Sunday, January 8, 2012

What is Autistic Me, the Blog?

Thanks to many others in the autism community (or communities), this blog, its Facebook page, and its Twitter feed are growing quickly. This growth means new readers sometimes ask me the following questions:

  • Are you a parent, educator, researcher, autistic?
  • What is your perspective?
  • What is your specialty?
  • Where do you live/work/speak?

I'll answer some questions in this post. There is also background posted on the blog, and there is a link to an autism-themed section of our website. I'm still working to restore the website, but it is available at: http://www.tameri.com/csw/autism/

1) What I am
I am a writer, educator, researcher, and person diagnosed / labeled as high-functioning autistic. I am not a parent. I am not a medical doctor. I am not a psychologist. I am an adult in my 40s, not a teen or a young adult with autism.

My wife, my family, and my cats are the most important things in my life.

2) My perspective
My greatest concern as an adult is how to navigate the workplace and the social networking required to advance a career. I'd be most comfortable working at home, alone, writing what I want for as many hours as possible. But what I'd be most comfortable doing is not what is the best thing for me to do.
I list writer ahead of educator, and those two ahead of all else. Writers educate, I would argue, so it is something of a false division. When I write fiction, I'm still writing to persuade and educate my readers. I write this blog to educate.

My conviction is that creative writing and the other arts are often the best way to change hearts and minds when it comes to tolerance and acceptance. This conviction compels me to be in the classroom, teaching future writers and teachers about their potential influence in the world.

Education is my activism. I don't go to rallies. I don't join large groups. What I do is try to be the best writing and communications instructor I can be. That's the limit of my physical and emotional energy, I must admit. Social interactions are just too demanding for me much of the time.

3) My specialty
My graduate research at the master's and doctoral level involved technology and the teaching of writing. The research focused on marginalized populations, including non-native speakers of English and the disabled. As a researcher, I've come to view life with autism is similar to speaking a "different" language than many other individuals.

Like many diagnosed with autism, my language patterns and cognitive processes are different. I have to "translate" some idioms, sarcasm, and figurative language. I memorize English words and phrases, much as a non-native speaker might until a new language is naturalized. The problem is, language never seems to become naturalized for me or many others.

I have studied the rhetorical challenges of defining "autism" and "language" while working on my research. One must define terms to research the various phenomena the words attempt to label. I am certain there is not one "autism" but rather a broad range of underlying conditions we label based on the traits of individuals. Autistic is a description and what it means varies by the autism experienced by a person and his or her family and friends.

My research has led me to focus some energy on which parts of the brain process language and how language cognition occurs. I have no doubt there are neurological underpinnings to language differences.

4) Where I am
My wife and I have moved from one side of the Continental United States to the other. We were both born and raised in Central California and I am committed to helping my native Valley in any way I can. Today, we live in Western Pennsylvania, only minutes from Ohio and West Virginia.

I teach at a small private university in Pennsylvania. I am on campus two days a week, and I admit that it is not easy some days. My dean and department head are supportive, and they know I struggle to navigate some aspects of the workplace.

As for speaking, interviews, and other public outreach, I have addressed audiences in states from Minnesota to Texas and California to Florida. It isn't easy to travel, but I believe a physical appearance is often more effective for larger gatherings than a teleconference or other remote appearance.

I am available for email, telephone, or computer-based interviews, if that is the best option.

Other Thoughts
This blog discusses my experiences and whatever catches my attention, at least as related to autism. I have a separate blog on education and maintain another blog with my wife on the topic of creative writing.

The Autistic Me isn't a place where you'll find passionate advocacy. I prefer to simply reflect on my experiences and what those experiences might mean. Hopefully, my reflections help others appreciate my perspective. Remember, my experiences are only mine. I cannot and do not pretend to write for "The Autistic" experience. I'm simply The Autistic Me.

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