But then let me try…

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To Lydia with Love

Lydia comes in
Like a gust of March wind
And throws her things
helter & skelter.

She would let them
lay on the floor
For a week or more
If only we would let her.

Now she’s really neat,
when she’s on her feet
tap dancing or ballet
She can pirouette and twirl
She’s a very talented girl
If she would only learn to
Put her things away.

Love, Grams
(aka Nana, who passed away in 2002 at 89; this was written in about 1997, and it’s entirely true… but it’s both written and read with love and a smile)

Independence.

Yep, I said the word. It’s a BIG thing in the world of autism.  It’s a constant worry.

21 marks adulthood.  11:59 you aren’t, 12:00 you are.  You are no longer learning, growing, developing. Parents of autistic kids are panicked by these deadlines.  It used to be even more rampant than it is now that five is the age cutoff for speech. Toddlers and their families exhaust themselves to beat the deadline–what if they don’t?  There are few things that hurt my heart more than to hear we tried, nothing worked, he just can’t do it.  All those weeks of full-time-hours over how many years from kids who still need naps…

What if we’re approaching it wrong?  And what if there is no one right way?  What if there is no one deadline?

These deadlines cause us to work in ways that don’t serve us… then we get to the deadlines, when we are really just hours older than we’d been when we could still believe it was possible…, but now, any remaining hope is chucked into the world of Forgetaboutit.

Autistic brains don’t follow a typical path.  No amount of therapy will un-make our brains and then re-make them like yours, just as therapy can’t make you experience the world–sensory, social, emotional, etc.–or respond to it like I do.  At least, not unless you’re essentially acting in a real-world play.  Do you want to live your life like that?  No, me neither.  Good thing is that I’m old enough to say you can’t make me, even if someone tried.  But kids can’t say that, and they’re made to try, and they’re made to believe that’s the only way they can be okay.  Do you want to live your life like that?

I was 22 when my doctor, an autism specialist, was discussing the F word (future) with my mom. She said I had reached my developmental peak and that supportive housing and services would be a good direction to start looking and…

And we went along with that assumption. I moved into an apartment with help from support staff and my mom.  My biggest challenge has always been sensory, which made and makes errands difficult. I had to learn and practicepracticepractice finances, cleaning, laundry… It was a constant struggle.  I needed the support to function, but I was socially overloaded by other people being there, so I’d fall apart when they left each day.

I ended up living in a nursing home for 15 months with an elderly roommate who thought I had it out for her.  I would have been in a group home. but they have nothing  appropriate in my state for autism or medical needs let alone both.  I was expected to be in that facility indefinitely.  In my 26th/27th years, I made more gains than I had in the last ten years… and it wasn’t that someone found magic… it was time, faith, love, and a peace that whatever happened, I was okay. I learned not to freak out all the time, to say… meh.  Okay, it wasn’t “meh” at first.  It was more of a process.  Medically, I have palliative care twice a week, and my nurse pays much attention to Lucy (granted, Lucy gives her no choice).  I see my PCP every two weeks for a long appointment–it ultimately saves her time and me anxiety, because it almost eliminates phone calls between appointments. I have supports for the daily living skills where I need them (not through the state; I had to drop out as my health was in the way). I have even gotten infinitely better at organizing! Yes, me, the very same gust of wind with a helter-skelter life!

So… what has worked?  Though it wasn’t the overarching plan, we’ve started to approach things more with the idea of how we can make it work.  And this has turned me into someone who never takes “it won’t work” for an answer–here, let me try–whether it’s fitting something in a box, problem solving a way to keep a heavy pump on an IV pole without a clamp, or finding a way to get me to wake up–it WILL work.  One big thing that has helped is probably counterintuitive to most… my apartment is TINY–280 square feet!  I love it and have no desire for more space.  Both physically and organizationally, it’s much easier to keep things straight, and a big key is that I can see everything.  If I can’t see it right now, it doesn’t exist.

A lot of my drawers are see-through. This set has shirts and hoodies below, and the top drawer is the medical stuff I use in that spot.  It’s stashed there so I don’t have to get it in the kitchen, which may only be ten steps away, but I can promise you it would never make the trip!

My kitchen has most of my supplies… I sure don’t need the space for food much!  These drawers are also see-through, which makes it easy for nursing or my mom to find stuff.  It also helps me to get a quick idea of how much I have left.

This is more of my stock, dated and then organized by date in a way that every item can be seen from the front… again, in case I need someone to find something.

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One amazing change has been that most of my oral meds come in blister packs–you can see part of one strip in the first drawer here, the four in a row… the paper punches out and there are the meds for that day/time.  Every time of day has its own separate package, and they are in weekly cards with the date/day and list of meds in each little square.  Life. Saver.  This also eliminates a ton of confusion, because I have to fill my scripts in a certain order each month or some are refused–has to do with a prescription limit with Medicaid, and I previously had hand-drawn spreadsheets with dates and pill counts and pharmacy numbers… a nightmare and a ton of anxiety when oh, sorry, no meds for you! This pharmacy that does this is incredible about not only the meds they fill for me, but they also answer any questions and figure out how I get everything I need (there are four pharmacies involved).  Here you can see my method for keeping my IV Benadryl doses straight–I break them out of their sealed packages and make a labeled bag for each day that week.

It can be hard to keep track of doses–my whiteboard grid and a different colors let me note times, doses, etc.  No one else could follow my system here, because it’s just unreadable (to others) numbers, but I know what colors are what and what numbers are doses versus time.  The space on the side is there to jot notes as I remember things, because I tend to forget very quickly.

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This is a lifesaver!  My nighttime routine takes a couple of hours, and I can do it (podcasts help, if I only let myself listen when I’m getting ready for bed OR trying to wake up!).  But it’s really hard to keep straight what I’ve done already and what needs to be done.  It makes for much less anxiety if I can just glance at it and see!  They were made in rainbow order until I realized another way was better… but some nights I may need pain meds or Benadryl before I can even handle the rest, so I get out of order.  These have little Velcro bits on the back, so I can easily give myself a visual reminder that this step is done or not done.  I DO NOT change the color order.  That would break the world.

The master white board on the fridge!  It’s like a peel and stick–best $20 ever spent. Reminders, phone calls, refill dates, appointments, deliveries… all color coded!  And you can’t see it, but those magnets have Lucy on them!  You also can’t see just below this… a friend gave me a small notepad with a very lightweight clipboard, so I put magnets on the back of it and then on one side of a pen.  I have several white boards, so it’s easy to move around. I can add to grocery lists then grab the paper and bring it.

