Autism, Academia, and Why Media Representation Matters

Earlier in the week, Scott Weingart had a brave, essay on being autistic in academic, published in Inside Higher Education.

Admitting mental illness or neurodevelopmental disorder is dangerous, unless you’re a middle-class white man diagnosed on the autism spectrum. If you’re black and/or a woman, or if you have depression or anxiety, you may be deemed too unstable to work in a modern business or too dangerous to trust as a neighbor. But if you’re well-adjusted white dude who scores low on the autism severity spectrum? Have a job at Google!

It’s from this acknowledged position of privilege that I choose to come out, under my own name and from a non-tenure-track staff position at a major research university. According to several independent professional diagnoses over the course of my life, I am both autistic and ADHD. (Whether either or both of these actually constitute a “disorder” I leave to the reader.)

It is terrifying to admit this.

I want to highlight one paragraph in particular, under the theme – representation matters. I frequently post about the importance I place in media. Here’s Weingart:

My decision to write this essay was precipitated by the CBS TV show Elementary. The show currently features a budding romance between two autism-spectrum characters, and watching it now makes me realize how much I wish I had seen it growing up. Things that have never made much sense might have been easier for me to understand. Maybe if I had seen more familiar faces going through similar difficulties, I would have sought help sooner.
So here I am, presenting my face to the world: I am an autistic academic.

Looking forward to following his work.

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