The part I remember the most was that I actually had a friend over. She’d come over as my friend, wanting to hang out and do stuff with me. For the first time ever I could have someone in my room to share my toys and activities. I sat on the floor beside my closet and happily showed off my favourite books and toys. Then I asked her a question and got silence for an answer. I looked up and she was gone.
My heart pounded. I was positive she’d just been there a second ago. Where could she have gone? My room was silent… the hallway empty. I raced downstairs and ran into the kitchen.
“Mom! Mom! My friend just disappeared!”
My Mom gave me this sad smile. “Michelle, she’s right here,” she said as she pointed over to the table. There was my friend sitting calmly eating a snack. “She’s been downstairs for at least ten minutes.”
I don’t remember anything about that friend. I have no idea what her name was, her hair colour, or how we’d even met. What I do remember was the soul crushing shame as I realized I’d sat alone for at least ten minutes talking to myself. The realization that the things I was interested in really were boring and pointless.
I was the kid who collected worms off the side of the road so they wouldn’t drown. Who skipped instead of walked. Who sang in school. Who daydreamed through math class and read through everything else. Who took forever to get dressed because clothes were too finicky and the seams too uncomfortable. Who couldn’t wear jeans. Who couldn’t bounce on a pogo stick even once but could climb to the top of the tallest tree. Who struggled to ride a bike and tie my shoes but could run super-fast. Who hated water on my face but loved swimming underwater. Who mistook a classmate for my own sister because their faces were similar. Who forgets what their own sister looks like? Who can’t tell faces apart that badly? It was even more embarrassing than my Mom drilling me on my classmates faces after picture day and realizing I couldn’t name a single one.
One thing my Mom remembers about my childhood is how well I could hear. As a toddler I recognized my Dad’s step because his knee clicked slightly and, when I was a bit older, I recognized his car by the pitch of the engine. Right now I can hear the hum of my netbook’s fan and the clicking of the CPU. I can hear the cars on the road a block away and my cats breathing. Jeremy chatting in zir room. The faint hum of my ceiling lamp (thankfully not the whine of some fluorescent bulbs). People walking upstairs and moving a chair. I’m reasonably sure most people would say it’s quiet. Sometimes I plug my ears when I’m out. The sounds can get painful.
The school worried about me when I was little and so did my parents. I was sent to Sick Kids for testing in the mid 1970’s and the doctor gave my parents the very scientific results; I’m a square peg in a round hole. He went on to ask them not to let the school board chip my corners off. I wonder how that would fit in an IEP.
I tried to fit in for years, mimicking people’s behaviours and conversational techniques. The end result was an ever present label of “weird”. I talked funny. I sounded like a college professor. I finally gave up on trying to fit in because there doesn’t seem to be much point when the end result is the same. Most jokes confuse me, the raunchy ones especially. I love elephant jokes. They don’t hurt anyone and they make sense. My best social interactions happen online.
The first time the word “autism” intersected with my life was when Jeremy was a toddler and zir occupational therapist brought it up casually. The images my mind dredged up were vague impressions of head banging, rocking, and screaming. My happy, social child didn’t fit any of that. Then the school brought it up and finally Amy. Three separate times was enough to make me do some more investigating and, by the time zie turned seven, I was determined to get zir into testing. Jeremy was diagnosed through the school less than a year later.
Then people started using the word against me, this time as an insult. Amy, who insisted that I should get Jeremy diagnosed because she worked with autistic youths and knew the symptoms, was the first.
You’re so fucking autistic, Michelle. You have no idea how to relate to people.
I looked at Jeremy, who was friendly, helpful, and honest. Amy threw autism like it was an insult but there was nothing wrong with my child. However, she was right in one way; being a square peg in a round hole isn’t a diagnosis… neither is being weird. I joined a group for autistic women on Facebook, explaining honestly that I don’t have an official diagnosis. One immediately posted an online test. This was my result.
Jeremy and I are on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist who does talk therapy. I’m hoping he’ll be able to help Jeremy with zir anxiety and I’m hoping he’ll be able to help me with my depression and an actual diagnosis.
For now I need to remind myself that the things I like aren’t weird, boring, or pointless… they’re just uncommon. Because I need to be kind to myself too.