I found out I am on the autism spectrum in middle age. Until then I had just been “different”. Of course, I am still “different”. I live a full life as a parent, activist, and self-employed tutor, so I do not identify as “disabled”, but I have a long association with disability rights as my “differentness” helps me identify with numerous minority rights causes.
I migrated to Australia at the height of the 1960s White Australia era and began school the following year. Nothing was known about autism back then. I could speak English but I had less well-understood communication issues. I was this strange foreign girl who sat quietly, joining Cuisenaire rods (maths blocks) end to end, determined to make the longest equation in the world, while all the other kids tried to get the maths over and done with so they could run around talking to each other.
My brown skin and strange ways soon caught the attention of schoolyard bullies. I was confronted with where I came from and why I was so brainy when “wogs” were supposed to be dumb. Between my social reticence, slow running and lack of anti-bullying and anti-discrimination laws, I was a sitting duck for bullies. Later came the insistence that women who excelled in maths had the wrong hormones, a notion that seemed to many, at the time, to be backed up by science.
As I progressed through school, I found refuge in my studies and drama club involvements, which taught me to face people and project my voice. At uni, I gravitated towards fringe left-wing political groups that promised social equality and liberation. I never had a sense of belonging in the elite Anglo-dominated university scene and spent an increasing amount of time immersed in activism. I developed my writing and public speaking skills and maintained my political passions, but eventually found that left-wing politics, too, was a conformist scene that revolved around Anglo pub culture, something I’d had little exposure to as a migrant girl.
It was only many many years later, when my second child started early intervention, that I started searching for answers to understand our shared differences. It was to be another decade before I came across information about the female presentations of autism. By this time I had experienced several other bullying episodes, again of the Intersectional Issues type. I lost jobs when I did not seem like “one of the girls” due to my highly logical, quiet ways, yet white men higher up the career ladder, with similar traits, were quite well accepted on the job. Even in this day and age, I felt there was still paranoia towards me as a socially quiet, brown woman who did not fit the prevailing culture – if I had straightened my hair and shared exotic recipes, instead of excelling in maths and reading newspapers, I would have been more acceptable!
I eventually stumbled across opportunities to become successfully self-employed as a tutor. Virtually all of my clients are from multicultural backgrounds and they judge me for my ability to do my job. Some of them know I am on the Spectrum. I found other avenues for my activism and my kids grew up to be awesome. I am blessed.