Being part of the Austin Adult Neurodiversity Group has been an enlightening experience for me, providing the opportunity to make connections with other neurodiverse adults and listen to their perspectives on various aspects of neurodiversity.
By Nils Skudra
Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, with the transition to online learning and being forced to stay homebound, I was anxious to find a virtual network in which I could connect with other adults on the autism spectrum and in the broader neurodiverse community.
Consequently, I conducted an active search on social media for different autism support groups that held virtual social activities, which I could attend from the comfort of home. During this search, I came across the Austin Adult Neurodiversity Group, based in Austin, Texas, on Meetup.com. This group held virtual meetings on Zoom every Tuesday night at 8:00 pm Eastern time, which was highly convenient for me, so I decided to join the group and attend one of their meetings to find out what my first impression was. Since then, I have become a regular attendee at their weekly meetings, which I feel has provided me with an online community of neurodiverse individuals who share valuable insights about different aspects of autism and neurodiversity in general.
While the Austin Adult Neurodiversity Group encompasses people across the neurodiversity community, some of its members are on the autism spectrum, and they have raised a variety of compelling topics during each of their weekly meetings.
These topics have included the issue of masking, deciding if and when to disclose one’s neurodiversity in a relationship or during a job application process, representations of autism and neurodiversity in film and media, and strategies for dealing with sensory overload and feelings of being overwhelmed. I can strongly relate to these issues since I have often struggled with deciding whether to disclose my disability on a job application or during a job interview because of my concerns about possible discrimination, as well as determining at what point to disclose my autism in a potential relationship with a neurotypical partner.
While my personal preference would be to see how a relationship progresses before disclosing my diagnosis, the other group members have shared intriguing perspectives that emphasize the benefits of being upfront from the very beginning. For example, they have said that this will help the neurotypical partner understand the quirks and tendencies that a neurodiverse individual might have, and the neurodiverse partner will know immediately whether their neurotypical partner accepts their identity as part of their relationship.
Another benefit of being involved in the Adult Neurodiversity Group is having a community in which members are open with each other about their neurodiversity.
Many of my friends on the autism spectrum have been resistant to joining autism support groups due to a fear of disclosing their diagnosis, preferring to keep it private. This is a feeling that I can personally relate to since I have often shown an aversion to having my autism referenced in published content, as I care strongly about my privacy and would prefer not to share that information with the broader public.
However, as a member of the Adult Neurodiversity Group, I feel that I can discuss this topic freely with other people who share my neurodiversity since they share their opinions and insights in an open and nonjudgmental manner, drawing upon their own experiences and connecting them to the broader topic of discussion.
For example, when discussing the issue of masking, some members have elaborated upon the scenarios in which they have practiced masking and the circumstances in which they feel it is appropriate, such as work or spending time with neurotypical friends. However, they have also pointed out the negative effects that masking can have on neurodiverse individuals’ self-esteem and sense of identity, since some might develop a mode of being in denial about their neurodiversity to assimilate within a neurotypical world. Considering this, having a neurodiverse support group provides a comfort zone in which adults on the autism spectrum and with other neurodivergent conditions can discuss these issues at ease with their peers.
In summation, being part of the Austin Adult Neurodiversity Group has been an enlightening experience for me, providing the opportunity to make connections with other neurodiverse adults and listen to their perspectives on various aspects of neurodiversity. In the continued caution of the COVID-19 atmosphere, this group offers a comfortable setting for virtual communication across state lines with neurodiverse individuals in other parts of the United States. Furthermore, since many neurodiverse individuals often struggle with issues of disclosure of their identity, involvement in a neurodiverse support group enables them to share their experiences freely with other people in the neurodiversity community, with the benefit of learning valuable insights that can significantly benefit their approach to meeting the challenges of everyday life.
I am an artist on the autism spectrum. I received an MA specializing in Civil War/Reconstruction history at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, and I have been drawing hundreds of Civil War-themed pictures since the age of five and a half. I recently completed a secondary Master’s in Library and Information Sciences. As a person with autism, I have a very focused set of interests, and the Civil War is my favorite historical event within that range of interests. It is therefore my fervent desire to become a Civil War historian and have my Civil War artwork published in an art book for children. I am also very involved in the autism community and currently serve as the President/Head Officer of Spectrum at UNCG, an organization I founded for students on the autism spectrum. The goal of the organization is to promote autism awareness and foster an inclusive community for autistic students on the UNCG campus. The group has attracted some local publicity and is steadily gaining new members, and we shall be hosting autism panels for classes on campus in the near future.