Disclosure and Being an Autistic Cog-Sci Major
Well, I’m out as autistic in the group for disabled students at my university.
I wish I could be out everywhere. But I’m in a major that’s happier with us being studied than being the ones doing the studying. I’m at a university with a professor who describes autism as “a cruel disease that afflicts children;” who claims that we “completely withdraw from the world socially;” who asserts that mirror neurons are behind what makes us human while claiming that autism is characterized by a loss of mirror neurons. I know this professor is famous and respected around the world, and only rarely criticized for his rhetoric.
He’s not in my department’s faculty, but he works with someone who is. It’s a small, close-knit department. What would the rest of the faculty think of me if they knew?
I’m not certain.
I’m not asking. I don’t need my fears confirmed. I don’t need my identity torn away from me by people who have spoken to me for five minutes. (Because that’s what being told “You can’t be autistic!” feels like to me. It’s not a compliment. It’s not a relief. It’s “You’ve been lying to everyone you trust for seven years and you never belonged at the one place you felt halfway safe.”)
And if I were believed? I want to go to graduate school. I need research experience. Given what they think of us, how likely would I be to get it?
But if I have to conceal why I’m interested in this field, am I really better off? I don’t want to lie outright, so all anyone gets when they ask me why I’m a cognitive science major are evasive, overly general statements. I can’t answer questions about which particular aspects of the major I’m interested in.
They think we’re not whole people. And because they think that, I can’t be. Not in public, anyway. I’m all facades and plausible-sounding excuses. People tell me I should get more involved in things — that new experiences will bring me out of my shell. And all I can think is that I should get involved — the experience will give me more stories to tell, more fuel for conversations, more ways to talk about what I’m doing so I can escape talking about who I am. It’s how to succeed.
Right now, I don’t want to succeed. I’d rather be. But I don’t know how to do that.