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  • Writer's pictureFletcher Consulting

When It’s Close To Us

Our biases remain in place until we have a personal experience that overturns them.

Not long ago, my daughter told me she was getting tested for autism. 

“Honey, you’re 28!” I said. “Why do you want to get tested? Wouldn’t we know by now if you were autistic?”


She said her therapist had recommended it. “I think it might explain some things,” she said.


My first reaction to my daughter wanting to get tested was surprise. My brain brought forward a picture of what “autistic” looks like (all based on stereotypes), none of which matched my view of my daughter. 

The tests confirmed that she is on the Autism Spectrum —what they used to call Asperger's Syndrome. 

Once she received a diagnosis, I realized that I need to deepen my understanding of autism. Although I talk about neurodiversity as part of my DEI work, my knowledge is neither deep nor wide. 

Then I wondered: why hadn’t I deepened my awareness before now? 

For many of us, it takes being proximate to a situation to make us care enough to want to learn more and to attend to any biases we might hold. 

Rob Portman, the Republican senator from Ohio, comes to mind. He was one of the most vocal opponents of marriage equality a decade ago—until his son came out. 

Senator Portman had been advocating for policies that restricted and endangered people. Only when he learned that one of the people harmed was his own child did he see that clearly.

Our biases remain in place—shaping our choices—until we have a personal experience that overturns them. 

A friend of mine told me about a colleague who was frustrating him—missing emotional cues, provoking awkward interactions, failing to respond to feedback. My friend had started to avoid him, leaving him out of projects and even gossiping about how “difficult” he was.

Then someone suggested that the colleague was demonstrating characteristics of some forms of autism. 

My friend was mortified that he had assumed his colleague was unprofessional and scatter-brained. But the new knowledge helped him set aside his own feelings of awkwardness and see his colleague’s many strengths and skills more clearly. 

My friend also found more effective ways to interact with his colleague. He focused on changing his own behaviors, rather than expecting his colleague to adapt.

That positive shift is paying dividends. I think this is the right approach as we work to create inclusive spaces. We don’t need to do everything in the same way. We need to find ways to collaborate and interact effectively so that we have the benefit of all our strengths.

I’m proud of my daughter for getting tested and embracing this diagnosis. And I’m learning so much from her and from the books she’s recommended. 

I have no doubt that what I learn will improve my professional and social interactions. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.”

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