Temple Grandin’s book Emergence: Labeled Autistic (which I acquired in my book collection as of late but have not yet read) is aptly named. Over my (albeit breif) lifetime, I find that emergence from autism comes in a series of fits and starts and often coincides with regression in other areas. This leaves me feeling like I am something of a cat chasing its tail in my quest to become not only a part of my world but a part of the world as well.
My first big emergence from autism came right around when I was diagnosed, at age 21. Until that point, while I definitely a person, I was also… not one. My theory of mind was lacking severely, so I could not tell where my thoughts ended and another person’s began. I frequently felt very disconnected from my body and experienced the world almost from a third-person perspective. In fact, my memories from my first approximately 21 years are like videos, where I can watch myself, rather than from first person eyes. I had no sense of self; aside from saying that I was “smart,” I could not have given you a single descriptive adjective for myself. You know how much I love Elsie P, right? I didn’t know that I liked cats any more than anyone else like cats. Like I said, I was really lacking.
From the time I moved home from college in May 2009, just five months after my diagnoses, life has been a series of emergings followed by regressions. The more insight into myself I gain, the more fractured and confusing my world is becoming. As my anxiety decreases, my sensory issues explode. As I become increasingly able to express myself in writing (and sometimes I even make sense when I do it!), it feels like I am losing verbal abilities. Trade-offs; it’s all about trade-offs.
As I’ve learned more about the world and the way it works, sometimes I have been faced with things that aren’t fun to deal with. For example, when I was in a partial hospital program early this spring, one of the things they tried to explain to me was that people had different roles. So, a given person could act one way around one friend and a different way around a different friend and still be the same person. I was, and truthfully still am, not okay with this idea. Although my abilities and connection with my environment vary wildly from day to day, I am very much always the same person with the same likes, dislikes, and personality. I speak the same way to my friend’s three-year-old as I do to the professionals I speak to about my books. I asked the people at partial if this role-playing was not just another example of pretense, and they said that it’s not pretense at all. I do not understand, and I’m not sure I ever will, but just having that concept of the world explained to me rather rocked my world.
I sincerely hope that the next step of emergence will be related to contuinity. I have little concept of time… I don’t know what day it is, what time of day it is, if or when I’ve eaten last, when I woke up or when I need to go to bed. Sometimes I’ll think it’s been many hours and it’s been minutes, and other times it’s the opposite. I obsess over things such as, “We’ll meet with my trainers tomorrow at 9. Mom will pick me up at 8. That’s in x hours.” But really, I can’t get a feel for when that is, how long I have, what I need to do. Also, my memories from the day are just a few random sensory impressions… there is no connection from one to the next, either. My mom says she thinks I’ve always been this way, but it’s definitely more confusing than it used to be. I live in a fractured world. If I could emerge from this fracturing of reality into a continuous one, I think I’d be more comfortable.