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The #ActuallyAutistic Culture and Identity Project S46

Name, and/or twitter handle: Mary Russell Pronouns: she/her Parent/non-parent: Mother of four Age when you selfdx/were diagnosed autistic: 48, just earlier this year! (Official dx by neuropsychologist.) 1. Did you feel you were different from others as a child? Yes, I always knew there was something “wrong” with me: I felt I was in a tennis match with others but whereas they played with tennis rackets I was given a ping pong paddle. 2. Are your parents supportive of you as an autistic individual? Yes, I just “came out” to them a few months ago and they were supportive and curious. 3. How did you determine your ethical system? I was raised in a nominally Catholic home. When I was a young child I found a book on Catholic Saints at the library and quickly developed a lifelong special interest in religion, to the point that I asked my parents to take me to church at the age of ten, read everything I could on Catholicism, and nearly became a nun instead of going to medical school. My ethics are grounded in my Catholic faith, and I am certain the external framework kept me out of a some (but not all) of the abusive relationships common to autistic women. 4. In which way does your private self differ from your outward facing front? I have to make sure I read a social situation appropriately before inserting myself in a conversation. My sense of humor is a compensatory mechanism for my social awkwardness. In clinic, I am quickly able to adopt the accent and mannerisms of each of my patients every 15 minutes- something I used to frame as “code switching” but now I recognize as a feature of autism. 5. Do you enjoy finding mistakes/errors in the production of films and television...continuity etc.? No, not really. 6. What are the top 3 traits you look for in a friend? I have never really had friends in the sense of people that I would like spending time with without a purpose or external reason for gathering, so it’s hard to answer this question. 7. What are the top 3 traits you perceive as negative but are willing to overlook in a friend? As above, difficult to answer. 8. What are the top traits you look for in a partner/traits your partner possesses?

1. Direct, no bullshit, communication. 2. Clear values and strong work ethic. 3. Being on my side/ giving me support and understanding. 9. What would you do with your life if you had unlimited funds? 1. I would make sure my autistic high support needs daughter had everything she needed to live independently and happily. 2. Otherwise nothing too different except maybe travel more. I love my job.

10. What does freedom mean to you. What does it entail? This question is too vague and open ended for me to answer. 11. What does success mean to you? 1. Fulfilling my duty to my family and patients, living a decent life of service to others, enjoying my special interests. 12. Are you more stable/happier/productive within the structure of a relationship...partner/good friend/long-term roommate? Yes. I’ve been married for 17 years and my husband is the joy of my heart. He is the only person I can be completely myself with. 13. Do you find it stressful to be around other parents at school functions? Yes. I have to be on my toes and put up with small talk. And even when I put in significant effort I never seem to end up fitting in.

14. How often do you pretend to not see people you know if you don’t want to talk? I almost never pick up the phone when I’m called, even (and especially) if it’s someone I know. 15. In which areas do you identify the most with other autistic people? Social communication difficulties, absence of friends, and the pull of special interests. 16. What are the most stressful aspects of parenting an autistic child as an autistic caregiver? Having to engage with other “autism moms” who view their child as a tragedy or the autism as something fixable. 17. What are the top 5 things you want your children to know about the world and why? 1. Find your passion and pursue it. 2. Education is a lifelong/fulfilling pursuit. 3. Make yourself into your most reliable friend. 4. There is no more satisfying pleasure than a book and a rainy day. 5. Friends come in many forms- animals, faith, imagination are all sources of companionship that mitigate loneliness. 18. Does living off the grid appeal to you and why/why not? Sort of. Some of the happiest times of my life were when I spent a few weeks with a group of contemplative nuns living in a remote wilderness in New York just before entering med school. 19. What is your favorite style of architecture and why? I love college buildings situated on older campuses. As a graduate of the University of Virginia with its distinct aesthetic, college buildings bring me back to one of the happiest times of my life.

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