Friday, February 15, 2019

“I never dreamed I might be autistic until about a year ago. I grew up hearing my family call autism a fake disorder, mock low-functioning children for being 'badly behaved’ and mock their parents for preferring a disability to discipline.

I always knew I was weird. I blamed myself, thought I needed to try harder - not be so lazy - and I'd realize the secret everybody else in my world seemed to know, but which I could never quite grasp. The secret that let them be happy together, talk together - almost as if there was a teleprompter somewhere, they could all see, and I couldn't.

I copied desperately. I'd even take notes - in private hieroglyphs in case anyone else found them. After we'd had guests, I'd go away into my room and repeat the conversations over and over again trying to make sense of them. If everything I said was wrong, there must be a right thing to say. I would analyze my own parts in conversation, and try to understand why I'd given offence, why I'd come across wrong. I'd simulate conversations and practice what to say. But I'd have just as little success the next time around.

I learnt tricks to fake it. I would let people ask me a few questions, answer them, and then go back and ask them the same questions, two or three steps behind hoping they wouldn't notice. But there was only so far, I could go. I would descend into terror, beginning to rush my words, and say ever more inappropriate things. I could realize with hindsight that it had been inappropriate, but at the time, it seemed the only thing to do.

I was punished for using bad words in front of visitors. I had no idea they were forbidden. I'd heard my dad use them. My parents couldn't believe I didn't realize.

Before I was eight, I used to borrow my father's books - plays, dialogues - and analyze them line by line, trying to find this elusive secret. Shakespeare, I enjoyed, but wasn't very helpful - I tried to imagine what I'd have said if I'd been Valentine or Lærtes or Juliet. I'd have certainly gotten stabbed, or scared Romeo away forever. Prince Hal was a particular puzzle - how glibly and efficiently he managed to change his father's opinion of him.

Oscar Wilde was far more useful. I must have read The Importance of being Earnest a hundred times. The egotistical monologues were far easier to follow. I developed a keen quirky sense of humor and a rather too acerbic wit.

Most useful was Plato. I first learnt a wonderful technique that still serves me well. I call it alternate monologuing. Socrates would induce an opponent to debate him by approaching him with a request for knowledge or information. People like to be learned from. And they like to be listened to. If you listen very attentively, they will usually feel an obligation to listen back to you. Taking five-minute turns at talking is so much less stressful. It doesn't work in every situation of course, but it has let me have intellectual relationships with people I'd otherwise have invariably only quarreled with.

But I still had no idea there was anything wrong with me. After all, my only experience of anything has always been from inside myself. How was I to know that from the outside, others didn't feel like I did - or even, terrifying thought, that from the outside I didn't look like others. I was home schooled until I was fifteen, for which I am very grateful. It allowed be to blossom in all the right directions, especially when my parents got too busy and let me regulate the last three or four years by myself.

I reveled in dream worlds - worlds where thoughts could be conveyed without speech and there were no misunderstandings. Worlds where people sorted out their differences lovingly. Worlds where there was no need to stand head bowed in terror before someone and apologize for a crime you didn't know you had committed.

My father could not accept that I didn't mean to offend him on a daily basis. I was constantly chid for rude looks and tones, told that as a girl it was my duty to look happy. I was ugly when I didn't smile. I was rude when I didn't want to be caressed. I didn't know my place. I would ask rude questions.

I struggled through school. I made a few friends, but within a month they didn't want to be with me anymore. I sat in a classroom at lunch listening to music. I (wrongly, I think now) blamed it all on having been homeschooled. I thought I'd learn to be normal one day.

I never did. I went to university, my first few weeks were happy - it was a small cohort, and no one knew anyone else. I was just another sausage in the soup. But then friendships started being made, groups forming, and before I even noticed, I was the outsider again.

Then one day I read another adult discussing living with Asperger’s. Every word resonated, my heart skipped a beat, as if I'd suddenly met my doppelganger. I got online and realized with a kind of ecstasy that there were millions of other ones in the world.

I'd lived all my life thinking there was something wrong with me and I was weird. And now I realized that I was indeed weird and had something wrong with me. But I was normal - a perfectly normal abnormal person.

It's been strange journey since then. I'm me and there's nothing I can do about it, so I'd better enjoy it. I am stopping caring that others think me weird because I am weird and it's no longer something to feel guilt over. Maybe one day I'll want to become more social again, but for now, I'm happy inside myself. I'm not even going to try to tell my family. But I have a little sister who might be like me, and I'll keep an eye on her as she grows. I'm twenty-one now, and in twelve months I'll be a doctor. I'm making music and writing a book. I'm going to have a useful life.”


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