Time for another interview with an Aspie! M.L., a soon-to-be mother of four, shares her personal insights on Autism.
TPM : When did you first find out you were on the Autism Spectrum?
M.L. : In 10th grade I did a book report on Donna Williams’ book “Nobody Nowhere”. Although I have not read the book since, and can’t recall exactly what it was that I had remarked on, I do remember clearly the little niggle at the back of my mind when I commented to a friend that I thought Donna Williams was reaching a bit to find ways she was different. I thought it quite reasonable that she must have had a strong need to feel a sense of personal identity (hence the title of her book), and could understand searching for what made her ‘her’, but I didn’t give any credit to certain descriptions of how she experienced the world because I thought “that’s not Autism, everyone is like that.”
And in the back of my mind there was a little thought: “On what grounds can I say that everyone has the same experience? What if…” and at that point I brushed the thought aside. I had chosen the book, however, because of a long-standing fascination with Autism, because I had always felt that somehow, in a very little way, I could relate to Autistic people, and maybe if I understood them I might understand why I was different. I knew when I was 5 years old that I was different, but I thought I must really be some special kind of stupid.
Later, in my early 20s, I gradually came to the realization that the statement I got in college out of a learning assessment of “Autistic traits” might be accurate–and that perhaps the rather lengthy list of sensory and cognitive differences on my report could be more simply summarized by the term ‘Asperger’s Syndrome’. I still did not feel like the term “Aspie” could ever in any way define me, and had no desire to seek a formal assessment, but I thought of my secret knowledge like a secret weapon.
I worked with children on the spectrum, and I worked well with them because the things they did made sense to me, but I did not want any of my colleagues or the parents of the students to guess the real reason why I was so comfortable working with those children. (I loved those kids! They were so amazing, and I felt like it was such a privilege that they accepted me as they did.)
TPM: How did you feel when you found out?
M.L. : I didn’t have a sort of light-bulb moment that I recall, but I started telling myself that I wasn’t stupid, I wasn’t defective, I wasn’t just Gifted/Learning Disabled (my official label), and it took years before I started to really believe I was not those things. I felt vindicated, like I had a false sentence lifted.
TPM: Name something you like about being on the Spectrum.
M.L. : I love the way I am able to experience the world. I can get right into a moment or an experience like I am part of it. I can do it with ideas, with sensory experiences, or with objects, by allowing my awareness to focus and deepen until nothing else intrudes. Most of the time I can’t allow myself to do that, now that I am a parent and need to keep my wider awareness switched on at all times. But knowing I can do it is comforting, like I know I have a secret world to escape to if I need it. I kind of suspect that when other people use illicit drugs, or struggle for years to learn deep meditation, they are in search of some kind of experience like that, because they don’t know how to just alter their own experience of the world at will.
TPM: What do you struggle with as a Spectrum parent?
M.L. : Sensory overload. My children are all high-energy, and sometimes the noise and movement is too much, and it gets all too much, too fast, too loud. That’s when Mama gets a time-out (we don’t do time-out as a punishment).
TPM: Do you have any advice for other ASD parents?
M.L. : Embrace your spectrum-ness. I think the family I grew up in and the family I am now raising are both awesome. We’re all a little different, and I love us exactly the way we are. People are pretty amazing in general, and it’s what makes people different from each other that adds such richness to the world. Don’t stress over failings or struggles, focus on your strengths.
TPM: What is one way that ASD makes you a better parent?
M.L. : I think I’d have to say two ways here: First of all, I can understand my children and give them the whole-hearted message that they are perfectly acceptable as they are. I want to send them out into the world with the confidence that they will find their own niche in the world where they will be treasured and accepted for who they are.
Secondly, I guess it’s kind of an all-or-nothing way of thinking, but I really struggle with doing a sub-par job on anything, including parenting. Right now this is my job, so I work at learning and developing skills and doing the best job I can, just as I would do for any other current job or interest.
TPM : Is there anything about Autism that you’d like to tell non-Autistic people?
M.L. : I am not defective. There are things that I truly struggle with, even if it’s hard for you to understand (like the fact that no amount of driving lessons are going to fix my visual-spatial perception and allow me to drive a car). But that’s just the way I am, and I’m not broken or less worthwhile as a person because of it.
Thanks to ML for sharing her perspective and tips!
Would you like to share your voice on the blog? If you would be interested in answering a few short questions for an interview like this one, please let me know in a comment below, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!