Learning to be autistic

I’ve heard it said
before that for adults with a new diagnosis of autism, it takes time to learn
how to be autistic. My family is on this journey at the moment. For 35 and 43
years respectively, my husband and I did not know we were autistic. Instead, we
knew we were different. This was most obvious when it came to how we connect
with other people. It took the diagnosis of our 3 year old son for us to
realise our own autism and advocating for him is leading us along a path of
self realisation for ourselves.
It’s been apparent
right from day one that our son doesn’t enjoy socialising much at all outside
of his parents and sister. He rarely agrees to outings that he suspects other
people will try and interact with him at, or to visits from anybody to our home.
This has been a struggle for us to manage, due to both the needs and
expectations of others and also our own inner fears that he won’t manage to
make friends or develop close relationships.
In looking deeper at
his choices and our fears, we are acknowledging that we also don’t much enjoy face-to-face
contact with people. Aside from a few trusted long term friends who I do
occasionally enjoy sitting across from over a cup of coffee every now and then,
we don’t look forward to ‘catching up’ or ‘hanging out’ with people. Actually,
we dread it. And we’ve felt like this was a problem that we had our whole
lives. That we SHOULD enjoy face-to-face friendship and the fact that we didn’t
was because of some deficit in ourselves.
Our son has showed us
that it isn’t a deficit. We’ve realised that when we are freed from the
pressure of trying to manage social contact in the flesh, we are quite able to
connect in other ways with people and even enjoy doing so. We are learning that
it is a myth that one form of connection is any better than any other. Giving
ourselves permission to be who we are has enabled us to make our first couple
friends who we ‘hang out’ with every day via instant messenger. Together, we
are four autistic people enjoying our first real chance to communicate
completely free of the social pressures that have been problematic for all of
us. The conversation gets really funny at times as one of us communicates
mostly through visuals, one of us doesn’t understand emoticons, one of us is
completely literal and two of us are so verbose that we can clock up thousands
of words in simultaneous conversations. It’s joyful and erratic and poetic and
deeply satisfying to learn that there are others just like us.
Giving ourselves
permission to engage with the world in ways that make sense to us and don’t
cause us stress and confusion is helping us to undo years of guilt that we had
somehow failed at this aspect of life.
Our goal for our son
is that he will never struggle with feeling like he is socially deficient, but
instead will know that all methods of connection are valid. He tells us that we
are his friends. Free of the stress of social conformity, he is trusting his
instincts about when and how to reach out and connect with others, as he needs.
A couple of weeks ago
on a rare walk around the neighbourhood he saw a young Vietnamese woman.
Something about her attracted him and he uncharacteristically ran up to her
saying ‘Let’s talk to her’. She greeted him, knelt down and smiled and they had
a conversation with each other, her speaking in the softest Vietnamese and him
answering in English. They stared into each other’s eyes and patted each other.
Yesterday, they were delighted to run into each other again and repeated a
small moment of conversation in two languages. He has now added this gentle
young woman to his list of friends.
Our son already knows
the lesson of not valuing one connection over another. Of not judging himself
for how and when he chooses to interact with the greater world. He is teaching
us that we don’t have to struggle to socialise. We can give ourselves
permission to be just who we are. When we are freed from the struggle, life
gets a little more beautiful.

 (Two images of a young Vietnamese woman crouching down holding hands and smiling joyfully with a small boy in a blue hat and walking with him holding hands lovingly).
2 replies
  1. willaful
    willaful says:

    This reminds me so much of me as a young child. We lived in Manhattan, in an apartment over several business and I used to visit all the time with the guy who ran the laundry and the women who sold Japanese dolls and lanterns… (me often wearing nothing but a sheet, as my mom remembers it.) It was a good time to be weird. 🙂


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