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We Are an Atypical Family

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We are not a typical family. A neurotypical family, that is. We are an atypical family, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I met my significant other back in 2009. When I met him, I knew he was different. He came across as stoic, rigid and had a certain tone to his voice. I liked him, a lot. He was fascinating.

We spoke in that coffee shop for hours about astronomy, English literature, and psychics. It was the best first date I had ever had. Nothing was boring or mundane about our meeting.

In the course of our relationship, we discovered that we have both been diagnosed in our youth with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). We had a lot to talk about.

We spoke about our life experiences. He spoke about how much he had been bullied — so much that he had a child physically break a bone in his sternum. I told him of the story of the girl in middle school who told me she wanted to fix my hair and then stuck gum in it while braiding it.

I spoke about how I had problems interacting with people. Not that I couldn’t, I was extroverted in certain crowds, but I had to know the person directly. I spoke about how I realized I had to emulate certain people’s behaviors to get the results I wanted in life. I studied people and gleaned from them what was most useful.

He agreed with this approach. In high school, he was into drama. He would land plum roles because he was very apt at pretending to be someone else. He’d been doing it his whole life.

Our daughter was born in 2011. We noticed things pretty early on that we started to question. By about 18 months, I knew she was autistic, but it took until she was 3 years old to get that diagnosis for her.

It was at that point that her father knew he too had autism.

He started diligently researching online. He took online tests. Every single one gave him a rating of him being Autistic or neurodivergent.

He made me take these tests. Even though I too am neurodiverse, these tests are designed for autistic people and I came up as neurotypical. He kept asking me why mine came up differently. My answer was pretty simple. I am not autistic.

Getting a diagnosis of autism in your early 40s is incredibly hard. There is a large amount of self-diagnosis in adults because of this issue. Still, we were able to find a very educated clinician who was able to do just that and my significant other was finally diagnosed with Autism in his early 40s.

With this diagnosis, a lot of things suddenly made sense to him.

In our neurodiverse home, we use both the best and worse of our experiences to our advantage. Our daughter is in a better position. The world is a more accommodating place. Still, we know the truth: the world isn’t always a kind place. We’re very upfront with her about that.

We accommodate our daughter and give her proper supports, but we also hold her accountable and give her consequences. There has to be a balance. Help her, yes. Hand everything to her, no. It’s a tight rope act you have to navigate as a parent, and it isn’t always easy. Neurotypical or neurodiverse.

Our responsibility is to help our daughter to survive in a world that isn’t made for her. We have to make sure she never goes through the things we did if we can help it. We don’t want to take away every single struggle, but to make sure she doesn’t have to struggle as much as we did.

The days of “sink or swim” are over.

We are an atypical family. This is who we are. 

Getty image by Kieferpix.

Originally published: December 21, 2020
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