This is the last whiteboard–there are many for such a small space, but it lets me jot reminders where I will then remember I wrote them at all! I tend to have my left hand available to write on this one at night, so don’t expect anything resembling words… and sometimes I can’t decode them the next day, either.  But mostly, this is really helpful.

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I know, what in the world is this about?!  Well, it’s my “you get a balloon when you’re on TV” because I say I do!” balloon.  And it’s the mirror reflecting my wall and my Beads of Courage.  But all that chaos on the mirror is my work-in-progress to-do and have-done list.  Writing, editing, work, etc–It keeps track of loose ideas for writing, what i need to do, when I might tackle it, and what I’ve done, including my hours for work.  It’s much, much easier to read in real life than it looks here.  These are Crayola Window Crayons and they’re amazing.

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I adore technology for the ways it makes my life easier.  My wheelchair has a new technology option called Smart Drive, which means I still have an ultra lightweight manual chair (under 20 lbs), but I also have a battery and wheel that power me at whatever speed I push off to go, changing with me as I slow down or speed up like I would in any manual chair.  This is incredible stuff that saves me so much energy, and that’s the name of the game for keeping me in working order.  I also love technology for how it has really opened communication up to me.  And it’s even made many of my friendships possible.  I really, really do love the tech options available.

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But for me, anything like a reminder… calendar, to-do, remember this, check before you go… for a long time, I tried to use my iPad for those things, because–well, because I had it and the option is available, so why wouldn’t I?  I finally realized that I HAVE to be able to see those things to ever even remember I have a list!  I just never check the digital versions, because they don’t jump out and remind me they’re there.  Alarms are good in theory, but for one, I get really anxious when I know there will be a noise, and for two, I turn them off and then never go back!  Having it right there looking back at me reminds me all the time!

In my life, a lot of the strategies are for my medical stuff, but that’s because it was the major hangup on the way to success.  I do need other supports from other people, but we have that figured out.  What we couldn’t figure out was the overwhelming medical stuff and how I could manage that–I have to keep track of each item, the delivery dates (from four pharmacies and six suppliers), how much I have left, and dates/times of every med, IV med, tube feeds, IV fluids, insulin pump site change, ostomy change, central line dressing change… see why the little girl who “comes in like a gust of March wind and throws all her things helter-skelter” more than met her match in this beast of an organization project?!

But it was my match when we went at it with all the wrong approaches.  Telling me to “clean up” is like me telling you to write me a poem in Greek… it’s way too broad and too big with way too many steps.  Try telling me to pick up any paper, hang up clothes, fold laundry, vacuum… you’ll get a much better result.  So, the first thing was learning that being 18 or 21 or 25 was meaningless here.  The second part was learning that it wasn’t a “can’t”… it was a need for a different approach that build on my strengths.. if you have a marker or crayon, I will always be happy to use it even if it’s writing an appointment!  I do really well with color as organization.  I need less space, less stuff.  I need visual supports that are always staring back at me.  I need routine, and then I will stick to it with utmost precision and have a lovely time doing it.  We had to figure out HOW I would be able to do it..

And then I could…

And I did…

And I will…

Again and again… watch me!

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(My Beads of Courage again, representing about a year’s worth of hospital stays, surgery, procedures, ER visits, etc–with letter tiles that spell out “I can and I will–watch me.”   Since I took that photo, I started grad school, finished grad school with a 4.00, spent 15 months in a nursing home, left the nursing home and now it’s been a year on my own. I had been resigned to a life of movies and crafts, and now, I work more than I do anything else, doing what I love to do. When I laid out those tiles, I had been on an indefinite advocacy break, because I didn’t feel up to it… physically, I only wish I felt now how I did then, but I’m writing, editing, speaking, serving, and even appearing on TV… nationally.  I would rather spend my life fighting to do what can’t be done than sit back and wait for someone else to find me a way… I know I’ll find so many good things in the fight.  And besides, I haven’t found a can’t yet that didn’t end up as a could and then a did.  Say what you will–but then let me try.)

Ten Ways Autism Makes Me Different

1.  I remember conversations from when I was two and phone numbers I haven’t seen in two years.  But I need direct support in the grocery store and when crossing the street.  The first sounds impossible and the second ridiculous to most people, but it’s the only normal I know.

2. Just because I have the words to type it doesn’t mean I have the words to say it, and when I do say it, it’s rarely as I wish I could. Sometimes, I can explain my quirks; other times, I need a keyboard and some time.

3. I never like being too loud or interrupting or getting upset at a noise, especially in public. It takes a lot of effort to manage my interactions and reactions–and sometimes I still fail.

4.  If I ask a question or say I don’t get it, it means I’m confused. Please don’t make me feel worse.  I don’t laugh when others flop at recalling a date or the spelling of a word–things that are effortless for me.

5. What may be slightly bothersome to you, like the waistband on a pair of pants, can ruin my day.  A sensory issue occupies every bit of my brain and body until it’s remedied, and it isn’t always easy to say what’s bothering me.

6. I try to treat others as I want to be treated, but since my wants are often different, I look rude or careless when I’m doing my best to show the same kindness I like to receive.

7. I am extremely sensitive to sensory input.  The world is almost always too much, so I have to regulate my body as I react to every passing car, beeping machine, barking dog, siren, and so much more.  It’s very hard for me to remember that I can ask for a break.  Sometimes I walk away, pull out my phone to type or look over favorite cat pictures, or disappear to the bathroom (if there are no hand dryers!).  I’m not being rude—I’m doing what I need to do to be able to be there at all.

8. I’m not a child with a precocious vocabulary.  I’m not an adult who refuses to grow up. The boxes built for typical society won’t work on me.  I’ll break them every time. Save those judgments until you know me.

9. I’m not missing out on normal; I’m happy with uncommon. I’m more isolated with another person than my cat.  A keyboard brings me closer to a long-distance friend than a lunch date ever does.

10. I’m different, not broken.  Sometimes my needs make it look like I’m not capable… but I don’t know how most people function with such forgetful memories and lack of focus.  Everyone’s brain has strengths and weaknesses. I am blessed to be surrounded by people who give me the support I need to be successful.  But I have gifts, too… just the right ones to help families understand kids like the one I was so—hopefully—all their lives are fuller.

Heart Words–Voiced, not Spoken

I’m a talker.  A gibbering, gabbing, chatterbox kind of talker.  I’m by myself nearly all the time, so, when I see people I know very well and the environment allows (like in the car), I… get it all out of my system!  I’m much quieter in chaotic places or with new people.  But my family?  Give those folks some credit for surviving 27 years (and then some) of me and my mouth!  It’s hard to be quiet when life is so exciting and there are so many new discoveries just waiting to be researched.

