Monday, November 18, 2013

THIS is autism (Sarah Dorrance-Minch)

Written by Sarah Dorrance-Minch

I did not get a diagnosis until my oldest daughter, Sophie, then aged two and a half, received a diagnosis from a neurologist at a children's hospital. By that time I had read my very first book on the subject of autism and pretty much knew we were on the spectrum; I just wanted her to have the formal diagnosis to make it easier to get her an IEP in preschool. The first book I read was, fortunately, not one of those fear-mongering horror stories, nor was it an "overcoming autism" self help book aimed at parents. It was Valerie Paradiz's autobiographical exploration of Asperger's, _Elijah's Cup_.  I'm so glad that was my first introduction to autism, because it did not teach me fear for my offspring, nor did it teach me to hate myself. Rather, it delivered the rather reassuring message that I was not a space alien. 

I know. Radical. 

My husband, after reading it, told me he thought he was autistic, too. My initial reaction to that was "But that's impossible! Because statistical unlikelihood!" I'm not always good at thinking outside of the box. In fact, I'm usually terrible about it. If someone delivers facts and statistics in an authoritative enough way, I'm likely to take them for granted. 

On the other hand, it did explain why our relationship worked so well, whereas every other romantic relationship I'd had in my life had been... a bit of an awkward fit.

Oh! you say, if you are a neurotypical reader. I didn't know PEOPLE WITH AUTISM could have sex! Let alone romantic relationships!

First of all, I don't "have autism," nor does my husband of nearly twelve years, nor do our four children (all of whom wound up on the spectrum at various points - you can't tell me autism isn't genetic. Don't even get me started on my in-laws.) A person has cancer, diabetes, liver failure, etc. Autism is not a disease, so I don't "have autism," nor are there "people with autism." The word you're looking for is "autistic." We're autistic. It's a trait, like being left handed, or blonde, or heterosexual, or tall. "Autistic" is not a dirty word. You can say it without your mouth getting washed out with soap. Or were you afraid that maybe saying "autistic" might make the neurological trait contagious, since after all, we're having an "unprecedented epidemic," according to Autism Speaks and similar groups? Nope. It doesn't work that way. You can breathe a sigh of relief, if your being neurotypical is something important to you.

Second, yes. Autists can, and do, hook up. We quite enjoy it. we even have successful romantic relationships, some of them winding up in marriage, if that's important to us. We also have unsuccessful relationships. We're a lot like neurotypicals that way. Unlike neurotypicals, we're subjected to a barrage of social disapproval, especially if the relationship happens to be with a neurotypical, because then, of course, that neurotypical must be "taking advantage of us." Autism isn't the only disability to get subjected to this treatment, of course - one of my old housemates had cerebral palsy, and the looks her boyfriend got when he started going out with her could have killed from hundreds of yards away. (By the way, they've been happily married for about twenty years, now.) I wonder, do abled people ever feel stupid when the disabled people they frame as "socially incompetent" or something equally unflattering have happier, more meaningful lives than they do?

I'm rambling. I'm coming off of a wicked migraine - if anything "cripples" me or "ruins my life," trust me, it's not autism, it's migraines - which, as I understand it, neurotypical people often get, too. Migraines scramble my brain. I'd been hoping to write something as scathing as a Dorothy Parker essay and as sharp as Toledo steel, but unfortunately, I don't think that's going to happen. My focus just isn't here today. Fortunately, other autistic people have been sending in comments of their own. I heard about this flash blog from one of them. I was trolling her Facebook page and her blog submission happened to be on it. Autism flash blog? Sure, why not. 

It lets me postpone working on a particularly difficult passage of my novel, anyway... Oh, yes. I'm writing a novel. If you think all autistic people like to read or write is dry nonfiction, preferably of a highly technical nature, think again. There's a lot of us out there who love fiction. Some of us even write it. Poetry, too. After having read their biographies, I'm pretty sure William Blake, Percy Shelley, Algernon Charles Swinburne, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and Emily Dickinson were autists, too. 

My headache is starting to come back. Good a reason as any to stop writing. Tell you what, I'll attach some family pictures to show the Autism Moms, worried professionals, and other people who are terrified of autism what autism REALLY is. 

THIS is autism. 

(Wedding picture. Picture of me cuddling two of our four daughters. Picture of our offspring again - our eldest showing off an academic achievement. Formal family portrait spanning generations - everyone in the picture is on the spectrum, somewhere. Me holding our youngest daughter an hour after I gave birth to her at home. Me wearing sub fusc prior to being matriculated into Oxford University as a graduate fresher - oh, what, you didn't know autists could go to college? Family picture taken at an outdoor performance by our local symphony.)

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