Teacher Professor

October 1, 2010

Professional Switzerland

Filed under: Autism — Teacher Professor @ 5:52 pm

I’ve been struggling with writing this blog- not sounding whiney or spoiled.  For the reality is that I DO know that I’m incredibly lucky- I get to work in a gorgeous place doing what I love- absolutely love- to do (heck, even having a job is cause for celebration these days) and I have a family I wouldn’t trade for anything.  Life right now is pretty easy.  Life right now is pretty good.  It’s a stark contrast to times past….

But every now and then I remember that I’m in Switzerland.


I applied for a great big federal grant this past July.  My first grant.  It was a really good idea.  It would have meant tremendous relief for me and my program.  It would have paid teachers for the fantastic jobs they’re been doing.  It would have been… really nice.  And I didn’t get it.

For a while I wanted to blame all kinds of things… my college who is not used to big grants and couldn’t help me; the “system” that rewards big colleges and their well-oiled machines; some inherent conflicts of interest …

The reality came down to the fact that I was inexperienced, and didn’t know “how” to write for these things- the forms alone require certain statements might as well be in a foreign language.  I realized, after collaborating with another university for another big grant this past September, that my first efforts were awkward, stilted, and not as complete or thorough as they could have been.  In other words, I needed to do one in order to learn how to do one.  Everyone’s reassuring me- “It was your first one… now you know what to do…you’ll learn… you’ll learn.”  And they’re right. 

But what hurts me is that I look at my friends who went through the same program I did… and I know that I’m “behind”.  I finished 10 years ago, and was all set to change the world.  All set to launch.  Only… autism and job losses and family issues kicked in and there I remained- ready to launch.  I’m proud of my friends; I’m honored to know them.  I use their books in my classes and I reference their articles and papers and I see them at conferences.  I watch them get awards and grants and titles and I’m thrilled for them.  Really and truly thrilled.  Only, I’m not with them… I’m only on my “first” grant- which I did not get, while so many of them are on their fourth or more grants- that they did get. 

In my book- which was really more of a labor of love than a professional achievement- I talk about how having a child with high-functioning autism is like landing in Switzerland.  Emily Perl Kingsley has a wonderful, wonderful essay “Welcome to Holland” about how having a child with a disability is like preparing all of your life to travel to Italy, but you land in Holland instead.  It takes you a while to appreciate the beauty of Holland, but your whole life, you will watch your friends going back and forth to Italy and remember that you were supposed to go there.  It’s a fabulous piece. 

Having a child with high-functioning autism is a bit like landing in Switzerland.  It’s close to Italy- so close that you can see the edges of the country and some of its landscapes.  It’s not so far away that you can’t relate to your friends who are enjoying Italy.  But it’s not Italy.  The food is different; the pace is different, and ultimately, it’s a different country. 

I’ve thought through this analogy in respect to the grieving that parents do when they compare their children to others.  I know this grief.  But the recognition that Switzerland also applies to my goals for myself isn’t something I regularly face.

And I do know how lucky I am- how I am able to return to work; how I have been able to get back on the track that I left.  I stepped out for four years and I have been able to find a place for myself.  So many, many autism mommies can’t.  There’s recent research that finds that autism of a child dramatically affects a mother’s career path and earnings (I call this DUH research).  But I’m now at a different place on the path, driving a different vehicle than I was 10 years ago. 

I was sniffling about it this morning, and James, my husband, who completely understands this path I’m on, gave me a huge hug and said “It’s tough when you’re benchmarking yourself against what you could have been.  But you’re doing a good job on your own bench.”

And so I’ll dust myself off.  I’ll recognize that I’m grieving, once again, for what could have been.  I’ll look around at Switzerland and I’ll appreciate it once again.  But every now and then, I just have to say- Autism sucks.


  1. I don’t mean to belittle your feelings, but from my perspective you are helping to change the world. I would love to sit in on one of your classes, or have one of your students work with my child. I also think you are a great role model, I don’t know much about your professional career, but the fact you have one is something to be proud of.

