In general, the puzzle piece symbol is offensiveto Autistics because it focuses on the image of someone being “broken” when people are never broken. I’ve got an alternative take on the puzzle that I’d like to run past you. I think this image is more appropriate for all types of “divergence.”
Envision this: every human being gets a puzzle, at conception (or birth for those of you who insist it comes later). Each puzzle is slightly different, of course, because all of us are different people, but we all get a puzzle. Some of us get 100-piece puzzles, others 1,000-piece, but everyone gets a puzzle.
Here’s the problem for people like me who got a big puzzle.
In Western culture, as women, we are expected to do it all. We are expected to work outside the home full-time because if we don’t, we’ve betrayed the feminist cause. We’re also supposed to be perfect mothers, raising our children in perfectly clean homes being fed perfectly balanced meals or we’re a bad mother. When we get tired about all this and ignore our husbands, we’re bad wives.
The rules also tell us we really ought to be going onto school to get a degree, then an advanced one. This will not only empower us, but we will advance in our careers.
But if we advance in our careers, who will care for our homes, children, and husbands?
In this way, women in general are overwhelmed in our culture.
But let’s add Autism into the mix.
As an Autistic mother of an Autistic child, I had a lot of problems when I dragged my kid in public because that’s what you do.
I worried that he’d run around. I worried he’d run away. I’d worry people were judging me because of my kid and whatever it would be that he’d do.
And I’d get insanely pissed off at things like how the library has all these self-checkouts which are supposed to be “helpful” but unless you have a kid who wants to help you check out books, you cannot both mind a child AND do your own checking out.
Unless you let watching the child go.
That seems to be the path neurotypicals around me were taking. They just figured, they were kids and they’d do what they did.
Of course, their kids running around doing whatever they want annoyed me, giving me sensory overload, while I was trying to manage my own son’s sensory overload because of their kids running around causing all the drama.
But for some reason they didn’t ever seem to worry about what people thought about their kids running around like little monsters.
They didn’t seem to, or have to, worry that someone might come to their home to take their child away because their child was being raised by a Disabled parent.
That is a thing, you know. In some states simply being Disabled is enough for child welfare to take your kids from you.
And they could move on after the wretched experience at the library and not obsess over it, thinking and planning about how it would be better the next time if I only…
See, one of the gifts-that-can-be-a-curse about Autism in women is we’re super-empathetic. Many of us can literally sense all the feelings around us and we cannot shut them out. You know all the old people at the library by which I mean all of the adults who do not have kids with them? They’re all judging you because you’re not minding your kids and letting them run around.
We feel that; neurotypicals shut it out.
Unfortunately we also obsess over things: we plan conversations for hours before we have them, and we mull over things that happen to us over and over again, trying to figure out what it was that we did wrong.
Because we learned a long time ago, that WE did wrong. It’s always us.
Here’s last year’s Thanksgiving melt-down. If any of you are feeling like I did last year, I hope it helps someone to feel like you’re not alone. If you’ve read the blog recently, you know I’ve made some progress on these points, but I left this post untouched to point out the sheer and utter MESS I was in last year, this time, due to anxiety.
I usually work over Thanksgiving. The beauty of having a job in the standardized testing industry where you primarily work in tests for the college-bound is that it’s generally predictable: in the fall, it’s busy. You work Thanksgiving, the whole weekend, and you may or may not work Christmas. The rush begins between August and September sometime and ends sometime in December.
This schedule means I don’t have to do holiday stuff except on my own terms. We live in a culture in the U.S. where work drives everything, so if you have to work, you work.
So when my aunt decided to host Thanksgiving, I declined for all of us. My husband and son can sometimes do Thanksgiving alone at my parents’ or my sister’s house since they feel somewhat comfortable there. My parents’ house is so easy I usually just bring the laptop and work. But not my aunt’s house. My mother kept pestering about maybe we could just have my husband and son go over and I can work, but they wouldn’t and honestly, I didn’t want to and since I had the work excuse, I didn’t have to.
Then they cancelled work.
This year, we finished the administration before Thanksgiving and I had Thanksgiving and the day after off. This never happens.
I ended up lying and keeping us safe from having to go. I feel bad because I usually don’t mind holiday stuff, but I’m so low on spoons right now due to working the new job, having the writing teacher causing me grief, and other such fun, I just needed the time away from lots of other people.
I was having a great time playing Rift and watching old tv shows. I was tired since I’d gotten up at 4 to write, which sometimes happens, so I was in bed for a nap by 1. Of course, this was when my parents called. No one answered. Shortly after that, I was melting down.
Here’s what happened and what I’m learning from it.
In Autism circles, we talk a lot about the Autism Mother. Typically, this person writes a blog and/or publishes posts on Facebook or Twitter to tell anyone who will listen about how his or her child was robbed from them due to Autism. Many of them insist it was the MMR vaccine, but others, who feel a bit more enlightened by science, are taken in by the Autism Speaks mantra about how Autism is a growing epidemic.
An epidemic that must be stopped at all costs.
For some background on why we get irritated with the Autism MomTM syndrome, visit this link to learn more about the Autist who created this term and why we take issue with these moms (or dads).
See, part of the reason why we get annoyed by these parents is because they make the narrative always about them. When you’re a parent, though, isn’t it supposed to be about your kid and what he or she needs, and not about what you as the parent needs? But for some reason, society allows this inverted family structure to continue: mom’s life sucks because of her child’s very existence.
You don’t get to do that with other issues without someone doing a PSA about it. I vaguely remember they do Public Service Announcements about not emotionally abusing your kids that are basically just this narrative: children hear you; don’t hurt your children by what you say. The words “I wish you were never born” come to mind…anyone else remember this ad that used to play?
