Posted in Autistic Identity

Ancestry: Tracing Our Autistic Past

My grandma and I like to do genealogy.  I work on it when I have time as a way of figuring out just who I am, and how I fit into my family.

I found, after my husband realized that he was Autistic, just like our own child, we could make a game out of it and try to trace the “Autistic line” in the family, to see where the other Autistic ancestors were.

Oh, fair warning, before I do this: it is never, ever cool to start speculating on whether random people are or are not Autistic or any other Neurological difference.  But when we Autistics do it, we do it without judgment; we’re actually excited about it, since it helps to anchor our own existence and helps to prove that we are not just some freaks of nature broken by a vaccine (does anyone with any sense still believe that?).  Instead, we are here because our gene got carried through the lines; inevitably if we Autistics look around in our family trees, we’ll find some Autistic qualities.  In speculating on this, we are not trying to “diagnose and fix,” but to find ourselves and to justify our existence in a family we may or may not have felt a part of.

Here’s what I’m speculating about.

My Husband’s Autism Line

So, my husband’s side of the family is, at least at the beginning, pretty clear.

My husband’s dad is into computers and reads as narcissistic.  I’ve never met my father-in-law, though my husband I have been married over a decade.  My father-in-law went into the military and did reasonably well, and when he came out, he, like his own father, went into computers.  He had high-paying tech jobs for most of my husband’s young life.

When my husband moved into his twenties, my father-in-law got downsized and worked a stream of jobs here and there, but rarely for very long.   My husband said that his dad simply wouldn’t work for under a hundred thousand dollars or more a year, as if he didn’t understand how the world worked.  He’s been married three times.

My father-in-law’s dad was also military-into-computers.  He is, as people tell me, socially inept and argues about politics, barking his perspectives at people, whether or not they want to hear it.  He’s hard to deal with, says my husband.

When I started genealogy, I looked into my husband’s family a little bit, and connected with a cousin of my husband’s.  I asked her, did she know of any Autistics in the line?  She said she didn’t know for sure, but knew that my husband’s grandpa’s dad frustrated the relatives, but as he lived on his farm, everyone pretty much left the guy alone.  There was a question, in the family, actually, about him.

My son’s Autism, thereby, on his paternal line most likely goes back from his dad to his grandpa, to his great-grandpa, to his great-grandpa.  One wonders how much further back it goes, but once you start talking farmers, it’s hard to tell.  Autism seems to get hidden in societies that are agrarian since the social demands are far less and even getting married has an element of functionality to it: you need a wife, so you go get one, since managing the farm without a woman is hard.  She’s going to socialize with the women, largely, when she has time to socialize at all, so it doesn’t much matter how close the two of you are, socially.

But in tracing my own ancestry, things got complicated.  As a Female Autistic, it can be difficult to find Autism, even when it looks right at you.  Women are known to better be able to mask their Autism and that makes finding us a little harder.

My Dad’s Family’s Possible Autism Connections

I have a hint that it relies in my paternal line, though, because my cousin (my dad’s father’s aunt’s daughter, who is about midway in age between me and my dad) has an Autistic daughter.  I wonder, a bit, if her mother is Autistic, because she, like me, was bragged about by my grandpa for being smart (she used to report he’d say the same about me).  This might not be much of anything, but with women and girls, being smart is considered an unusual trait (sexism being what it is), so when it is bragged about, it might be an understatement.  It also hides other qualities that might not be so socially acceptable.

Or my grandpa, known for being the “little professor” himself, might recognize a quality in us that was not typical of women and girls since he also possessed that quality.

Family stories say that he got made fun of at school for being too smart.  One wonders.

One wonders, too, about his own mother, my great-grandmother.  Family stories say she got hit by her first husband, once, and she left him.  Given the era she lived in, divorce was unheard of and yet, she did.

She also left her daughter by that marriage behind with her sisters and headed to South Dakota, met up with my grandpa’s dad, married, and made a life with him as “farmers,” but mostly they farmed for other people, until eventually great-grandpa had enough for a small farm of his own.

Maybe great-grandma was Autistic, since she was anachronistic, which is often a sign of female Autistics.

But here’s something else interesting.

That daughter she left behind, at some point, got put in the state reformatory for girls closer to grandma and her new family, rather than in Nebraska, where the family was from and the aunts still lived.  Given the distance, that suggests they decided to put her in, rather than live with her.  Grandpa isn’t too keen on the details, but when they’d go to the city, he’d play around with his friend who lived in the city.  He remembers vividly the downstairs neighbor would give them money to go away, so they’d go out on the trolleys and see movies and buy candy.

