A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Patriot Profile: Christine M. Condo

By Colleen Kearney Rich on December 7, 2021

Year: Graduate Student

Major: English, Professional and Technical Writing

In March 2020, just as the pandemic was beginning, Christine Condo published an essay in the Washington Post that changed her life. Thousands of people reacted to the George Mason University graduate student’s piece titled “‘You Don’t Look Autistic’: The Reality of High-Functioning Autism.” Some of those comments were from people saying “you just described my life,” which was something Condo had aimed for as an autism advocate, but it still surprised her.

Mason graduate student Christine Condo is pursuing a master’s degree in disability communication and wrote a column for the Washington Post about wearing a mask and social distancing as an autistic person. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

RAISING AWARENESS: Condo says that not only is autism misunderstood, but it is largely underdiagnosed, especially in women, people of color, and in other cultures. Many people have a stereotypical view of what someone with autism looks like—often a white male. It was this stereotype that drove Condo to write the essay.

GETTING DIAGNOSED: Condo wasn’t diagnosed until 2015. She made it through public school systems and two bachelor’s degrees without anyone realizing that there was something different about the way she processed information. “The more I learn [about autism], the more I think about my struggles growing up when I thought I wasn’t trying hard enough, or I wasn’t paying enough attention.”

A BRILLIANT DISGUISE: When Condo talks about wearing a “disguise,” she is speaking about the challenges of appearing “neurotypical,” which can be physically and emotionally exhausting. “So many of us are faking it,” she says. “I get tired of the comments like ‘you don’t look autistic’ because it minimizes the experiences that I’ve had my whole life and the amount of work that goes into that disguise and how psychologically painful it can be to have to hide who you really are.”

SPEAKING OUT: Condo has made it her mission to change the dialogue about autism, and to that end, her research and thesis are devoted to this topic. “My focus has been on how language helps create the world we live in,” she says. “If we can change the way people talk about autism, we can change the way people think about autism.” In addition, she published another article in the Washington Post in February 2021 titled “I’m Autistic. I’m Hoping I Can Wear a Mask for the Rest of My Life.”

DEALING WITH A PARADOX: Condo writes about what she calls the “Autism Paradox.” “If we stop hiding our autism, then we won’t be employable,” she says. But if you hide it too well, “then people are like, ‘Well, you’re not really autistic. You don’t need any accommodations.’”

WHEN YOUR DISABILITY ISN’T OBVIOUS: Condo’s concern extends to what she calls “invisible disabilities,” which she believes are probably one of the next hurdles for the United States. There’s been a lot of progress on getting accommodations for physical disabilities, she says, “But there’s this huge cohort of people like me whose disabilities aren’t apparent, such as low vision or hard of hearing. There’s no place for us in the disability laws.”

‘GETTING IT’: Still, Condo considers herself lucky. She has a partner and a family who support her and her advocacy work, including her sister, Andrea Kendall, a licensed clinical social worker “who gets it” and is a therapist for teens and young women with autism. Condo and her sister are working to share their research at conferences as venues begin to reopen.

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