So, it’s not like I’m whining all the time, but even sunshine can be a little much when it’s going full blast without a cloud (or a breath) to give you a break from it.  There was a block of, oh, six or seven years when I was nearly silent; I was on meds that turned off my talking button. I could still think to myself, I just didn’t say much of anything.  But other than that time, I’ve always talked a lot, and if your two-year-old asks for more information about the aphids from her Eric Carle book and if your six-year-old comes home on the first day of school and devours the entire year’s reading material that evening… you pretty much assume that she is saying what she wants to say.  You don’t worry about her being unable to tell you that she’s terrified, or in pain, or confused, or angry.  When she spends her Saturday memorizing English translations of 18th century German poetry… you do not worry about that kid’s language.

I remember a lot of my childhood, thousands of memories, but it’s easy to paint a broad-stroke picture of how I felt…

18 months


1987. I didn’t have the words to say “too loud” or “that’s itchy.”  But I still felt it.  I clung to the familiar for a sense of peace.  
I remember being at the Atlanta airport when I was about three, late at night, exhausted and completely done.  I didn’t watch where I was walking, though I was holding my mom’s hand, and I managed to walk into a giant concrete column and slam my forehead on it.  I lost it, total meltdown, and kept biting myself because I was so overstimulated and exhausted and past my ability to cope.  I had bite marks on my hands, and I remember people asking about them.  I didn’t answer.


1999.  I lock my arms, rigid aIMG_0885t my sides, a guard against the world coming too close.  I had ten more years before I would truly put words to my world.  I saw the only scary movie I’ve ever seen in sixth grade.  The fear contorted itself and then consumed my thoughts for years.  I was petrified of the dark, and I also feared threes–anything in threes.  I would check and recheck.  I’d have to peek around the shower curtain to scan the bathroom a certain way, sometimes dozens of times in one shower.  I slept with my lights on, and my mom would come in and turn them off once she thought I was asleep.  I could not sleep with lights on, so, for years, I hardly slept.  Once she turned them off, at least I was in my bed and not touching the treacherous floor.   I often slept on the downstairs couch–it was somehow safer. My mom got after me for years to go sleep in my bed. She never knew I had those fears or that they dominated my nights for almost ten years… until I told her a few weeks ago.  At the time, I said, “I like the couch!” Nothing more.


Me with Elsie... just after Christmas dinner and the chaos of cleaning up.  I was not sleeping; purring kitties are the best way to block sensory input!2008. After Christmas dinner and the chaos of cleaning up. I was not sleeping; purring kitties are the best way to recover.  Kitchen duty!  On holidays, we range from having eight to maybe fifteen people over, all family.  Mom always cooked, and now my sister helps.  When dinner is over, it’s sort of the routine for the women to clean up and the men to go watch TV again.  I’d have a comment about that except that the space won’t allow everyone to help, and it’s just our routine after all these years.  I typically stand frozen.  Everyone is moving, and being bumped is the end of the world–my world. I hate it.  If I’m overstimulated already, like at a holiday dinner, then being bumped means all bets are off and tears will follow.  “Lydia, you’re the only one standing there, come on, help us!”  It was maybe two years ago that I said, “If everyone would go out of here, I would do the whole thing myself, but it’s too much, don’t bump me!”  I wash the dishes and try to keep my eyes down so I can’t see the confusion around me.  I hate old food… and really, I hate a lot of brand new food, too.  I hate thinking of the germs.  Touching it, smelling it… but I’ll do that all evening if it gets me out of being bumped by someone else.   I’d still rather clean up on my own.  “It’s a family dinner, we all help out.”  But we’re cleaning!  We bonded over eating, or… you guys did.  Now, go finish bonding over TV and leave me alone to do this the right way and in peace!  But I didn’t say that.  Every single time, we go through this, and I’ve never said more than incoherent frustration and hand-flapping and ear-holding at nothing in particular, the whole noisy, clanking, bright-lights, crowded, food-stinking chaos.

My parents divorced when I was seven.  I remember when they told me, and I didn’t cry or even feel all that upset.  They got along very well, especially at that point.  They told me that they were very good friends but that there were different kinds of love, and that married people love each other differently than friends do.  Okay, got it.  My sister is almost six years older than me, and my dad was her stepdad (uh, yeah, my family is possibly the most complicated family tree ever, which is not in any way an exaggeration).  Sister was upset that I wasn’t upset… didn’t I get it?  Didn’t I get what a big deal this was?  That’s when I cried.  And I didn’t cry because I was upset with her but because I was afraid my mom and dad thought I didn’t care about them.  I was originally not all that upset because they were doing what they thought was best for everyone.  They were making that choice, and with my dad moving under a mile away, I’d see them both all the time.  I mean, Mom did my hair for school while I was at Dad’s.  I was okay, and I didn’t want to freak out and make them feel not okay when right then, they did.  My sister said I didn’t get it.  That was 20 years ago.  I remember it clearly, but even now, I would do the same thing… and maybe that was the wrong thing.  I often miss the social cues in those situations, but I really do feel the overtones.  Feeling back, I feel the same thing, my extremely matter-of-fact mom and dad explaining things to me like I was a real, whole person and not a baby.

Maybe I’d still be wrong with the reaction I had, and maybe I missed an obvious extreme sadness or anger underneath their words, but it isn’t like my parents to do that.  I’ve been called self-centered, rude, disrespectful, incapable of appropriate peer relationships, immature, disconnected, withdrawn, misunderstanding…

Family tree

I am cut from the fabric of my father
But the very threads that keep me
From falling apart altogether
Are reflections of mama in me.

They say I have my father’s broad back,
His hands for music
They say I’m blessed with a mind
That can tackle anything.

But I cannot survive on brains alone.
Without my mother’s eyes–
More than that, her heart—
I’d be forever lacking.

I’m told they couldn’t make it work
That some love is just friend-love.
But I, half him, half her,
Have made “them,”
My echoes of them,
Not just work, but sing
Not in two bodies–
but in half the space.

I’m here and I’m aware, fully, heart-wrenchingly, bursting joy and guttural fear aware of the world and the people, the hardship and the celebrations around me.  My body feels the world so intensely, and my brain is very busy trying to make sense of it all.  The explaining and reciting and scripting words come out easily.  They live in my brain, so it’s not a far journey to come out of my mouth.  But the feeling and relating and empathizing words detour to my heart.  They take time to form, because my brain has to connect to my heart.  My heart has to isolate those feelings, and then my brain has to filter out the static and the noise, the bright lights and itchy tights from the very same moments.  The hardest job is the one of figuring out which feelings are universal ones and which are the kind that are unique to me, and then I have to find universal words to be able to share them.  All of that takes time, plenty of still and quiet moments, and it takes a calmness that lets me tune in to the music and prayers and stories all around me that echo my own experiences and help me put words to it, words that other people understand.

