One of the most consistently sharp and intriguing accounts in my Twitter feed is @Journautism, by Robert Moran, who works at ABC News in L.A.
Along with the day's hard and soft news, Moran Tweets about the cognitive dissonance we all experience:
Moran has Asperger's syndrome, and he's one of the few journalists who've "come out" about their autism. So when he sees the media making false statements or assumptions about people with autism or mental illness in general, it bothers him.
When the media covered the Newtown shooting and kept connecting autism to violence, he says among autistics, "It was like, 'Arrrgh. Why are you doing this!?'" Moran and others called them out on it, and he was overjoyed when Sanjay Gupta did an Autism 101 on CNN, and pointed out that autistics are not prone to violence.
After many dead ends and wrong treatment, Moran was diagnosed with Asperger's, which he says, in short, affects how he interacts with others. "I don't make eye contact. I struggle with satire and understanding sarcasm. Sometimes I'll interrupt because I don't know when to read the pauses." And his routine is extremely important to him. When he makes a plan, he gets very upset when he has to break it."
In truth, during our interview over lunch at LeRoy's in Monrovia, he made eye contact, shook my hand, laughed at my jokes, and didn't freak out when his bus made him late. How much of an effort this cost him, I don't know, but years of therapy have helped him deal better with these manifestations of Asperger's.
I put to Moran that people on the whole seem to know how to think about kids with autism, but we don't know what to do with adults, which is borne out in employment stats showing young people with autism have the highest rates of unemployment of all people with mental disability.
Moran said, "Absolutely. All of the focus, all of the research, all of the treatment, all of the therapies, and all of the programs are designed for kids. Twenty-two is the cutoff date in most states for services, so it's literally like after the age of 22, you're no longer autistic, which is complete boloney. It's a lifelong disorder."
Moran is an exception. At ABC News (the network, not ABC7), where he works two days a week as a digital news associate, he says he was upfront about his autism. He says his ability to focus on detail (an Asperger's trait) is helpful, because he's thorough. "But that can also be hurtful because if you're working in television news, it's a team effort. So if you're tunnel vision, you may forget the social niceties."
One of the most eye-opening things Moran Tweets about is having to adapt to living with people who don't have autism, or "neurotypicals."
"We spend a lot of our time trying to understand neurotypicals and why neurotypicals do certain things, or at least try to mimic neurotypical behavior," Moran says. "Yet, neurotypicals do almost absolutely nothing to try to understand us."
So, for a start, you could follow him on Twitter to start listening to the other side of the conversation.
Note: The tweets included above have been deleted.