    Dr. Greenspan writes that a parent should not compare their children to other children, but to look at individual progress over time. Maybe we parents should follow that advice about ourselves.

    Someone posted that autism isn’t the end of the world, it is the beginning of a new one. I like that phrase, but I’ll agree that sometimes this new world sucks.

    Comment by mamafog — October 1, 2010 @ 8:48 pm | Reply

    • Thank you, Mamafog! I do enjoy “this” life- but every now and then, I miss the “old” one- the one that I was headed down. As we all do… It’s part of the “two roads diverged” thing. But I didn’t CHOOSE this road- as did none of us. “And that has made all the difference”…

      But I have to say that I AM proud of “my” teachers and “my” kids. Ahhh- Dr. Greenspan- my first autism hero!

      Comment by profmother — October 1, 2010 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

  2. Thank you for this. I kinda needed it. Like right this very minute. So thank you.

    Comment by jess — October 2, 2010 @ 6:22 am | Reply

  3. This was a timely post for me too. I’m not dealing with Autism, but with a brilliant, funny young man who’s ailment defies description, but has been labeled ADHD and Bipolar. It is so hard to let go of the “Italy” concept.

    Comment by Heather — October 2, 2010 @ 9:28 pm | Reply

    • Perhaps rather than “Autism sucks”, I should just broaden it to “Disorders suck”…. anything that makes choices for us, rather than us making the choices is very, very difficult to deal with…

      Comment by profmother — October 3, 2010 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

  4. Another “me too” here — just linked to this post in my latest.

    At least we’re not alone.

    Comment by JoyMama — October 3, 2010 @ 7:45 am | Reply

    • Thanks for the link- helps those darn numbers you referred to in YOUR post! 🙂 Not that I’m counting, or comparing of course… 🙂

      Comment by profmother — October 3, 2010 @ 7:11 pm | Reply

  5. I have also walked in your shoes at this when it comes to this thought process. I think about all the things that could have been, should have been. I married young, had children young, took an extended time in undergrad, didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, divorced young, did grad school on fast forward during the toughest time of my life and now I have slowed down to being a mom and a teacher. Sometimes I think, “I am just a mom and a teacher.” I could have been so much more. I want to be a wife again, I want to publish research, I want to be a leader in my school, I want this, I want that, I want to play soccer again, etc. Then I look back on my 27 years and my 2 awesome children, a marriage to learn from, 3 degrees, 2 teaching certificates and kids who learn more than social studies from me and I realize I like this country I am in. It suits me perfectly.

    Comment by Tara Long — October 3, 2010 @ 12:22 pm | Reply

    • Oh honey, you’re so much farther ahead than I was at 27! I hadn’t even MET my husband yet… there’s so much farther for all of us to go. It’s just hard when we know how far we’ve come…

      Comment by profmother — October 3, 2010 @ 7:12 pm | Reply

  6. I know how hard it is, to miss out on the prestige and the acknowledgements. I know too well how as a matriarch of autism, your role can lead you away from the pack with whom you had once traveled so well. But a few thoughts to share: If you are as similar to me as it seems sometimes, your elementary school years were not marked by the sort of struggles and hardships your children are facing. That then you, while being exceptional in some ways, may have enjoyed acceptance, even praise. But now, you’re experiencing first hand how it feels to make spectacular achievements but without understanding let alone recognition and praise … from the typical sources of such things anyway. It is a hard place to be, but it allows you not only to understand their perspective, but most importantly to be there, with them. They have you. They are not alone. Alone is the hardest of countries to live in.

    I think it is likely that after your children have matriculated through challenging times so early, they’ll enjoy prestige in their later years.

    As for you, right now… you’re awesome. I have no degrees or grants to confer, but I can offer you all the sincere praise and thanks I can muster. Thanks for being there for me, for drawing me out of Alone and closer to Switzerland.

    Comment by Elizabeth — October 7, 2010 @ 5:52 am | Reply

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