My mouth is good at lists and rules and facts.  Mouths are good for things that only need to exist for a fleeting moment, voiced and then gone from right-now forever.  My hands are good for the things that simmer, long and slow, making their way to my fingers over weeks and months and years.  When my head and my heart convene and eventually find the words that make my head light up and my heart sing, they slide slowly into my fingers, the weight of them only really fit to be built of black letters so carefully crafted into word, one at a time, on a white screen.

I still get asked what grade I’m in, if I’m serious that I can drive, and no, really, you went to college?  Sometimes it annoys me, sometimes I want to get on my soapbox, but mostly, it doesn’t bother me very much.  Because unlike the sensory overload that makes people misunderstand, and unlike the words I speak that vanish the second I ay them, these words, the ones that are mine and are me, they aren’t about to go anywhere.  Good thing, because no one can say I don’t understand every joy and sorrow and how people love.  But really… I always did.

childrens museum word wall    love4lydia   imexcited

Lose the Cranky Pants (they’re not very flattering)

Oh, hey, yikes.  Coming back up here from the bottom to say that it’s 1 AM and the bedtime routine takes two hours and THIS WAS NOT MY PLAN tonight–this was the opposite of my plan–and that means the post isn’t edited yet, as in, stream of consciousness, hasn’t even had a read through.  I’ll come back to it tomorrow.  Maybe.  Maybe I’ll break all my own rules about unwavering dedication to grammatical perfection and won’t ever come back or even read it over a second time.  Ever.  

Yeah. Right.

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Salon-blown down-hairs may be pretty, but they are sensory torture. In the car, up they went.

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22 months: Once a cat, always a cat.

 

 

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Age 5: The first tooth exits the premises as the birthday guests do likewise.

 

 

 

“You’re so verbal!” Yes. And no. But mostly yes, though not entirely. …What?

There’s some statistic about how a huge percentage of the words we speak/write are comprised of a surprisingly small cohort of individual words. I’m not looking it up, and so this isn’t at all the right numbers, but say 80% of the words you vocalize are the same 400 words. It’s a lot of the same things, cut and paste, spit them back out to fit the situation at hand.

Topics of conversation aren’t all that much different, especially since I go very few places and see very few people. So, say, 90% of my time way from home is spent in the same three places, and say that 95% of my time with other humans is with the same ten people. That doesn’t leave a huge number of possible combinations, and the thing that follows is that conversation topics aren’t all that novel. Part of that is totally on purpose. My mom and I have our cat chat daily with my favorite string of questions because That is What We Do, and for an autistic person, that’s the ultimate reason to do a thing. Cats, autism, faith, new revelations and problem solving about my health… that’s pretty much it.

What it comes down to is that I’ve got a ton of scripts packed away in this brain. I’m the girl who can tell the day, date, and time I got my insulin pump (November 28, 2000, at 9:30 AM on a Tuesday). I was 12, by the way. I can recall strings of numbers I haven’t seen in months after dialing them once or twice. And my real talent is “the last time I…” which amounts to being able to tell you the last time I said, did, wore, or went anything or anyplace. I usually figure it out as I say the words “the last time I” and have it by that point. Go ahead. Try me. I had my pneumonia shot in Feb of 2012. I saw two GI doctors in one day after waiting many months on September 3rd of 2013. I met my friends D and H on February 8, 2014. I last wore my cat sweater on December 6th (my cat hat and cat hoodie both today, but not at the same time, or, well, at least not visibly).

All this amounts to the fact that my brain is STUFFED with scripts. Some things, like facts (which can be pretty lengthy), lists, and memories of what other people said stick in my brain and always have. So, I can list the system for categorizing rocks by size from eighth grade science class. And for a long time, that’s how I got by in life. But I started to experience some pretty intense depression that year, too, and I think my anxiety was already fairly established. I didn’t tell anyone because I was nowhere near having the words. I don’t think I ever uttered “I’m scared” or “that’s too loud!” Instead, I slept with the lights on or on the couch (never in my room in the dark) every night for years and years, into high school, because I’d seen a movie that spooked me when I was 11. And when things were loud, I panicked. I was overstimulated all through school to the point that I missed quite a lot of days. I didn’t feel good, I’d say. What doesn’t feel good? I don’t. I didn’t share more because I didn’t know more. I knew I couldn’t go into the school, and I typically missed the upper limit of allowed days, often one every few weeks or so. Language not only describes what we know, it also shapes our understanding… and so, without words to put to any of what I felt, I also didn’t develop an ability to know what I was feeling at all. We teach kids, “This is cold! Snow is so cold, do you feel that?” I was never taught, “This is sensory overload. Do you feel that? How do your ears feel, how does your stomach feel? What other situations make you feel like this?” No understanding meant I had no words, and no words meant I didn’t understand.

I knew very early that words I could see were not the same as the ones I spoke. I actually wrote a poem from the point of view of a character drawn in a book with adequate, though imperfect, rhythm and rhyme scheme when I was 6. By fourth grade, I was on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger) and very soon afterward begging my mom to get a screen name. “Why would I do that when I can talk to you?” My mom did note very early on that I was great with information but not at all with social back and forth… I never asked how are you, and my parents will tell you may stories of Lydia Land, which referred to times when I was not responding to people or the environment around me. Still, I don’t think she made the connection that I meant that typing gave me much more freedom, more breadth, more depth. I’m not the only human alive for whom words and experiences reciprocate understanding; it’s true for everyone, and my mom had not been taught how to identify when her child was not able to communicate fully and assured that there was usually more going on that I could say. It was an impasse, one that broke my heart because, by college, there was a lifetime of things I had felt and desired and been frustrated by and laughed about that I really didn’t think she knew.

Leigh is… I don’t know how to finish the sentence. Leigh was the 21-year-old undergrad who had written a paper on autism the year before she met me. She was the college junior who noticed that I was… different… and that I didn’t fit in socially with the other girls in our color guard group. She was possibly the one person who had ever befriended me in part because she could tell I was different. No pity, she says, she just saw someone who could use a friend. A few weeks later, she was the first person to suggest that she thought I might be on the spectrum. Blah, blah, diagnosis soon followed, and then the immediate acquisition of All Cats have Asperger Syndrome… but even if none of that had happened, the one most crucial thing may have been that she really encouraged me to communicate by typing, and not just when it was expected but any time it gave me more ability to communicate.

