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Disclosure - Thoughts from Panel Member Penny

17 Feb 2020 7:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

When I was first diagnosed with "mild Aspergers syndrome" in Year 9, at the age of 14, I told people on a "need to know" basis. After getting panic attacks in the school assembly hall in Year 12 (2000 & 2001), I recognised that lecture theatres at uni would be a similar environment.  By the end of 1st year uni, my panic attacks were common knowledge among my fellow students - thanks to it being relevant to learning about "fight or flight"...

After studying at uni for 8 years (Bachelor of Biomedical Science, Honours, and Masters of Biostatistics), I started working in April 2010. I'd always planned to tell my immediate supervisor Robin... Approx 7 weeks later, I was in her office in tears, mid-anxiety meltdown.  I realised I had to tell her - RIGHT NOW!!  A month or so later, I told the "big boss" of my research unit - she'd already figured it out!

Later that year, my Gma gave me the book "All Cats have Aspergers Syndrome" by Kathy Hoopmann for my birthday. That book lived in my bag for 6+ months, and was a great disclosure tool. There are lots of cute pictures of cats, and the words ring true - I showed many friends, cycling mates and work colleagues and told them as they were reading it that I was diagnosed at age 14.

My work calls for items in eNews - by the end of 2013, I'd written a few articles about the talks I'd given for Aspergers Victoria and the start of the I CAN Network. So my autism was "common knowledge" at work.  In August 2014, I attended my first autism conference - as Chris Varney was giving the closing keynote.  At the Victorian Autism Conference, I was asked if I was happy to be interviewed and photographed by The Age. (They wanted a personal story to go with A/Prof Amanda Richdale from OTARC's research on students disclosing to their university.)  I said "Yes" straight away.


When the article came out on the Tuesday, I barely got any work done - cos work colleagues kept on coming past my desk to tell me they'd seen me in the paper. I wondered how the students would perceive it - I didn't need to be worried, cos the 2nd student who arrived at my first tute on the Thursday bounded into class and excitedly told me "Penny, I saw you in the paper!!!"  

Several months later, I Googled "Penny Robinson Monash" - the second item in the search (at the time) was my article in The Age. I decided to add my autism - and all the autism advocacy I do - to my CV at that point, as otherwise it might look like I was trying to hide it.  In fact, last year, Robin asked me to send her my complete CV - research (30+ publications), teaching (900 + 300 students in Semester 2) and autism advocacy.

The advantage of my autism being "common knowledge" at work is that my quirks are embraced - I'm well known for my live tweeting of seminars, wearing my (Monash Uni) cap.  I've been able to adjust my start & finish times to avoid peak-hour crowded trains in the morning.  Often its the simple adjustments that make a huge difference.  

This resource by Amaze on 8 things to help in the workplace may also be useful: http://www.onethingforautism.com.au/8-workplace-things/

Note: Thank you to Penny for joining our AV lived experience Panel on Tuesday 18th February.. For more go to @PennyRobaus on Twitter and Penny Robinson - speaker on FB

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