In all likelihood the real mission of the journey was to see his half-sister, but he seemed to get excused from the visit.

Eventually this wayward great-aunt of mine would end up going back to Nebraska, meeting a man, and marrying and heading out to California, where she died of old age after, what I’ve heard, was a colorful life.

Her unusual behavior (whatever it was; I mean, what was unusual then might be nothing to us now) such that people clearly couldn’t deal with her suggested that she was a good candidate for an Autistic ancestor.

My father’s mother is a bit anachronistic.  She’s loud and smart and has no problem fighting with my grandpa in front of people (he’ll do the same).  She’s not a demure grandma, and though she can bake relatively well, she worked for most of her adult life, and when she retired and they moved up North to live in a “cabin,” they built a whole house and she ended up being the city treasurer for several years.

Part of me wonders if they are an Autistic couple.

Aging has been hard with them.  While both are still alive in their 90’s, grandpa knows his memory is fading, so he relies on grandma.  Unfortunately, this “rule” isn’t working anymore; they both have worked out that she’s the more lucid one, though she really, objectively is not.  Grandpa doesn’t believe grandma is slipping, so we have to keep an eye on them.

My Mom’s Family’s Possible Autistic Connections

My own mother is another possible source, though she denies this being possible.  She’s never really had close friends, and grew up reading a lot and wandering around the various farms grandma either rented or her own grandparents’ farm.  As the youngest daughter of her grandparents’ oldest daughter, and also the child of a single mother (grandpa left her at some point), she never fit in fully anywhere.  She eventually wandered to the southern half of the state and met my dad at a retail store.  She was too embarrassed to be the center of attention at a big wedding and eloped with my dad.  She struggles to work for anyone despite her business degree and prefers to work for herself, and is moderately successful at her home business, which morphs slightly whenever the trends change.

So, I do wonder about her.

I also wonder a bit about my grandpa, her dad, and because he left early, we won’t know for sure.  He drank too much, and eventually died from drinking, so it’s hard to know what was the alcohol and what was him.  My mom vaguely remembers my grandma would sometimes develop these big fantasies about finding her husband, putting maps out on the table and telling my mom’s big brother and sister the plan.

My uncle didn’t want his dad back.  My aunt would tell my grandma how dumb the plans were.

Grandma would get over it again.

But when I knew her, she wasn’t really all romantic.  In fact, if anything, she was the most practical woman on the planet who didn’t like to spend money, but she made sure all of us grandkids and great-grandkids had a tiny inheritance to show she cared about us.

But despite this practical exterior, she was a dreamer.  In public, she was quiet.  She’d favor marrying loud men who liked to drink and have a good time, but she herself was quiet.

I wonder about her.

My grandma’s littlest sister, who is only a few years older than my mother, and closer in age to my mom’s older sister and brother, was never babied.  She worked hard on the farm, and was (and is) loud and boisterous, always getting into trouble playing tricks, just like the woman my mom’s brother married (actually, they got into trouble together a lot).  She married a quiet guy, and their oldest son is very quiet and particular about his surroundings.  He loved his cat, growing up, and we rarely saw him.  Today, they speculate that the reason he’ll never get married is he’s too fussy about everything, too particular.  His younger sisters are very neurotypical.

But…Should We Autism Spot?

So, as I start speculating with even less evidence except “here are the weirdos in my family,” I think that that points out a danger of trying to spot the Autism.  See, we Autistics know that Autism is not everywhere, but it is a whole lot more common than people believe it to be.  It’s not that it’s “growing;” rather, we’re getting better at seeing it.

And while, on the one hand, I like to try to find myself in my ancestors, at the same time, I worry that, because I can’t talk to them (or even if I can, we’re not close enough to do this so it’s not weird), I am just speculating.  And what’s worse, I’m speculating on my perception of what neurotypicals find weird.

I am using my perceptions of what neurotypicals might say in order to find Autistics.

I am looking for “weird.”

This is what it is to be Autistic, though.  We are socialized in a society that is hostile to us, that points out our character traits as flaws.  We have to live here, because whenever we come up with our own places (eg. the Internet), they inevitably get taken over by neurotypicals.

So, we know ourselves often because we know that the person we’re looking at or talking about or reading about is struggling with this society, the same as we are.

We know when someone else is being rejected.

And so, I am conflicted about this game, the “spot your relatives” game.  On the one hand, it lends credence to the argument that Autism has not only always been here, but it’s also genetic.  On the other hand, the best way to “find” Autistic ancestors is to guess based on our perception of our dominators’ perspective and it is never okay to speculate on others’ neurotypes, especially using evidence gathered by neurotypicals.

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