Monday, February 6, 2012

Research Projects NOT Related to Autism

As an "activist" I will continue to speak out and educate on issues of autism and education. But, I'd rather earn my tenure for research that isn't linked to autism. I don't want to be defined by one word.

Leaving "autism" behind as a professor and researcher has been a good thing. Over the last two years, I wrote that I did not want to be the "autistic researching autism" because that strikes me as playing to trends. And yes, "autism" is a trendy word in language research. I've been advised more than once that focusing on autism would be good for my career. It was suggested that I specialize in "disability studies" or whatever the politically correct term might be.

No, thank you. I'm far more content working on other projects that have nothing, zero, zilch, nada, to do with autism.

I'm going to settle in and research wiki usage. I'll study typography and online design. I'd love to study design trends and online reputation management.

No one gets violently upset if you write that a Fraktur typeface and red color scheme are poor choices for a website trying to promote a wildlife sanctuary. No one is stunned when you find that Comic Sans leaves readers unimpressed with the content, no matter how well written a page is. Design and usability is a quiet field, with debates in hushed tones. (There are debates, definitely, but not the angry hatred of being called a shill for Pharma or a fake disabled person.)

This week, another autistic person said I had a responsibility to do research related to autism and communication, since I am a tenure-track professor.

No, I do not have that responsibility. I have to conduct research and publish, yes, but it does not have to be research about autism.

The argument is that at least I have some sort of special standing as an autistic researcher.

Just because I might have a diagnosis of whatever it is, doesn't mean that I am inherently fascinated by all things autism. I have to admit, I don't read many autism blogs anymore and I stopped checking Twitter daily (or even weekly) because I have other interests. My passions are many, but autism isn't really a passion — it's a topic I cannot ignore, but I would rather spend my time on any of a dozen other topics.

Maybe in a few years I'll experience an overwhelming desire to research something about autism and language cognition. For now, I'm trying to head in a different direction as a scholar.

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