Something occurred two weeks ago, and it's been bothering me since it happened. Not as much now as it did then, but it still weighs on my mind. On December 15h, I spoke at an Asperger Women's group at an autism center on Long Island. Over the last few months, I'd been corresponding via telephone with the woman who runs the group, trying to find a date that worked for me to come in and speak to the group. She seemed like a nice enough woman, and I was happy to have been asked to act as a guest speaker. When I got there, however, it was a different story.
I first went into the woman's office so we could discuss what I would be talking about in the meeting. She and another woman who co-runs the group were there, and at first, they seemed perfectly nice and eager to have me speak to the group. But the primary woman kept insisting that I say something to the women along the lines of how I was told that I could join the group, but felt that I wouldn't be able to because of the distance, and so I chose to speak at it instead. I understood her reasoning for this after she told me that the women in the group questioned why I was speaking to them instead of being a member myself. That made sense to me, to try and appeal to the women and not alienate them, but I couldn't and still don't understand why this woman seemed to be treating me as though I were like the other women in the group, and not someone who'd come to speak to them.
I need to explain that last part more clearly, because I know it sounds strange the way that I said it. I do not, in any way, shape, or form, think that I am better than the women who are in that support group. The reason that I no longer attend support group meetings is because I never really felt like I fit in at them, and although they did serve a purpose at one time, I am no longer at a point in my life where I would need a support group as that type of resource. I have friends with whom I speak and share my triumphs and woes, not to mention the fact that I also tell my parents pretty much everything. So I'm no longer at a juncture where a support group would be of great assistance to me, but in no way am I demeaning the value of the group to these other women. I would rather another person be in the group instead of me, if they could get more out of it and have it be more useful to them than it would be to me.
That said, I tried explaining all of this to the woman, but I don't know if it really got through. She kept saying to me that I should tell the women how I still have my own issues to work on--which I do, this is true, and I can understand it being said for the purpose of inspiring a spirit of camaraderie and friendship--but I felt like her point in saying it to me was for a different reason. She just kept reminding me that I'm "one of them" ('them' being the other women in the group) and that I could come to a meeting anytime to work on my issues. Weirdness abounded as her repetition of the phrase grew, and I became ever more uncomfortable.
I know that I'm not what one might call an "authority" on anything. I have no capitalized letters after my name, nor any really notable accomplishments to speak of up to this point. But why on God's green and verdant landscape would she ask me to speak to this group of women if she didn't think I had something to share with them? If she didn't think that I've achieved something that they haven't? If I really am "one of them," then I should be sitting in that group engaging in what certainly felt like organized and staged dialogue; conversations facilitated by neurotypical puppetmasters. If there's one thing I despise about any support group that is run by individuals not on the spectrum, it's that: the almost plasticine need to force conversation between the group's participants. Their intentions are all well and good, to be sure, but it still irks me to have to listen to their tones of voice sounding so faux enthusiastic.
Maybe I am reading too much into this and misunderstanding it all, as per usual. But my encounter with that woman has made me question everything about myself and my so-called "expertise" as a public speaker. The truth is, when it comes down to it, the most important thing isn't what that woman or any other group facilitator thinks of me; the most important thing is if I was able to reach the participants in the group, if I was able to make sense to them and help them in some way, even a small way. I've never encountered a situation like this before, where I felt a sort of lack of respect coming at me from the facilitator of a group. I know that I'm on the spectrum, but I'm there speaking to other women who are also on the spectrum, and frankly, I think I'm better equipped to be running that group than that woman was. Call it blasphemous or crazy if you like, but how or in what way could she know how to talk to those women or get them to open up better than I could? I don't know. I just don't know.
I fear now that perhaps I am not being taken as seriously as I thought I was; that teachers in schools or support group leaders don't see me in the light that I thought they had. The director of Special Ed in the Port Jefferson school district hasn't contacted me since I waltzed into his office over the summer with my curriculum vitae. Yet, I heard from my father that a woman he ran into recently (who used to be the tenant in our old house that we rent out and who was one of my nurses in elementary school) had herself run into this man, and he'd been raving wildly about me. Maybe I'm a little slow on the uptake here or not quite understanding this all clearly, but I don't see how the guy could be raving about me when he hasn't spoken a word to me, electronically or otherwise, since August. Sigh. Respect, people. I don't think it's too much to ask for.
In other, far more random news, I got straight-As this semester (I got an A- on my research proposal paper, which is going to be the foundation for my actual thesis next year) and my GPA is up to a 3.53. I also have received news that the ARTS documentary that I'm in is locked and finished, and will be out on DVD in mid-January. So look for more tasty tidbits on that in here as I find out more info. I've also gotten back in touch with the literary manager in Los Angeles with whom I worked on ARTS, to seek her assistance in breaking into the world of television, and she's agreed to help me in any way she can. So, while I may not quite be ending 2008 with a bang, I think 2009 is going to get off to a rollicking good start. I'm just tired of things happening on other people's terms rather than my own, and so I think 2009 is going to be about making that happen. I just wish these bumps in the road with doubting myself and my abilities would go away for good. All in good time, I guess. All in good time.