However, to try to examine the question in an overarching context is impossible, because it's just everything. It feels like asking how having a left arm has affected my life: well, if I didn't have one, I couldn't have broken it when I was 13, and I wouldn't be able to do that parlor trick now where I can rock my arm on a flat surface because there's a bend in it where it didn't heal perfectly straight. I can point out a specific thing where my left arm mattered, but it also mattered in uncountably many other situations that I don't know or can't recognize because having a left arm is just how I am. The difference to an outside observer is that having a left arm is typical of humans and having autism is not. I get that. My point is that it is a profound part of who I am, to the point that it is impossible to identify all the bits and pieces that may be affected by it, because it's just me.

Is this what caused you to leave Parkland?

I think I've said elsewhere that I don't like saying that "my autism caused X tangible thing that happened", because that removes agency from me. My autism is certainly an exacerbating factor in a lot of things.

I don't want to get into what the problems were that I had that caused me to leave Parkland. I don't want to get into what the problems were that I had that caused me to leave West Aurora 20 years earlier (I only lasted one semester there). Is it the case that the fact that I'm autistic contributed to those problems? Probably. Likely. Almost undoubtedly. But again, it's not like I can separate that from any other causes, or anything else about how my brain functions.

So on one hand, the answer to this question is "no": autism did not cause me to leave my job. But on the other hand, being autistic made it harder to do that job, or aspects of that job, in ways that neither me nor any of my supervisors could have understood. I can't sit here and say that autism makes me a bad teacher. I can say – and this may not be fair or even accurate – that if I had understood 25 years ago that I was autistic, I probably would have felt like I couldn't go into teaching, and a lot of things in my life would have been very different as a result. One thing that I'd like to think might be different is that I would have trained for something else, and that I would have found a job and a career that better suited me as an autistic person, and I wouldn't have spent 2001 or 2021 unemployed.

I might add to this later if more questions come up that I feel like I can address.