During my Silent September, I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what my purpose is. I am currently in a job where I can complete my undergraduate education essentially for free. They will pay my tuition, even for undergrad, which is a rarity even in the high tech industry. Of course, I would have to keep my grades up, and I can’t just sign up for courses and not take them and expect other people to pay for them. That’s not how it works. But I don’t think that given my situation right now, or in the future, going back to school is really in the cards.
First of all, if I did go down that path, it would lock me into at least two years of employment with that employer. And I don’t know if that’s what I want. Additionally, if I get laid off, then I could end up being stuck with a hefty tuition bill. The industry and my current employer is not stable and reliable enough for me to have any level of comfort with that plan. But most of all, I think the real issue is with the time commitment. I don’t feel like it would really be a productive use of my time to go back to school and take classes, tying up hours and hours of my week, on top of working a 40 hour job. That is completely unsustainable, as far as I’m concerned. Not only is that exhausting, but it would also be taking away hours and hours of time that I would be spending doing what I already do, doing what I myself want to do, following the path that I have charted for myself, rather than what my academic record has paved ahead for me.
My hope and dream as a kid was always to be in academia, and to do research. To publish. To present at conferences. To be actively involved in my field, and rise to be calm and acknowledged expert in my chosen area. As it turned out, my autistic issues complicated things, and I got caught in the proverbial social weeds (some of those weeds with razor-sharp edges), and I couldn’t extract myself. So, I went to university for four years, but never got a degree, and that has really shaped the choices I have been able to make. I can’t say that they have all been bad choices, but they have not been my first choices. And they certainly are not the choices I intended to make for myself, back when I was very young.
So where does that leave me now? It’s still leaves me with a keen interest in research, a real love of science, as well as a burning desire to really move forward the work of people who were helping the world to better understand and address autism as a significant aspect of my life and the lives of countless others. And it occurs to me, perhaps my role is not so much to create the research myself as it is to promote it, and help move it forward. Perhaps my role as a writer, a poet, and the visual visual artists, is to add a new dimension to what is often admittedly dry and sometimes obtuse field.
There actually is hopeful new research coming out these days about people like myself, and while I’m not qualified to participate in crafting the studies, and I am often to disqualified from participating in them, and I certainly am not a part of the final analysis and drawing conclusions, there are still ways that I can participate and contribute to the process.
This new initiative that I began in September (Silent September) is really the first step in that direction. I have been posting some visual interpretations of my writing for some time now, but only in the last several months has my vision become clearer around how this could possibly work with research and emerging studies. We have such a dearth of quality autism research that paints a broader picture of us, that when researchers actually can you come up with something that steps outside the tired old bounds of “demon autism” and the “terrible burden” it imposes on our loved ones, it’s like a breath of fresh air.
And I so much want to share in the joy that I feel like reading those papers and coming across that research to others who may or may not have a taste for that dry material, with all of its factors and criteria and measurement methods. I think that in my case I can contribute my own type of voice – my visual voice – to a much-needed conversation and hopefully nudge things forward a bit by making the findings accessible to others who aren’t scientifically minded, but who are very much impacted by the quality of scientific research – or should we say the lack thereof.
So there it is, basically a new direction… or rather, a more refined version of my existing direction that I hope will contribute for the larger discussion. I am completely unqualified in academic terms to speak to any of these topics in an academic way. However, as someone who lives the kind of life that others are studying and trying to understand, I can perhaps do at least one small things to help move the field along, as well as promote their fantastic work to people very much in need of hearing what they have to say.
These things take time. Of course they do. But in the end you’re never going to get them unless we start.