Don’t expect people to remember you have autism or realize what it entails. Most people, even those you might consider colleagues or professionals who received an advanced education in an area like psychology or social work, will have forgotten about it ten seconds after you’ve finished telling them. Unless you get the letters “ASD” tattooed on your forehead (and perhaps not even then), if you “look” like a neurotypical (whatever that is), people will assume that you know everything there is to know about being one, and will not take kindly to your mistakes, however innocent they may be.
I’m a GTA (graduate teaching assistant; I know I don’t have to say “graduate” but I am still surprised that I am in graduate school and actually handling it). The other GTA [sic] and I hold office hours in a common area outside one of the professor’s offices, where a table and chairs have been conveniently set out. These chairs are cushioned and lime green in color. I point this out because most chairs on campus are neither of those things.
Other professors sometimes meet with this professor in her office during these same office hours. About two months ago, give or take, they were carrying on and laughing so loudly that I had to close their door. This was greeted with an additional peal of laughter.
I have worked in certain types of organizations where I have closed doors of executive’s offices so they may continue with non-public phone conversations, as a courtesy, so they didn’t have to get up. I was under the [mistaken] impression that there was nothing wrong with this behavior.
Why am I carrying about office doors, you might be wondering?
Today, when I arrived at office hours, the professor was having a conference with a student. I assumed, and may have even been correct in this assumption, that the student would not want a TA sitting at the table outside and listening to their conversation. So, silly me, I went over to close the door.
“What are you doing?” the professor demanded.
What does it look like I’m doing?
“…I, um, thought you might like some privacy.”
“Leave it. You shouldn’t go around closing other people’s office doors.”
Really? And how the f*** am I supposed to know that? I’ve accumulated a great deal of knowledge about social conventions, but I missed the subsection on leaving office doors open.
Thoroughly humiliated, I stammered an apology and set up my laptop on the table to start working, although of course, I wound up writing this instead.
When I applied for this job, I was very upfront about my autism. I explained how it affected my thought and learning processes. I explained the context-free environment that ASDs find themselves in most of the time.
This particular professor, who was at that interview, has a Ph.D. in social work. She knows, or should know, all about autism. But instead of thinking, “hmm, someone with autism might not get this thing,” she shut me down, in front of a student, no less. And of course, I’m sure she thought nothing of it and has probably already forgotten about it, while I am still smarting from being berated for something I had no idea was wrong. Full stop, end of story.
She left shortly after the conference was over, leaving me no chance to explain myself, even if it had occurred to me to do so, which it didn’t in the short window of opportunity that presented itself.
I know I don’t get to control what people think of me. But the main reason I am open about my ASD is to increase awareness in non-autistics of what it is like to interact with an autistic, even one as seemingly capable as myself. (“Seemingly” being the key word in that sentence.) I had thought, for some reason, that mental health professionals would welcome this exposure, and maybe not even need to be reminded about it. What can I say? I’m an optimist.
OK, fail, so much for that plan.
I do not want to have a little chat with whomever it is about what autism entails every time my speech or behavior fails to meet neurotypical standards. Most of the time I’m not going to know because our social conventions preclude calling people out for failing to meet those standards, anyway. So I guess I should be grateful that the professor was “kind” enough to set me straight?
Except now, I have no rule. Some people don’t mind if you close their door, but it appears some people really, really do. Now I will have to ask every single time, which will be unnecessarily fussy and weird probably 99% of those times, because apparently, certain individuals are extremely sensitive about it. Great. Like people don’t already think I ask too many types of these questions anyway.
Just another day.