She also gave me the reason to figure out that texting thing. It was 2008, and I guess I’d been holding out. I also didn’t really have friends to text. Texting really saved the day, and it also gave me that first natural print avenue to talk to my mom. Things are good. Really good. In fact, being able to communication in print and having that be so “normal” has also helped many of my other relationships.

Most people, when they hear me communicate verbally, don’t see an issue. I’m a little rapid-fire, a little Sheldon-y, my intonation can be a little off and my “eye contact is diminished,” as a recent doctor’s report said… but “communication disability” would not be in the forefront of anyone’s mind. That’s because, say, 90% of the things I say are on topics from which I can just pull out scripts. At the autism center, which is my work and main (only) social outlet, I spend a lot of my time reiterating the same explanations, illuminations, and stories to parents. The one about feeding issues, the one about noise, the one about why we stim. I usually have a selection of favorite cat anecdotes for a week or so, like the way Tia was scratching her ear and her tongue licked the air at the same time, the way Goose’s nose whistled when she slept, and how Lucy lost her laser light but got it back. And my health stuff…I’m going to the doctor tomorrow and will have a list with notes, but I should be in good shape to tell her the few relevant issues.

The key is that all of those things have been typed first, usually more than once and some many times. Then, I’ve been through them orally, rehearsed them with friends or family. They’re scripts. Some, I pull out in full. Others, I slice and dice and can lengthen or shorten or create a connection to something else. When I pull from scripts, the intonation and timing is the same. I adore telling stories, but I do tend to share the same ones with friends or family who call or I talk to in a certain period of time… and unfortunately, sometimes I forget who I’ve told!

To say that I don’t have communication challenges after hearing a series of my scripts is absolutely no different than saying I don’t because I can read aloud. It feels the same to me. Let’s go to the grocery store. Try to talk to me then about, oh, I don’t know, anything but cats, autism, or how that issue with the insurance and my med got worked out. Or hang around when I call my mom to say that I can’t tell if my back hurts or if my stomach is upset. Or when I make a phone call to ask the pharmacist a question and it goes: “Hi, I’m Lydia. I… Do… … –. Uh, wait. It… no. Hold on. I’m so sorry!” I know exactly what I need to know, but this brain doesn’t think in language, so even if I’ve got a hold of the big nouns (medicine, prescription, day, run out) finding the right “little” words to connect those ideas together is both crucial and really stinkin’ hard.

In the end, my ability to get the idea out of my mouth varies a lot, especially depending on the sensory environment. I was with my mom in Target and had a question as we walked. Target. Walking. Shoes in view (now, come on, shoes!!). I was looking the other way, had one hand sort of stimming to help my brain along, as I said something close to, “Do they would have to come for going to there, at the party? Saturday?” A lot of what I say extemporaneously, as in, no prep for script formation under my belt, has the big words there, and my mom is darn good at knowing what I mean.

I get all sorts of annoyed and antsy when published articles in newspapers and reasonable-caliber publications have glaring errors. I read an article that said “literally” and “awesome” twice in two sentences. I read one in a city paper that had almost a dozen errors, many of which were either grammar-based or involved redundancy, i.e., “Also, the family went to the beach, too.” I listened to professionally-recorded, nationally-known podcast in which the host mispronounced somatoform (so-muh-TOE-form, when the preferred combination of accurate and natural would be either so-MAA-doh-form or so-MAH-toh-form).

I think the best explanation is that, for me, speaking is like writing is for someone who struggles with it a bit. My first draft of my Master’s thesis, 112 pages, was technically flawless–it comes out that way when I write. Many people can get a point across, but the nitty gritty of the grammar or spelling falters. The process is slow. The writer gets increasingly frustrated as it takes so much work to get the idea across that he already grasps darn well in his mind. He might give up before finishing. It just takes too much work.

And I do that, too. Sometimes, at work, I’ll start and then say, forget it, it takes five times longer for me to explain it than if I just go do it and bring it to you to see if it’s okay. Or as I look at someone else’s sentence or image on the computer screen, I’ll take the mouse and shift things and say, “Is that okay?” because the time to ask the questions would have us all there much longer and have me quite frustrated.

I don’t like it when people try to “help” by filling in my pauses. Um, sorry, but other people are just about NEVER right, especially when I’ve only said two words and you don’t even have a clue where I’m going. My doctor has a scary good track record, though, and if I could, I’d keep her in my pocket. And if I say hold on, that I need to think to get a word I need without which we can’t go forward… and if it’s something the person asked me or if it’s important, continuing to talk to me when I’m holding my ears and have my eyes closed to BLOCK YOU OUT is really not very helpful. Please, please be patient. Just. wait. I know, it’s torture, and silence is awkward, but it will be more awkward when… well, no it won’t, but I wished it would be cause that would stand to make a great point. The third least helpful thing is probably when people make a big deal out of it if I would rather type it. I have a bit of a complex about that after having some people make it out to be an attention thing or a way to give in to anxiety, that “she’d talk if she weren’t so worried about it!”
Some things are more worries than things that happen. I worry that someone will suggest that I was faking when I previously typed more than I do now. After a horrific semester and a lifetime of forcing myself into situations that were way too overstimulating, I reached a point of no more and had a really, really lengthy period of true shut down–about two years. You can go back through my blog and stuff and see from my writing how much more assistance I needed and how much more I typed as compared to speaking. I say a whole lot more now, and part of that was getting of meds that were not helping, but I do occasionally reach a point where I’m done and the words are done. I also worry a lot when people say that they really can’t tell I am on the spectrum or that I seem so typical/high-functioning (I don’t hear that as much as I did some years ago, and I think and hope it’s because the message is slowly permeating that it’s not a very helpful thing to say). If someone thinks I’m not legitimately autistic (and, mind you, they generally say they can’t SEE it, not that they don’t BELIEVE it, so that is my own interpretation issue), then I immediately think that they think my more overt struggles are willful, fake, attention-seeking, etc. Please tell me the last time you met a 27-year-old who needs help to go into a store (one of the things I just still am not able to manage, I get way overloaded), who screams when things get to loud, or who hits, pounds, punches when things hurt (like migraines or nerve pain in my legs) or don’t work (because things are stupid). Frustration has always been my Achilles heal. I don’t handle it well… because I can’t communicate it.

