ENMU Graduate Student's '10 Things Faculty Need to Understand About Autism' Article Published by Inside Higher Ed

Maggie Coughlin
Maggie Coughlin

ENMU Graduate Student's '10 Things Faculty Need to Understand About Autism' Article Published by Inside Higher Ed

Maggie Coughlin, a communication graduate student at Eastern New Mexico University, recently had an article titled "10 Things Faculty Need to Understand About Autism" published by Inside Higher Ed.

The Greyhound discusses the research process for the article, professors who have served as mentors and more with the ENMU News.

maggie coughlin teaching lesson

What inspired your article? What was your creative and research process? What was the publishing process?

The world – and higher ed in particular – doesn't hear enough about autism from the inside – from people who are, as we say on social media, #ActuallyAutistic. As someone who is on the spectrum and has also been on both sides of the classroom – and on the staff side too, for that matter – I'm in a unique position to help educate faculty, staff, neurotypical students and others about what learning is like when you're autistic as well as the ways we need support and understanding. Frankly, I just sat down and wrote the article, proofread it and pitched it. I've published several hundred articles over the years, so that part was easy. Inside Higher Ed accepted the submission and that was that.

What does it mean to you to have this article published? What is an outcome you hope to see from having this article and its important subject matter published?

This article is a really big deal because I've historically been told that autism, as a topic, doesn't appeal broadly enough. That's a vastly misguided opinion, however. The very reason so few people really understand autism is because we don't talk about it nearly enough and, when we do, autistic voices aren't included. I hope that this article will open doors for other autistic folks, and I also hope it will help kindle interest in a deeper, more identity-affirming approach to thinking about and dealing with autism in higher ed. I've already been approached by a few community colleges about professional development workshops for faculty, and I hope to do more of that kind of educational work in the future as well.

maggie coughlin with partner

advice would you give to students who are interested in having articles/research published?

The big one is always to know your audience. Don't pitch out to pubs that don't publish what you're selling, and make sure the pub you pitch didn't just do a story on the topic you're pitching. Beyond that, stay genuine and think a lot. Look for things that matter to you and figure out how they can matter to other people. Consider what part of your story – or your research – can make a difference in people's lives and what's unique about it. Never lose sight of what makes your work special or why it's important. And, as an English instructor, I have to add, please, for the love, work on your craft and pay attention to grammar!

Are you working on any additional research or academic projects like presentations at conferences or more articles?

I won't publish in scholarly journals. For one thing, I've been a working writer for far too long, and this business of not paying people for work because that would somehow make it less scholarly is bunk.

Also, however, the scholarly journals (and most IRBs) require writers/researchers to use person-first language (person with autism), which I also refuse to do. The vast majority of adults on the spectrum express strong preferences for identity-first/identity-affirming language (autistic person). I'm not interested in publishing with anyone who makes me say I "have" autism in the way people have some earrings – or worse, have a devastating disease like cancer. So I don't see that kind of research or publication in my future. I am working for articles for non-scholarly pubs, however, and I'm now fairly deep into a memoir that's had some interest.

maggie coughlin with partner

What is your field of study? Why did you choose that field of study?

At ENMU, I'm pursuing an MA in Communication. I already hold an MA in Liberal Studies with an English concentration and an MA of Humanities with a visual arts concentration, and I currently teach English and Humanities at the community college level. I spent much of my career in communications strategy and professional writing, and I've done a ton of public speaking, so I thought it would be fun to be able to teach speech and comm as well.

Why did you choose to attend ENMU?

Everyone is always surprised that I found – let alone picked – ENMU given I'm in Georgia, but I wanted something very specific, and ENMU fit the bill. It's fully online, which is obviously a must, and it's also reasonably priced, but it is also very down-to-earth and practical, and it doesn't compel students to focus overmuch on mass media, which most grad-level comm programs today do. I'm far more interested in the interpersonal side, particularly in terms of workplace success and team building.

I like helping people learn to communicate more effectively so they can get more done with less stress and wind up getting more of what they most want out of life and career. I've bought mass and written for mass and managed mass vendors in my career. I've done PR and crisis comm and marketing and pretty much everything else. None of it is nearly as much fun as helping individuals learn to communicate better.

Which professors have helped mentor you during your time at ENMU?

Patricia Dobson is everything. She's one of the two really tremendous professors I've had so far through my entire college career. As you'd expect from a good journalist, she's really focused on what the student wants to achieve and where student interest lies. That's not always the case. It's also quite clear that she genuinely does care. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd be writing the memoir if it hadn't been for interacting with her. I've appreciated her very much over the last year.

maggie coughlin with pet at park

What has been your favorite class at ENMU?

I'm only three courses in, but so far, it's Feature Writing, which I have this semester. At my age (I'm about to be 49) and level of experience, I have very specific and focused interests. I love that this course allows me to practice my craft and learn from an expert while making progress on projects I really care about. As a working adult with limited bandwidth, that's extremely important to me.

What is your favorite part about being a Greyhound?

Almost everyone I've spoken with or worked with at ENMU has been knowledgeable and helpful – and nice. I've been around a lot of campuses and that's not always the case, particularly when you're a distance student. Also – and I realize this is not the kind of response you're likely looking for – most institutions have horrific branding and terrible logos. ENMU makes merch my Gen X self is willing to wear.

Tell us about your family and background.

Oh boy. Well, my grandfather was the leader of an Irish street gang in inner-city Boston who ended up with multiple patents for underwater welding processes and equipment despite having only a high school diploma, and my grandmother was a cowgirl raised on the second-largest horse ranch in Wyoming.

My mother was a theatre major who used to wear huge bells and once gave one to horror legend Vincent Price – and she literally ran away with the carnival to run the duck pond when she met my father. My godmother was a professional clown.

maggie coughlin photo

I was a Montessori kid in the mid-seventies who started first grade in Catholic school about the time my mother became Baptist. So…I grew up differently than most. I moved to Georgia from Ohio with my first husband on a coin flip. He'd just finished undergrad, and I was 20. I stopped out after a couple of semesters in Georgia, had a smashing and varied career, got divorced, got remarried, published a dozen romance novels, became the director of communications for a public doc comp, went back and finished a BS and then my first master's, got divorced again, renovated a couple of houses and then moved from metro Atlanta to middle GA two years ago and started teaching full time and working on my second master's… just in time for the pandemic to hit.

I bought a townhome in February and just finished renovating it, so now I live there quietly with my aging AmStaff terrier/cattle dog mix, Jazzy. I do have a marvelous boyfriend/partner, but we like our own space, and the dogs aren't compatible, so we live in our own homes ten minutes apart. Human kids? No offense, but no thanks.

Tell us about your career.

That's a doozy too. To sum up, besides teaching and working in communications, I've been in industrial sales, project management and marketing. I consulted for much of my career, both as an operations and communications strategist and a leadership trainer/coach. I've sold a few hundred articles, written a textbook and test bank for hire, crafted a few corporate histories and wrote more installation and policy and procedure manuals than anyone other than me would enjoy. I built the second-largest merchant-owned ATM (cash machine) network in the country, co-developed a few award-winning brands and campaigns and taught ballroom dance.

maggie coughlin duo