Every adult diagnosed late-in-life with autism experiences a moment of self-discovery. I remember the day I first wondered if I was autistic.
It happened a few months after my father had been diagnosed with Asperger’s. Dad is a stereotypical Aspie-genius. He could have his own TV series featuring his madcap adventures. Anyway, I had never considered myself on the spectrum.
One snowy day, I entertained my four year old son, Liev in our basement. I pushed him on a swing as he interrogated me about color theory. Cheerily, I rambled on—I was born to deliver science lectures. I suddenly realized Liev asked more questions about the words I used than the color wheel.
“Mama, Mama, what does ‘aggrandize’ mean?”
Three sentences later, another question.
“Mama, what does ‘chromatic’ mean?”
“What does ‘incandescent’ mean?”
I experienced an “Aha!” moment. Much of our time together followed a recurring pattern:
- Liev asks a question.
- I respond with a sprawling monologue.
- He interrupts to ask me about a word.
- I define it and continue with my oration.
My four year old and I could pass an hour or more like this. In fact, I’d still be in the basement lecturing, if given a chance.
I wondered, “Why am I using words like aggrandize with my four year old?” I speak to my son as if he had my vocabulary. At three, he used words like “synchronous” because of it.
For a year he’s quizzed me over my bounteous vocabulary. This was the first time I realized my vocabulary not age-appropriate. Asperger’s children often speak like little professors. How much of this comes from parents who don’t think to simplify their speech? Do I have theory of mind issues?
I contemplated my life, connecting my experiences to the massive quantities of text I read about autism and Asperger’s. Do typical mothers rattle on about color theory to entertain their preschoolers? Do they say “chromatic variation is an aspect of the Doppler Effect” in an offhanded manner, while pushing their child on a swing?
For a split second, I saw the whole picture: All my life I felt different–remote and disconnected from others. I failed at tasks others juggled with ease. My intellectual gifts never translated into consistent success. After living in New Hampshire for two years I had not bothered to make a single friend. Autism seemed to explain it all.
I dismissed each thought as imaginative speculation. Yet—my heart responded with the same joy (and fear!) as the day I saw the double stripes on the pregnancy test that preceded Liev.
I pondered this revelation for six weeks before immuring myself in literature and first person accounts. The stories told by late-diagnosed autistic adults guided me and gave me courage. I rest in a place of joy, contentment, and compassion because they shared their journeys.
I am very, very grateful to them.