My sister always says that I say a lot of what not to do and not enough of how to help. So, here you go. Chill. Just chill. Chill when I take a few tries to start my sentence the right way. Chill when we have to go back and forth a bit for you to figure out what I meant. Chill when I panic about taking up your time. Chill when I need to show or do and not waste time finding words. Chill when I text you from the next room or email instead of call.

Here’s where it gets hard: Chill when your kiddo’s speech isn’t in the whatever percentile. Chill when he’s seven and only has forty two words but you haven’t begun to open up his world through typing yet. Chill when he can type the answer but not say it, because HE CAN TYPE IT, which means that HE IS SAYING IT. Chill when he’s different from other people; normal people are obsessed about the weather and Susie’s mom’s donkey’s pituitary tumor and Kardashian’s, too. Chill when your kid wants to talk about Pokemon. Chill when he gets upset because you aren’t pulling your weight in the script, because that’s on you, not him. Chill when he isn’t “reciprocating” with his words and really stop to look for the many other ways he is reaching out and you may not be reciprocating his overtures.

I don’t mean “chill” as in make like Olaf in a pool with Elsa’s magic snow cloud keeping him safe and sound… but I do mean to keep perspective and realize that there is so much more to life than fitting ourselves or our kids into pre-made boxes. Every human alive would be happier if they had the guts to say screw the boxes. Your kid has the guts and he’s going to live outside boxes in some ways no matter what you do, oftentimes a whole lot better for it–do you have the guts to join him and live a life true to yourself, experiencing things with the most breadth and depth life allows?  Maybe you don’t, but please don’t deny your amazing kid the chance… and I hope no one wastes their time trying to take that freedom from me.  It’s the freedom of talking and typing, sometimes both, and sometimes neither if music or art is even better in that moment.

There are a lot of things that are a huge honkin’ deal in this life and a lot that are not. What other people think about my communication method doesn’t matter, but my ability to get my point across does. And I can, with the right accommodations, which, thank God, I now carry everywhere I go just like most other young adults… and the gumption to shrug and walk away if anyone takes issue with it. As I say about so many other things… I’ll be the one writing stories and articles and poems, the things I love most (except for kitties and Jesus, and I’m sorry, Jesus, that I always remember kitties first), and cranky pants will be the one feeling all the yuck things.  I think poor cranky pants is only cranky because he doesn’t have the guts to break free, too.

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I don’t call her the silly Goose for nothing! She is most DEFINITELY free.

 

The Eternal Orange

I had my first IQ test in first grade. I was identified as a student who might qualify for and benefit from the gifted program, and IQ is the strongest determining factor.

I remember all sorts of puzzling questions. Now, I love puzzles. But they have to have a purpose, so it may be far more accurate to say that I love to solve problems. A few months ago, I was in the hospital and had to use my own feeding pump (when you use specialized products, you have your own suitcase full of supplies to go inpatient). I didn’t have a pole clamp, so I had my IV pole as well as my usual heavy backpack. I was really pretty sick, and it was hard to maneuver both to the bathroom. I ended up devising a very successful pole holder out of a hospital tissue box, cut tubing, and medical tape. Just call me Medical MacGuyver.

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(Blue pump in the middle is adhered to the pole with a tissue box, tubing, and tape.)

But, see, mind games are not my thing, and, in fact, I largely refuse to engage. Sudoku, crossword puzzles, video games… Ack. I HATE video games and I have only ever even touched Mario Kart because I can’t lose! Being timed or knowing I can die is completely overwhelming to me. I prefer time and space for infinite iterations of creativity.

So, IQ tests, at their core, mean that I am not showing my best, at least in some of the subtests that involve timers and pointless generating of ideas. I’ve been fully, officially tested a few times, and my scores have shifted somewhat. I see absolutely NO value in IQ tests. None. I know of kids who tested in the bottom 0.4 percentile at age three, who now, at age six, read beyond grade level. I have a very good friend who tests in the moderate ID range. She used the word “impudent” in conversation recently, and I had to go look it up. She is smart in every way I can think of, from creative thinking and problem solving to compassion and caring. She’s also smart enough to know that number is useful only in that it gets her much-needed support services.

The education and psychology communities are coming around to recognize this whole idea of 2E or twice exceptional… Kids who are both gifted and disabled. My little sister, now 13, has ADHD and a significant learning disability with writing, but her IQ is around 140. Though it’s still a huge struggle and her cyber school still fails to support her well, it is at least recognized that she is a 2E kid. When I was young, this concept didn’t exist. They sure got the gifted part, as my test scores were pretty impressive, but they didn’t even support me well in the gifted aspect of things. I had a weekly pullout that was a wonderful experience in elementary in middle school, but otherwise, I sat in the classroom like every other kid. In third grade, when I asked for more challenging work, the teacher said I wasn’t doing the work they gave me now and should not be given more. I was bored! No matter.

And I was disorganized. And I was sometimes rude. And I lacked social skills. And I was day-dreamy. And I was incredibly attached to routine and overly “sensitive.” And i spent too much time at the nurse and missed too much school, which I can now easily tell you was due to the overstimulation. But the answer to all of this was that I was “smart enough to know better.” I had a high IQ number, so I was not allowed to have legitimate struggles. Perhaps worse is that kids who have low numbers are not permitted to have true strengths.

In that first IQ test, the man was holding up white cards with slightly rounded edges, each with a photo. My job was to say what was missing in the photo. He held up a halved orange. I sat. I looked. I waited, and I finally said that the other half of the orange was missing. He kept encouraging me to find another answer, and I… I just couldn’t.

Here’s the thing. I had (and to a lesser degree still do) severe oral aversions. I have never held an orange longer than the time it took to hand it to someone if it had dropped. I’ve never peeled one or taken it apart, and I have surely never eaten one. How in the word would I have any idea about the details of what is inside an orange?

I was a 2E kid. My disability, my autism, had limited my life experience in this case. My intelligence and creativity clashed with my limitations in being familiar with that orange. But no one recognized my struggles all through school and most of undergrad, so instead of supporting me, I was most often blamed for not trying hard enough. In this case, how much trying is required to call up knowledge of an experience you’ve never had? If I held up a picture of half a gugledeebump and asked you what was missing, you wouldn’t have the slightest clue, either, having never taken one apart before,

I’m glad the whole concept of 2E is taking off, but I say that with caution. It’s the same caution, the same paradox of the idea of labels in general. On one hand, being autistic means that my experience in life and of this world is radically different from that of the majority. But, on the other, it is crucial to remember that the top-most category to which I belong is the one you and I share, the one that brings us together, first…. The human category. Because we are first people and then people of a certain neurology, we share a basic humanity that binds us. And so, when I hear an intense focus on the radical difference in front autistic experience, a little voice in my mind pops up to say but, but, but we are not so very different! And yet, when I hear a strong crusade for “everyone is a little bit autistic!” I cringe, because I know how much an NT doesn’t understand our brains and our experiences. It’s a paradox, and it isn’t one we have to rectify and simplify into a neat little package. It’s messy and complex and perfectly okay to be that way.

