The Listserve is an e-mail lottery were one person a day wins a chance to write to
the growing list of subscribers. I was fortunate enough to win the lottery on the 8th March and while I toyed with the idea of writing an email on earthworms(!) I thought it would be more interesting for people to hear my experiences with Asperger’s diagnosis. Two days later my message was sent out across the world and I have had an amazing response from it and it will take a while to go through and reply to all the messages. Below is my message in full:
My motivations for joining the Listserve were part of my drive to communicate more with ‘the world’ and coincided with starting a blog (Science on the Spectrum) were I aim to discuss my scientific career aspirations through the lens of autistic spectrum disorder (ASD). I was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome in 2012, a ‘higher functioning’ form of autism. This affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people but because I am intelligent and outwardly appear capable, these disabilities are largely hidden. I have difficulty with the subtleties in verbal communication, such as understanding facial expressions and voice tone and knowing what people are thinking, explaining the problems I have experienced in interacting with others throughout my life. It is not all disadvantageous though, my condition is also associated with obsessive interests, a high attention to detail and love of pattern recognition which are valuable attributes for a career in science. It is therefore no surprise that those ‘on the spectrum’ are overrepresented in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and that I should be drawn to this career from an early age.
It is not until recently that ASD has received more awareness and it was the opening of a clinic in my local area that prompted me to consider being officially diagnosed. It was not a decision I took lightly, as I was unsure whether having a ‘label’ would be a help or hindrance from a personal and career perspective. However I was applying for a full time Master of Science degree which would necessitate moving to London and having to live independently rather than rely on my parents’ care and a diagnosis would give me access to support. I researched the experiences of others and discussed it with my family and General Practitioner/family doctor before deciding it was worth pursuing.
Since my diagnosis my attitude to my difficulties has changed, instead of constantly feeling inadequate for my social failings, for example when I attend a conference but am too scared to talk to many people it instead feels an achievement to have gone at all. Rather than a burden, I see my difficulties as a challenge to overcome and to that end decided to stop letting the fear of other people hold me back and ‘feel scared but do it anyway’. With support from my family and the university’s disability team, last year I achieved my ambition to gain a Master of Science studying at the Natural History Museum in London where I have continued to volunteer on a research project on earthworms – but that is another story!
I would be interested to hear the experiences of other STEM workers with autistic spectrum or other communication disorders.