Thinking a lot lately about masking and empathy, and my role as educator.

Thinking a lot lately about masking and empathy, and my role as educator.

Finding the right balance between making people uncomfortable by avoiding eye contact and making people uncomfortable by staring is one of the many unwritten rules I’ve seen autistic people struggle to master. I still mention “eye contact” in my rubric for student video projects, but it’s now just one of many several different ways to be “engaging,” rather than a stand-alone category, and students don’t have to make videos at all — they could do an audio-only project, or a hypertext.

Group work can also be a challenge — how close do you put your desks? Even finding your way out of a classroom after class — there are unwritten rules about how close to follow behind someone else in a crowd, or even how loudly it’s acceptable to hum to yourself.

I don’t claim to be autistic, but I benefit from learning about the multiple ways autism manifests, some of which intersect with my own personality quirks and coping strategies. At any rate, reflecting on inclusion and being intentional about accommodating learning differences is a productive way to spend an office hour when no students show up.