2E kids are also at once very, very unique and need to be taught in a wholly different way… And yet they are kids like any other kid. Doesn’t every kid in the world have some really strong areas and some areas in which he either requires extra help, more time, or a totally different approach? In a way, every kid is twice exceptional. And so every kid needs to be encouraged to spread those wings and sore on those passions while he learns to navigate around and through his struggles, learning to ask for help when needed, learning to use different strategies and technology for support, learning not to judge his value on those things alone or any one thing alone. To be 2E is to be human.

But when we see a 7-year-old girl who can read Tolkein but screams and cowers in the gym every single day, talks out of turn more than she talks in turn, and has the organizational skills of a kitty on catnip (and maybe a single-minded preference for one single and very specific subject)… When she flies through the test ceiling on the verbal part of the IQ test but misses one of the first questions when the tester holds up half an orange…. Maybe someone, anyone in that child’s life should pause to wonder…

Because those traits won’t change over time. If anything, they grow ever stronger. Case in point? The 7-year-old who didn’t know what was wrong with the orange is now a 27-year-old who still has no idea, despite a few late nights on Google to try to figure out the answer to a single question on the WISC edition used circa 1993.

It still haunts me. And I’ve still never eaten an orange.

Getting to be Gotten (OCALICON2014)

This is a story about community.

It starts way back when, in about 2010 (she could probably tell you the date!), when a 19-year-old autistic girl who had commented a few times on my blog said that she thought we could be good friends and asked if I would talk via email.

That girl knew what she was talking about (she usually does).  Here’s us, last July, the first time we met!

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I had done autism advocacy in 2011 for a time, but when I got sick, I really stepped back and hadn’t done anything public in a couple of years.  The Autism Society of America Conference was held in Pittsburgh (my hometown) last summer, and I wasn’t into the whole conference scene, but I wanted to go for a day because I wanted to hang out with Chloe!   Something tells me that, once again, the girl knew what she was doing, because I was totally hooked.

I attended OCALICON last year… always in Columbus in the third week of November.  Because I wasn’t even aware of wanting to go until late July, I hadn’t submitted any proposals to speak, but I did get to go and have a blast and meet so many long-time online friends.

This year, I submitted a few proposals, and the one Stephen Shore and I proposed on sensory issues was accepted as a panel discussion… as luck would have it, the other half of the panel was Chloe and Brigid, another spectrum friend (Val Paradiz was also originally on the panel but couldn’t make it–we missed her!).   As the conference drew closer, I was also asked to participate in a panel on the main stage.  OCALICON draws about 2000 people, so I was both shocked and very excited to be asked to participate in this panel!  I am one of the Young Leaders with the Autistic Global Initiative, and our leader, Sondra Williams, is a good friend and board member at OCALI who suggested that I might be a good fit for the panel.

We rode to Columbus, and we didn’t cross the city line before I was devising dinner plans with Chloe!  I was pretty tired by that point, but if you’re gonna be tired, hanging out with some of your favorite people is the way to do it.

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Wednesday was the day for both of my speaking events.  The sensory panel went off without a hitch.  My mom said that it sounded like we’d rehearsed… ha.  We wung it (winged it?) start to finish!  But we know our material and each other, so no one was clued into the winging!  Here’s me giving my part of the presentation; I focused on sensory issues in the medical setting and coping skills to address them, and I also talked about feeding issues in spectrum kids, complete with my favorite analogy: “Would you like to eat your shoe?   Does it matter what kind of shoe it is?  How many stickers would it take for you to take a bite?  Do you dislike shoes because your mother didn’t cook them well when you were a kid?”

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Then, we got ready to speak on the main stage!   Sondra Williams, Chloe Rothschild, Stephen Shore, Cameron Blackwell, and I (all spectrum advocates) did a panel session.  We’d been given a set of questions to prepare in advance, and we took some from the audience, too.

Some of the funniest and best moments were in the hour prior to the session starting, as we were on stage and preparing for the panel.  We had individual mics.  There were two giant screens on either side of the main stage, and I mean giant!

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Yup, that’s me, larger than life!  When I first saw myself on the screen, I made a very typical happy-startle noise for me… WOO!!!  It came out before I even knew it was going to… I was so surprised to see myself on such a huge screen!  Stephen and Cameron, both musicians, were mouth-trumpeting various band pieces, and I thought (totally inside my own head) that they should do 76 Trombones.  It wasn’t two seconds later that Stephen started it, and then Cameron took over the melody while Stephen did the counter-melody.  And thus, we find the answer to the question of what happens when you put five autistic people on stage :-)

Let me say, and this is probably my one and only downside the whole event… the stage lights were intolerably bright.  I actually had the beginning of a migraine by the end of the one-hour session.  Sondra smartly wore sunglasses, and good old Chloe (actually, she was the youngest of the group, but it’s just an expression!) got hers out of her purse for me.  I wore them for a bit and then took them off for appearance’s sake (yes, yes, I can be vain!)… but not before I struck a movie star pose.

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I sit with my legs crossed or under me all the time, because they hurt me when they’re down, and the blood pools in my feet.  I said something about knowing it looked unprofessional but that I was going to pull my feet up until the audience began to arrive, Stephen said, “Solidarity!” and pulled his up, too.  Everyone had theirs pulled up for a bit.  I never would’ve thought to make someone feel included like that… but you can bet, when Chris (the OCALI staff person who led the discussion) asked us each to give an example of when we feel INcluded, and another of when we feel EXcluded, that I knew that I knew I felt included among my spectrum pals.

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A few other photos.  First is my new favorite photo of Chloe and I, right before I hugged her so tight I almost made her feet go off the ground, as she would tell you.  Hey, I do NOT like light touches!  The second photo is me with Sondra Williams, who is an incredible advocate, mentor, and friend.  She is the leader of the Autistic Global Initiative’s Young Leaders Division.  I am one of those Young Leaders, though I am getting close to the age cut-off… but I very much wanted to be a YL before moving into a full AGI role, because I know I have so much to learn from Sondra as well as the other YLs (Chloe Rothschild, Dani Bowman, and Jeremy Sicile-Kira; Campbell Teague and Brigid Rankowski are now in the adult division). She is so in tune to each of us need and how each of us can fine-tune our advocacy skills.  I so admire her open-mindedness and ability to trek through wildly differing viewpoints and never let anyone walk away feeling dismissed.  Her faith, too, is something I greatly admire.  We all gushed about Sondra on the stage… she is one of the best mentors to young advocates.

