72: Finding My Inner Spectrum

72: Finding My Inner Spectrum

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Finding My Inner Spectrum

If I could snap my fingers and be nonautistic, I would not. Autism is part of what I am.

~Temple Grandin

My autism was discovered when I went to the doctor for a concern about depression that really wasn’t depression. One hour into our session, the doctor said, “Have you ever considered the possibility that you have autism?”

I had not considered this possibility. For the last eight years, I had been raising a child with autism. The autism with communication and social impairment. The poop in your pants and spread it all over the walls autism. The I’m never going to grow up and go to college autism. I always ignored the possibility of my own spectrumy behavior, because I had been dealt the hand of being the mother of a child on the spectrum, and didn’t really have time to worry about what was causing my issues.

There are three things that make one autistic. They are a social impairment, restrictive and repetitive behavior, and a communication impairment. You look at me, interact with me, and say, how could that be? I will be the first to admit that I’m socially inept. I cannot read people. I cannot tell if you like me or dislike me. I always assume that you don’t like me, unless you straight out tell me that you like me. I also have a significant lack of empathy. I can pretend to be empathetic, but I really am not, and most times I’m a horrible actor. I actually make checklists to remember to ask my friends how their grandmothers are faring, how their children are doing, and whether everything went okay at that last IEP meeting. These checklists are on my smartphone, sometimes hanging on my fridge, and many times simply memorized. I lack empathy, but at least I have a photographic memory. I also have to constantly remind myself that people are not interested in my obsessions, whether it’s weather, Star Wars, or running.

Don’t even get me started on restrictive, repetitive behavior. I run marathons, and weeks prior to my races, I will write out my running schedules, my menus, my shopping lists, what I’m wearing if the weather is a, b, or c. If something goes wrong with my schedule, I can’t cope. If anything goes wrong with any number of things in my schedule, I end up doing nothing, but pace back and forth through my home. It’s a miracle that I get anything done. Besides my running schedule, I’m very restrictive about my menu. I can’t eat vegetables that have the same colors two days in a row. I can’t have meat from the same animal two days in a row. Leftovers are eaten with a day between when they are served, as to not break the rule of eating the same foods two days back to back. When I get pulled over, I cry, not to get out of the ticket, but because I feel so guilty about breaking a rule.

The last autistic trait was the one I had most difficulty coming to terms with, and one that I still struggle with. I don’t comprehend spoken words well, specifically instructions. When I was in the military, this made my life, and the life of the people who worked with me, absolute hell. I did not understand verbal instructions. I would repeatedly ask for clarification. Not only did I have issues with spoken communication, I also had issues expressively communicating. Needless to say, I have a lot of regrets about serving in the military. I loved my job, I loved the people I worked for, but I feel like I let everyone down, because I was not smart enough, or good enough to realize that my weaknesses would have ultimately not qualified me for military service.

So there you have it. I am a mother with a child who is moderately autistic, dealing with autism myself. A lot of my family and my friends would prefer that I keep this to myself. They fear that I open myself up to scrutiny about how good of a mother I am, about whether or not I am capable of handling this condition and my son’s condition, and they fear that I will ultimately be unfairly judged because I am open about my condition. Some family members discount my diagnosis as being just quirky. I am quirky. I have decided that if people want to judge me at face value, they will. Mothers are judged incredibly harshly on a daily basis by other mothers. I’m no different.

The main reason I have been open about my condition is to provide hope. Although it certainly isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, autism is not a death sentence. Having a diagnosis does not mean that your life is over, or that you cannot find happiness, peace, and love. I have found all these things, despite having an Asperger’s diagnosis. I have been happily married for fifteen years, I am college educated, and I have two wonderful children. Only one child has autism; my daughter is typical.

I also want to share the importance of diagnosing even the cases of Asperger’s and autism that are high functioning. Even though I lived my life for thirty-five years without knowing I had a form of autism, knowing now gives me a sense of accomplishment. I have persevered despite having something considered a disability.

For a long time, I thought of myself as less of a person, because I just wasn’t good enough or smart enough; now I know there is a reason why some things came harder to me than most people. I feel that I am intelligent, vital, and can contribute to society. I don’t face the challenges my son faces, but Asperger’s does present some challenges in and of itself.

If I had known about my condition as a teenager or young adult, I think that I would have benefited from a few of the services that my son currently receives. I think I would have been a better person, a better employee, and a better leader if I had some of the coping mechanisms, knowledge, and support children are getting now.

My diagnosis does not reflect on my child’s diagnosis. We are all individuals — people with autism are not a “we.” Each and every person with autism is an individual with hopes, dreams, loves, hates, frustrations, and aspirations. My son will benefit from the therapies that were not available to me as he pursues his individual path.

~J. Vetter

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