Anyway, despite the fact that we’ve been told for years that this emotional abuse through words is wrong, for some reason, society gives these moms a “pass.”
And the thing of it is, the longer they whine and complain and are given all sorts of pats-on-the-back about how hard their lives supposedly are…that’s when the Eugenics monster shows up again, trying to pull us Autistics out of the gene pool so as to make neurotypicals’ lives better.
However, I’m increasingly feeling myself at a bend in the proverbial road. I see two options before me. They can blend for now, sure, but in order to save my spoons I foresee making a choice, and quickly.
I’m reading this new-to-me author, Rachel Hawkins. I’m in the third book of this Hex Hall trilogy that my author brought home. She’s into these stories of empowered women saving the universe from whatever evil is en vogue right about now: vampires, witches, dystopian universes, etc. My author, meanwhile, is writing a short story for her writing class. I look up from time to time, and she’s still typing away which is good because I’m almost done with this and I know there’s a fourth book around here somewhere.
My author looks over at me a moment, and doesn’t seem to see me, but then she focuses on the cover. “It’s good, right?” she says.
I nod. In life, I wrote a lot of children’s fantasy, so the stuff she has around here has kept me busy over the years. There was a window when she wasn’t reading as much fiction, and she’d come back with these dry non-fiction reads that even she wasn’t actually interested in reading. I understood why she bought them: she wanted to “engage in the discourse of academia.” But none of that was really her passion. A lot of those books languish on the shelves in the upstairs of the house that she shares with her husband, child, and some cats. Oh, and obviously, me. I’m her muse, by the way.
I glance up to see what she’s doing. She’s gone back to typing. She’s pretty busy these days. We used to spend hours talking about life, about writing, about my books. But now it’s like she barely needs me anymore.
Everybody in our family has Autism. My husband’s Autism makes him a mathematician, all logic and reason. And me, my Autism makes me a writer. I write long paragraphs because I fear my words won’t be enough. My son’s Autism makes him an encyclopedia. He remembers just about everything he reads or hears. The cats have Autism, too, but we just call that being cats.
But my niece’s Autism, her Autism, is more like the Autism-of-possibility, like a potential future awakening she doesn’t yet see she has, as if in the future, someday, we will have a long talk and the hours she spends on art, and she amazes us all with her talent, and her interest and gifts in robotics and computers, where she spends so much time learning how things go together, and her love of acting and performing, where she spends so much time trying to memorize and to pick the right costume, yet is afraid to talk to strangers and still, at twelve, might hide behind her grandmother, will all make sense. The art, the robotics, the acting, and the fear of social speaking are all part of the Autism that’s all her own.
They still remember the day he came home with them. They had deliberately chosen the one who was to be his brother: orange and white and cowering in the “multi-cat room,” afraid of the other cats. He had to be saved first. Draper. They had tried one or two other cats near him, but the cat seemed so afraid of everyone. Then, it was suggested that they try Charlie, who had been surrendered when his owner could only have one cat in the new apartment. Charlie was a blue-eyed Lynx-point Siamese and the woman had seen him and wanted him immediately, but she tried to be logical: a cat’s appearance tells one nothing about the cat, really, and so she disregarded him. After all, a Siamese would take no time to find a loving home. But when the worker suggested Charlie and they had him brought him out, he looked at Draper indifferently, and decided the cat room was better. That’s when they brought both of them home.
The first time you go AWOL, stumbling over the sides of your crib, you might rush yourself over to the bookshelves and select a few titles. You’ll toss them into the crib, understanding that reading in bed is to be the most divine of pleasures, but be forced to cry to get help when you can’t lift yourself back into the crib with your plunder. You’ll be reading fluently by the age of two or so, confusing your mother when your precociousness in life doesn’t match up with your reading prowess; you hide behind her at every opportunity and are subsequently enrolled in pre-school to “socialize” you. Your little sister never has to go.
You’re such an academic wonder, your mother and father push to enroll you in Kindergarten at the age of 4. After all, having an October birthday can’t be a hard-and-fast rule for someone who has been reading for two years, right? The district will offer everyone the opportunity, but only you will pass the screening to gain admission to Kindergarten early. The only thing that tripped you up in the screening? Of all things, it will be the eye chart. In a real doctor’s office, eyes are screened with a chart of a hodgepodge of letters grouped in a pyramid shape. But when reading before attending school is unusual, there will be an eye chart made only of the letter “E.” Some E’s will be facing left, others right, and others are up or down. You will be confused when they ask you to pretend your hand is an “E” and turn it to show which direction the letter E is pointing. You have no idea they are trying to check whether you can see. Had they busted out a real eye chart, the one with all of the letters, you would have passed it the first time, rather than having to go back a second time to have the lady imperfectly explain to you the hand gestures you needed to make to “read” the eye-chart of a single letter.
What is the secret that neurotypicals know about having a lifelong friendship with someone? Today, I grapple with this question whenever someone tells me about someone they’ve been friends with since kindergarten, or how they still get together with college friends. I think about my college roommate, my then-best friend, and wonder.
Linda was an elementary education major, but she was too honest to teach young children. I watched her get frustrated in student teaching when the teacher told her to never admit being wrong in front of the children, and wasn’t at all surprised when she ended up working in computers, instead. Her mother was a math teacher and a bit blunt for most people’s tastes and her father, an engineer. Linda seemed to skate the line between “computer savvy” and “girly-girl” better than the average girl interested in computers in the early 1990’s. While Linda had had a high school boyfriend or two and had dated a few guys during college, I was timid around boys, but bossy and demanding around women, which meant that I was hopeless whenever we (rarely) had the male of the species around our women’s college and it took a special woman to put up with me. Linda fit the bill, and we became roommates our second year at college.