Guest post by Andrew Edward Collins, also found on the Autistics Speaking Day blog here.
So, it’s been brought to my attention that “Autistics Speaking Day” is coming up. Of course, as usual, I’d like to contribute something. But it occurred to me that I’ve already done quite a lot of “speaking” about disabilities through my previous publications. This would seem to be a good thing, but now, I can’t help but feel as though there’s a certain anxiety attached to every bit of writing I make public.
I’ve always had high aspirations. Currently, I want to do work for the United States Department of Education in some sort of administrative position—as high up as I can get. Everything I want to really accomplish in my life depends on how well people are going to listen to my ideas—so, what do I do if someone finds something I’ve written in my teenage years, and tries to use it to invalidate something I’m working for later on in my life? In almost every bit of non-fiction I’ve ever published, I’ve identified myself as being disabled. Literally tens of thousands of copies of my articles have been circulated to people all over the country in various magazines.
Tens of thousands of people know that I’m disabled. I’ve gotten emails from complete strangers. While most (if not all) of the periodicals I’ve been printed in will be recycled by the time I’m out of grad school, everything I’ve gotten put up on the internet will never go away. So, what’s to stop some naïve employer or opponent of my ideas from judging me or using it all against me? What’s stopping anyone from assuming that just because I’m disabled that something I’m saying is invalid?
In short, I have cast my weaknesses and struggles into the limelight, and thus, I have left myself in a very vulnerable position. I worry every day that a classmate of mine is going to Google my name and learn about all my personal battles. I’m not ashamed of who I am, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with having so much personal information available to people who are predisposed to judge me. Disabilities are not well understood by those who do not have them, so I want people to know I’m disabled only when I think they’re ready to hear it and when I’m ready to tell them.
I don’t know for sure where I’ll be in the future, but at least I know that, for now, I’m doing the right thing by publishing. I don’t regret anything I’ve ever written yet. I know my work has been of use to many people and is important in furthering many of the causes in which I partake. I’d like to think people know better than to use the things I’ve written against me, but I know that’s not true. I’m sure in a few years from now many of my opinions and ideas on what I’ve published will have changed as I continue to mature, and I can only hope anyone who happens to find something I wrote as a teenager will be decent enough to understand this.
But how knows? Maybe it could all end up helping me out somehow. Or maybe I’ll just never rise to any status or situation in which it will even matter if people know of my personal disabilities and challenges. But for now, I’m eighteen, I’ve got two new articles coming out soon, and I’m going to continue doing what I know is right, even if it means leaving myself vulnerable to the judgment of friends and strangers.
-Andrew Edward Collins