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We had a Young Leaders meeting, too.  One of the keynote speakers for OCALI this year was Dani Bowman, a young adult on the spectrum who is a very talented animator and artist.  Dani and I have crossed paths via Facebook, but she lives in California, so we had never met.  I was so glad to finally get to meet her, and she is every bit as sweet and kind in person as she is to all of her Facebook friends.  That’s what I so admire about Dani… she treats everyone with kindness.

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Thursday night, we all went out for dinner… and I had no idea that there was a surprise party planned for me!   The perfect way to celebrate all it took for me to get through that MFA… friendship, community, and a lot of laughs.

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Last, but far from least, check out this series.  Not sure if they’re worth a thousand words… but they are worth every bit of these six: Together, we get to be gotten.

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If all of that doesn’t prove well enough that we need each other to succeed in advocacy while deeply valuing each other in order to succeed in life, here’s the kicker.  The big challenge in all this was going to be finances–I could not have gone on my own pocketbook.  I am working my tail off (how about that–I finished my MFA with a 4.00 a couple of weeks ago!) to get to a place where I can support myself and my speaking events… but this year, there was no way.  For the 15 months I was in a nursing home, I got $28 per month… not exactly enough to be able to save!   For financial and medical reasons, OCALICON is the only conference I attend each year.  Without this one point of connection, my work and my passion, my relevance and my perseverance to keep fighting through everything that holds me back would be running on fumes.  I very hesitantly started a GoFundMe fundraiser in hopes of bringing in a few dollars… anything would help!   The fundraiser wasn’t up for two days when a total stranger had funded the entire thing.  Is that even possible?  It must be, because it happened.  I won’t “out” the awesome (spectrum!) donor, but I will say that he said that he had once been where I was and now that he was able to help, he wanted to–and to go and do good things.

Community.  It’s everything.

I don’t think I’ll ever not be speechless when I think about that generosity, and I am more dedicated than ever to educating , advocating and mentoring to improve understanding of quality of life for autistic people!  To the person who made all of this possible, my deepest gratitude.

I’ll end with another six-word phrase that capture all the joy and purpose and reason for being together within these photos: Not despite autism; because of it.

Jailbreak

The handcuffs slid on so silently, they caught me unaware. I hadn’t run entirely amok to that point, but the standards of society had not yet made their way into my little life.

First, they encouraged me with smiles and sing-song voices and hopes of growing big and strong. “Good girls eat their vegetables!” Then, they bargained, promising rewards of playing outside and stickers and a coveted spoonful of peanut butter. Finally, they laid down the law: “You’ll sit here ‘til you’ve eaten that broccoli!”

Shocked at the demand, I startled. Angry, I sulked. Tired, I slumped. Exhausted, I finally slept… right at the dinner table. Having committed my first crime against Good-Little-Girldom, the cuffs were silently slipped over my wrists and locked in place.

The experts insisted, “She’s smart enough to figure it out! She’s just stubborn! Starve her out and she’ll cave!”

The food police didn’t know, for I couldn’t tell them, that raw fruits and vegetables were as appetizing to me as my muddy sneakers or a pile of dried leaves. How many positive thoughts or stickers or promises of candy would they need to overcome the part of their brain that tells them not to eat those things? I couldn’t say much, but my vomit spoke volumes.

First grade was a jail cell disguised as a circus tent. My first exposure to life in the general population taught me the cardinal law of childhood: Different is bad.
Two dozen pairs of eyes had been bright and expectant in September. By November, some stared dimly at the rainbow walls, now immune to the same messages hung there day after day. Others intently picked the wood back from the point of their pencils or shredded paper in piles on the floor, mindless actions to keep themselves awake as the warden droned: “Put your name on top and write the correct color word underneath the picture.”

My eyes had glazed over—sensory onslaught coupled with intellectual deprivation—but they suddenly exploded with light. I likely didn’t raise my hand, but the words wouldn’t stay down. “What if my mom taught me that blue was really yellow, and red was really green? Would my brain still know or could a kid be taught wrong and…”

I heard the tap of two fingers on the corner of my desk. Looking up, I saw a finger raised to puckered lips. This was our code, the one she used only with me.
I had read the formal reports. “She has to learn to stay on task! She’s smart enough to know better! She has to be more organized before she can have more difficult work!”

The warden didn’t know, for I couldn’t tell her, that I didn’t do the work because I spent my evenings lost in my sister’s sixth-grade text books and Discovery Channel documentaries and The Hobbit.

I only did two years of my three-year sentence in the district prison. The building was massive but invisible to outsiders, the faded brick so plain brown it faded right into the standard, dreary Pittsburgh skies.

Even at the end of my stay, I would turn a corner only to find myself lost in the monotony of the plain white plaster walls, uncertain which corner I’d turned, which room I sought, what time or even day it was. Scores if not hundreds of separate rooms, and I only knew where to find a single window, a rare six-inch slit of clouded glass, partially obscured by shelving. Built in the 1970s, air-recycling vents were the state of the art technology that meant a stench from a chemistry experiment might turn up on the opposite corner of the building in the gym.

The bells rang by the oft-broken clocks, making them impossible to predict, and my aversion to beeping and ringing meant they hit me like gunshots. Arms rigid, fists tight, I walked through a battlefield, every bump from a fellow automaton a bomb for my senses.

Cliques formed and taunts flew under the surveillance of guards who insisted: “She’s too sensitive! She’s disrespectful of authority! They wouldn’t be so cruel to you if you weren’t so maniacal.”

The sheriff didn’t know, for I couldn’t tell him, but trying to force this square peg into round holes only damaged the peg.

I’m disabled, not broken.

Sub-standard scores do not mean sub-human lives. Delayed means all in good time, not permanently impossible. Autistic means radically aware, not locked away.

The jails are not built of autism but expectations. A brick at a time, my purpose is to tear them down. Every key typed opens an old lock:

I value my education more than the acceptance of my peers.  I found myself a square-hole drill.

Being smart doesn’t mean I understand social cues or that I can’t learn them.  Teach me, don’t force me; value cooperation, not compliance; challenge my intellect, engage my mind.

My brain doesn’t register that broccoli as food. The handcuffs fall off, my hands and my spirit are free.

(Written for my Place and Setting class; my thesis is in, and I am seven days from finishing my MFA!)