Autism Disclosure and Job Interviews

Yesterday I had a job interview via teleconference. That's not easy for a number of reasons, including the challenge of speaking clearly and not going non-verbal in a state of panic. I was shaking and unsteady throughout the entire experience, which is fairly normal for anyone I assume.

In the last five minutes of the interview, of the panel members asked, "Why are you so interested in autism? Your volunteer work and conference presentations are all about autism."

Until that moment, the conversation had been about language instruction and technology. The position, though a university teaching and research post, is not focused on special education. The university, respected as a science and technology institution, is looking to expand its language arts programs via various technologies such as online courses and podcasts.

I had not considered or rehearsed any questions about autism. In my nervous state, I said something I had only stated in one other job interview: "I am diagnosed with high-functioning autism."

I was asked to explain, since I didn't seem "autistic" during the interview. I don't believe I said a lot, but I might have. I know I explained that I was diagnosed mentally retarded at birth and have used both behavioral and occupational / physical therapy to adapt to school and workplace settings. Then, I seem to recall "freezing" and there was an awkward silence.

"At least you're in good company. Like Zuckerberg. He's autistic, isn't he?"

Thankfully, the panel discussed Mark Zuckerberg without my input. I don't believe he was ever mistaken for mentally retarded or sent to educational resource specialists. Maybe he was, but I'm not that interested in his life. No, I don't plan to see the movie, either.

I couldn't make out everything the panel discussed. The interview ended on the topic of autism, which was awkward.

Anyone researching me online would have located my blogs, my websites, and my C.V. (long academic résumé). It isn't hard to learn about me, admittedly.

Disclosure is important if there is a chance any impairment might affect the workplace. I understand that and I do mark "disabled" when forms ask. It's hard to hide the paralysis on a bad day, but most days no one would ever notice limited movement in one arm. My limp also varies. But the autism? That's never "visible" until something goes horribly wrong. People just assume I'm a little preoccupied, like most "geeks" they've met.

I don't know, and might never know, how my disclosure affected the hiring committee's discussions. I know it wasn't expected. I do recognize that the silence wasn't like the previous 25 minutes. Maybe it isn't a big deal. It just caused me a bit of stress. Make that a lot of stress.

The only place where my disabilities have been a true "handicap" is at the university during my doctoral program.

I managed the master's with only one glitch along the way, dealing with an "acting" requirement for a theatre history class. I can't act, apparently. My memory of the lines was scrambled and my delivery was monotone. Big surprise, right? That's not the sort of glitch that leaves anyone traumatized, though.
But, the doctoral program, as I have written here repeatedly, was bad. Very bad. The kind of bad that still gives me literal nightmares and causes physical distress when I'm near campus. It's one reason I want to move away from where we live -- which is too close to campus.

Now, during an interview with a university I have mentioned being diagnosed autistic. Will the hiring committee be as apprehensive and afraid of me as some professors here were? That's my concern.

Disclosure wouldn't concern me as much if I were applying for a post related specifically to special education and language arts. This, however, is a technical position with potential administrative duties. I hope those final five minutes weren't costly.

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