National Journal reporter Eric Garcia recalls vividly showing up at a U.S. Senate Finance Committee hearing as a very green reporter, sitting at the press table and suddenly blurting out a question to Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah as Hatch was exiting the room.
A security officer quickly warned that he’d be arrested for disrupting a hearing if he did that again. Hatch did respond to the question but, Garcia recalls, the response was lost in a haze of humiliation.
Nobody except Garia realized that he’s on the autism spectrum and can fail to pick up on normal social cues.
“Now, you may be wondering” about this, he writes in a poignant and revealing but far from self-pitying or sentimental essay, “I’m Not Broken”: If somebody has such difficulties with social situations key to his trade, “why would he become a reporter, which by definition requires interaction with others?”
In sum, the 24-year-old answers his rhetorical question with this: “Then you also should know that another symptom of being on the autism spectrum is a narrow and sharp interest in subjects that can border on the obsessive. For me, one of those interests is American politics. Which means that while autism makes my job as a political reporter tougher, it also, in some ways, makes it easier: My ability to myopically focus on singular subjects helps me to learn about things like the intricacies of tax policy or the latest polling numbers coming out of Iowa.”
The piece is not just a personal essay but also an analysis of the public discussion of autism, its politics, the stigma often attached to it and what he believes is the need for more people to be candid about their autism.
As Ron Fournier, a star National Journal colleague, said simply Friday about the piece, “It floored me.” Fournier has a son who is on the autism spectrum. It helps explain why Garcia’s story “gives me hope. More than that, it might help make me a better parent. At least I hope so.”
By coincidence, Friday is Garcia’s last day at National Journal, where he’s covered economic policy and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat. He’ll be heading to Roll Call, where he’ll join its politics team. What may well be his final, lengthy National Journal opus concludes:
I know that my life isn’t for everyone and that my version of autism isn’t universal. There are many with daily struggles that are much tougher than my own. But as I reflect on my fortune, all I hope is that society can stop thinking of autism exclusively as a disease and start paying attention to how the actual lives of those with autism are unfolding. Those of us with autism want simply to live the most fulfilling lives we can. Some of us might welcome a cure, but some of us are more than content with who we are. And we all deserve our own pusuit of happiness.