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Autism Took That Away, but Autism Gave Me That

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Last night, my husband and I almost had a fight over something I said to him.

I’m thankful after 27 years, he knew me well enough to know my intent wasn’t to hurt him.

I had a long day after a long two weeks, and I did not think I could do one more thing for anyone. I wanted him to know I needed a peaceful evening with nothing else added in. But the way it came out made him feel as if I thought he always comes barging in thoughtlessly demanding 50 different things from me when he gets home from work. Of course, that’s untrue. It hurt his feelings.

The thing is: I was trying to communicate well.

I thought I was doing fine. I thought I was being pleasant but still letting my spouse know what I needed.

Utter fail!

I didn’t greet him first, didn’t ask how his day was. I hugged him, but my words were, “I need to not have anyone demanding anything from me tonight.”

You’ve had days like that, I know. And it’s important to communicate your needs, so your spouse will know them. But this was not the way to do it.

I was mentally catapulted straight back into Mr. Dilbeck’s seventh grade social studies class. I was distraught because I had been told some boy liked me. The thought apparently terrified me, and I had no idea how to react. Other things upset me that day, and by the time I got to that afternoon class, I was a complete mess. When attendance was taken, in some sort of desperate attempt to get help, when my name was called, I didn’t say “Here.”  I said, “I’m here, but I wish I wasn’t.”

I stayed after class that day to discuss my disrespectful response,with a teacher who turned out be kind once I explained myself, but I learned there are certain forums which you don’t use for expressing personal angst.

At least, I thought I learned.

But I didn’t, fully.

That certainly wasn’t the only socially inappropriate thing I did as a teenager. By far. I rolled off my chair in a Sunday school class one time when I was just about dead with sleep and got my entire class in trouble.

I complained to my biology teacher that she didn’t care that I didn’t understand what she was talking about, and spent time helping her clean up and organize the lab as a way to make up for my misbehavior.

All this fallout was brought on by stressful situations overcoming my social abilities. My friends would ask me, “Why did you do that?” And in hindsight I always realized I should not have, but I never had any reasonable explanation for my behavior.

I obviously learned something from those experiences. But apparently not enough to only have one of those experiences.

There are other things that a neurotypical person may routinely expect to do that I cannot.

Autism takes away my ability to attend concerts and any large, loud or frenetic events. It’s scary and overwhelming.

While I rode my fantastic intellectual abilities to the top in high school and college, there aren’t any good grades to be had working and living and interacting with other people each day in the rest of one’s life. Autism means I cannot have a career which involves change, unpredictability, and random events. I think I’d say waitressing and air traffic control are out. I did work as a camp counselor, and I do have children, but I’m definitely done with the camp counselor days, and in my own family, we’ve all found ways to help each other out by keeping our general life routine pretty predictable. If work is changeable, it’s much too stressful, and while I can handle noise and chaos for a time and in some emergency situations, my tank drains rapidly.

Having autism means the ability to be flexible is extremely compromised. Friends, now you know why it is impossible to get me to do anything at the drop of a hat – except maybe go get an ice cream. If you think of it last minute, I say no. Sorry.

Autism takes away a natural ability to comprehend many of the mysterious ways relationships work. I work hard to maintain friendships. But if I have been mistaken in your level of interest, and you drift away from me, I won’t understand why. I just can’t comprehend how friendship could evaporate.

I still for the life of me cannot determine when people are being sincere. I’ve always been naïve, and while I thankfully haven’t ever been permanently damaged by that naïveté, I still routinely look forward to receiving future invitations that never come. A year later, I will finally realize t the person was dropping a meaningless social nicety when she said, “Let’s do this again soon.” And it’s not like I haven’t been told these kind of comments are almost never meant specifically and actually. I know that. It’s just that when I’ve wrapped up a fun time or an enjoyable conversation, my mind can’t detect any insincerity. Why wouldn’t we get together again soon? I actually spent about a year once waiting for two different people to get back to me about a proposed get together. Sure, some of that was depression, some was being stubborn, but what person really believes after a month has passed, she’d get an actual invitation?

No matter how old I get, I still say the wrong thing, even when I’m specifically trying to be appropriate and adult. Even when I try to communicate my thoughts and feelings, while maintaining respect for the other person’s position, or love for the other person, I fail to do so.

Offending people is the last thing I want to do. I’ve always wanted to be liked more than just about anything.

But sometimes, autism makes that impossible.

Despite my generally asking him to just look it up in the phone book, my husband still occasionally asks me for a phone number he needs. It kind of gets on my nerves when he expects me to provide Directory Assistance. At the same time, I smugly like being able to meet this need for him.

Same with names, places, and directions. For the first 40 years of my life, I’ve been quite good at hauling useful details out of the memory vault.

And I’m not sorry autism gave me that.

I write and draw, especially pencil drawings. My daughter, too, has an eye for small details, which allows her to draw well. I found when I was taking art in high school that my teacher was able to help me learn to draw well primarily because of his skill at walking his students through the process of making the thing appear on the paper in front of the artist. But it was also because I could see the tiny details of the object in front of me. I could see the highlight, the differences in shading on the surface of a vase, the small waves in the hair of a subject.

Autism gave me that.

I could listen to the back-and-forth of banter between friends or the argument of a couple in passing on the street or in a restaurant and replicate that in a short story later.

Autism gave me that.

I had the focus to not let go of a question about what had happened to me. As my doula said, I held on to the “why” of a difficult birth like a bulldog, and I didn’t let it go until I got answers.

Autism gave me that.

I researched what had happened and was obsessed with finding a better way to have a less difficult pregnancy. I succeeded.

Autism gave me that.

I am a loyal friend, who tends not to give up on people and who stays in touch through the years. I try not to abandon anyone, especially people who have been good and kind to me.  Is that such a bad thing?

Autism gave me that.

Follow this journey on Joy in the Journey.

Originally published: July 8, 2016
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