Hello, world! I'm Dr. Darrell J. Rohl, a university professor, archaeologist, husband, father, and recently diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, ADHD, and Autism. This is my public disclosure and I want to explain why I have chosen to disclose it.
Academia can be a challenging environment for anyone, but it can be especially difficult for individuals with neurodivergent identities. As a university professor, I have recently (September 2022) been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, ADHD, and Autism. I want to share my experiences with these conditions and how they have impacted my academic journey. This will be my first public statement about this, but I expect to say more in the coming months and years.
I believe it is important to be honest and transparent about our struggles, especially as educators committed to creating inclusive and supportive learning environments. By sharing my story, I hope to empower students who may also be struggling with similar issues. Neurodivergent individuals are often underrepresented in academia, and this can make it difficult for us/them to feel like we/they belong. However, when those of us who are neurodivergent openly discuss our own neurodivergent identities, we can help create a more inclusive and welcoming academic community. When students see that there are staff and faculty members who share their experiences, they may feel more empowered to embrace their own unique identities and pursue their academic goals.
Ultimately, my goal with this post is to encourage honesty, representation, and empowerment in academia. By working together to create a more inclusive and supportive community, we can help everyone feel like they belong and have the tools they need to succeed.
My Diagnosis and Journey
After quietly struggling with various challenges for years, including difficulties focusing, managing time, personal organization, imposter syndrome, maintaining and developing friendships, and intense social anxiety, I decided to seek professional help. I reached out for a comprehensive psychological evaluation in February 2022, as my anxiety had become crippling and was negatively affecting my relationships and job performance. The waiting list for that evaluation was months long but I eventually underwent an assessment in August and had to wait until September for the results. When the results finally came in, I discovered that I had Generalized Anxiety Disorder, which I had expected, and ADHD, which was not a surprise. However, I was shocked to learn that I had "Autism Spectrum Disorder" ("level 1," previously called "Aspergers Syndrome").
The first few days post-diagnosis were difficult, as I struggled to come to terms with this new understanding of myself ("there's NO WAY I'm Autistic!" was the main thought). However, I ultimately realized that so much of my childhood and adult life finally made sense in light of my ADHD and Autism diagnoses and that this new self-knowledge was valuable, and would allow me to better understand my strengths, limitations, and personal quirks. Now that I have a better understanding of my neurodivergent identity, I am grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences and empower others who may be struggling with similar challenges. I hope that by speaking openly about my diagnosis, I can help create a more inclusive and supportive community in the places where I work and live.
In the future, I hope to share some personal experiences and challenges that I have faced as a result of these conditions, including difficulties with communication, sensory overload, and time management. I will also offer future reflections on how these challenges have impacted my career and academic journey, and how I have learned to embrace my differences.
Empowering Students with Neurodivergent Identities
I am fully convinced that students must see people who represent the groups with which they identify living and succeeding in the spaces in which they live, work, and play. For years I've been open to students about my status as a first-generation student and academic, my experience as a mature (and married with kids!) undergrad, and my (until recently undiagnosed but still very real) anxiety. I know that many students will find these details to be irrelevant to them and our course but I share these details because if they allow even one student to recognize a point of connection, I know that this can make a lasting impact on their success inside and outside of the classroom.
For students with learning difficulties, mental health struggles, and neurodiversity, seeing representations of others that share these traits helps to create a more inclusive and accepting environment. When students see staff and faculty members who share their experiences and challenges, they may feel more comfortable discussing their struggles and seeking help. Furthermore, by openly discussing our neurodivergent identities, we can help to break down stigmas and misconceptions about neurodiversity. This can help create a more informed and compassionate community, where all individuals are valued and supported. When students see that there are staff and faculty members who have overcome similar challenges, they may feel empowered to pursue their academic (and other) goals. Seeing the representation of neurodivergent individuals in academia can also help to challenge stereotypes and biases about what it means to be successful in an academic context.
Ultimately, it is essential for all individuals to feel seen and valued in academia. By working together to create a more inclusive and accepting community, we can help ensure that everyone has the tools they need to succeed. As a professor with a neurodivergent identity, I hope to play a role in promoting honesty, representation, and empowerment in academia. This is my primary motivation for disclosing my own neurodivergence.
In the future I will share some strategies that have helped me succeed as a neurodivergent academic or (more likely) that I should have followed to succeed, including seeking accommodations, building a support network, and embracing my unique strengths. Inside and outside of class, including in posts here, I will continue to encourage students who may be struggling with similar issues to seek help and support, and to embrace their own neurodivergent identities.
Moving Toward a More Inclusive Academic Community
There are several steps we can take to move toward a more inclusive academic community, especially for students with mental health, learning difficulties, and neurodivergent conditions. Some of these steps include:
- Providing accommodations: We can work to ensure that students with mental health, learning difficulties, and neurodivergent conditions have access to the resources and accommodations they need to succeed. This may include things like extended time on exams, note-taking assistance, or alternative assignments.
- Educating faculty and staff: We can provide training and resources to faculty and staff to help them better understand the challenges faced by students (and colleagues at every level of academic institutions) with mental health, learning difficulties, and neurodivergent conditions. This can help create a more informed and compassionate community.
- Encouraging openness and disclosure: We can create an environment where students feel comfortable disclosing their mental health, learning difficulties, and neurodivergent conditions. This can help students receive the support and accommodations they need, and can also help to break down stigmas and misconceptions. My disclosure is one way in which I am actively pursuing this step.
- Creating support networks: We can work to create support networks for students with mental health, learning difficulties, and neurodivergent conditions. This may include peer support groups, mentorship programs, and access to mental health professionals.
- Promoting diversity and representation: We can work to promote diversity and representation in academia by highlighting the contributions of individuals with mental health, learning difficulties, and neurodivergent conditions. This can help create a more inclusive and accepting academic community. Again, my personal disclosure is designed to meaningfully contribute to this essential step.
By taking these steps and working together to create a more inclusive academic community, we can help ensure that all students have the resources and support they need to succeed. Universities have become relatively good at some of these steps, but there remains room for improvement in every area.
As a neurodivergent individual myself, I know how isolating it can be to feel like you're the only one who thinks or behaves differently. That's why I'm calling on my fellow neurodivergent peers to share their diagnoses, difficulties, and experiences. By speaking out and sharing our stories, we can promote greater understanding and acceptance of neurodiversity in academic, work, and other contexts. Together, we can break down the barriers that keep us from feeling like we belong and create a more inclusive world for all.