Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The pressure to present as "normal"

These past couple days I have been preparing for an upcoming graduate school interview. I have found a list of commonly asked grad school interview questions and I have been working through them, pondering answers and writing some of the answers down to help me retain them. Honestly, I rehearse much of my speech. When I know I'm going to be in a situation where I must converse, I come up with topics to discuss ahead of time and them come up with scripts for the topics. Most of my friends are introverts, so they have no problem with me leading the conversation like this. It makes things more comfortable for both of us, I think.

But interviews are scary. Scary because I don't know exactly what questions will be asked. I have this list, but they could pop a question that I never read or considered before. And this is scary, because spontaneously producing a verbal answer to a question I never thought of can cause a  lot of incoherent attempts to answer. And this is not a good thing, because of course one of the main points of this interview is to convince the faculty that they do want me in their program.

To be quite frank, I feel like this whole interview will basically be a test to see how non-autistic I can present. Because let's face it, when it comes to important interviews, none of my autistic traits are assets, and most are disadvantageous liabilities.

My dislike of eye contact? Liability. My desire to stim when in stressful situations? Liability. (Apparently you're supposed to sit still for things like this.) My struggle to produce thoughtful, coherent, spontaneous speech when under pressure? Liability. The fact that it takes a lot of mental effort to remember to use positive body language? Liability. My hypersensitivity to stimuli that affects my auditory processing skills? Liability.

I disclosed the fact that I'm Autistic on my personal statement, so most, if not all, of the faculty that I'll interview with should already know that I'm Autistic. Despite knowing this, I don't think they'll cut me any slack. In fact, I have a sinking feeling that I'll be under closer watch to see how well I can present myself. It seems sad that professors in the field rehabilitation counseling would be ableist in their application process, but these people dwell in a neurotypical-majority society where social norms govern everything. Ableism is so prevalent and pervasive that they probably aren't aware of the fact that they might naturally be inclined to discriminate against an Autistic person who couldn't adequately satisfy all of these norms.

The pressure on Autistic people of all ages to present as "normal" as much as possible is absolutely overwhelming. This pressure is especially evident during all interview processes. I'm willing to bet that one reason unemployment among Autistic adults is so high is because many of us just can't successfully get through the NT-driven interview process. The unconscious bias against us is insurmountable.

I acknowledge that many times I have NT-passing privilege and I've gotten through interviews in the past without the employer/interviewer knowing that I was Autistic. But that's not really the point. The point is I shouldn't have to try. The point is I shouldn't have to mimic and masquerade. The point is that this pressure to present and pass as "normal" should not exist. Ableism should not exist. But it does. And it's exhausting to figure out how to deal it all the time.