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Autism Is My Constant Companion

I suppose I will not forget the 12-year-old girl who months ago caused me to suspect I was on the autism spectrum. Her behavior reminded me of creating my own world and talking to imaginary characters, at times pacing the floor.

I’ve lived with autism all my life, but I didn’t know its name until after the 12-year-old and I crossed paths. Now that we’ve been formally introduced, I am aware that it doesn’t leave my side. I recognize it playing its invisible role as I go about the business of living. It is my constant companion, and it is invisible to those around me.

I am sitting in a church classroom. I am a first-time visitor. It was no small task for me to come into the room where there was no familiar face. The people seem nice enough, though. But the hour is up. It is time to leave, but the teacher isn’t done yet. Her talking becomes static noise to me. I stifle my impulse to leave. I imitate the “proper” behavior of those around me. I want to “stim” — rock back and forth, boggle my knees, pace the floor — but that would draw unwanted attention. Finally, she’s done and the class is over. I head out the door breathing a tremendous sigh of relief.

I’ve played this scene countless times. My experiences are for the most part invisible. The turbulent storm with its pouring rain, lightning streaks, and thunder claps are all inside of me. I don’t announce to the group I’d rather flee than to continue pretending I am fully engaged. I try to stifle the impulse to stim. I work hard at pretending to be “normal” until I can get to that safe zone where I can take the mask off.

As far as I know, I learned to talk on the same schedule as my peers. I did well in school grade-wise. Since I wasn’t graded on my social interaction skills, that never came up. Some of my teachers might have suspected something but not enough of a something to warrant seeking a diagnosis of whatever that something was.

I suspect there are a lot of people who are living on the spectrum who don’t know they are. It took me 58 years, the right job as a special education aide, and a 12-year-old to introduce me to my lifelong companion who is no longer invisible to me.

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