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Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Thursday, July 13, 2017

At The Autism Conference!

Just a random picture of me since you
haven't seen me in a while! 
Hi everyone!

Right now I am at the Autism Society's National Conference! (#nationalconferance . Yes, they spelled their hashtag wrong. It is annoying me terribly.) My nightmarish former employer actually paid for me to come here! Every teacher is allotted a certain amount of money each year to spend on things for their classroom or professional development. I decided to use mine on professional development... because from early on I had a feeling I wouldn't be sticking around, so I wanted to at least get something positive from it. If I had used the money to buy things for my classroom, I would have had to leave it all there when I left. Instead, I spent my own money on things for my classroom, so I could take it with me, and I spent my allotted money on this conference because they can't really take an experience away from me, can they?

It is interesting being here. There are a lot of parents and professionals, and also some people with autism. We are the minority, but I can definitely spot some autistic people walking around. At first it actually made me feel vaguely uncomfortable to be around lots of adults with autism. I couldn't figure out why. After all, I am an adult with autism, and I have always been on a never-ending quest to meet others like me!

But then I realized... it is because I am not used to being around adults with autism. I am used to being the autistic person in a group of neurotypicals. I'm used to being super aware of myself being the odd person in the group. I'm also used to sort of depending on the neurotypical people around me for guidance and cues. Being around other people with autism was like having reflections of myself all over the place.

There was also the added fact that my mom had been pressuring me to talk to other special ed teachers and "network" with them. I'm in a weird position because I am here as an individual with autism and also as a teacher. But obviously I am myself first and a teacher second. It is hard to try to balance that line... on one hand this is an autism conference and it is acceptable to just be yourself. For instance there was a blues band tonight, and I actually went to it and enjoyed the music while wearing soundblocking headphones, which made it pretty obvious that I was autistic but also made the event accessible to me. If I had been concentrating on being a professional, the expectation would have been to maybe do something less obvious, such as use ear plugs, which just don't work for me as well as headphones. Does this make sense to you?

Also... not sure if this will make sense either... but I kind of hate telling people I meet that I am a special ed teacher. Here's why. Lets say you are a random neurotypical person. Lets say you know me, and when you see me your impressions of me are that I act much younger than my age and seem like a young teenager. You see me fidgetting and pacing a lot, you note that when I talk my conversations can be sort of halting, you realize that I am wearing socks that don't match. You can tell that I have some sort of disability. Then I tell you that I'm a teacher. Your initial reaction may be, "How can she be a teacher?" Seriously. I am not being oversensitive. I know for a fact that a lot of people who meet me are surprised to find out that I can drive, live independently, and have a job at all. I do not match the average person's idea of a teacher. I know that what would be awesome is for me to use my position to educate others about autism, and about the fact that the diagnosis is not automatically limiting. Many people with autism do go to college and have careers and everything. But the thing is, I am not always in the mood to provide strangers with a learning experience.

So instead I keep it vague. If they ask what I do for a living, I say, "I work with children with special needs."

(If I am at some sort of conference specifically for teachers, then I admit that I am a teacher, but in those circumstances I am trying so hard to act "professional" and it is exhausting and emotionally draining.)

When I tell people I work with kids with special needs, they seem to accept that a lot more easily than when I tell them I'm a teacher. However, today I met a young man who also has autism. We were making small talk. I hate small talk, but I've found that many autistic adults try to practice their small talk at events like this. Small talk is dreadful. Anyways, he asked me what I did for a living, and I said, "I work with kids with special needs," and his automatic reply was, "Oh, are you a teacher?" Even seeing me with my autism hanging out, he assumed that I was capable of being a teacher.  There is some sort of lesson in that.

I have many more things on my mind about my experiences at this autism conference, but I will write more later. I'm going to try to start blogging more frequently again now that my soul-crushing job is finished. So, stay tuned!

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