Color Theory

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, Tyoma 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 Tyoma 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?”

And then,

“What does ‘incandescent’ mean?”

I experienced an “Aha!” moment. Much of our time together followed a recurring pattern:

  1. Tyoma asks a question.
  2. I respond with a sprawling monologue.
  3. He interrupts to ask me about a word.
  4. 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 Tyoma.

Grateful

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.

Comments

  1. I don’t know if you meant this to be as hilarious as I found it to be, but I just LOVED reading this. And Lori, I have to tell you, I am so pleased to call you my friend (even though we’ve never met)! I loved the image of you pushing Tyoma in his swing, toddler and Mom discussing color theory. I loved your description of how you could easily have STAYED in your basement going on at length with little Tyoma interrupting you with questions regarding the definitions of various words that would have had many adults running to google, forget a precocious 4 year old. I just loved all of this, ALL of it!

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Thank you very much Ariane!

      My husband read your comment and we discussed your reaction. My intentions were not to amuse, but to retell. In that telling, absurdity exists and humour, too. I am cheery and I look back with cheer. You delight me with your appreciation. I see myself in a newer, kinder light because of it. Thank you for your accepting and loving comment. Much appreciated! 🙂

  2. I loved this. You are awesome. We get the comments on both my kids from teachers about their atypical for their age vocabulary and knowledge. I was thinking as i read this, that of course, my partner is aspie, and she has always explained their questions to them about the world in great detail with adult language. She loves it, they love it, it’s wonderful. though they are beginning to see my lack of encyclopaedic memory as a frustrating thing about me. thank God for google for the rest of us.

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Thank you for sharing! It buoys my spirit to know that other Aspie parents lecture just like me! Sharing knowledge is a deep joy and children who love to soak it up pull the human race forward. How delightful so many minds can assemble to put together Wikipedia and the knowledge base we have at our fingers. 🙂

  3. leighforbes says:

    Hahaha! I was thinking of this very subject just this morning! Do I say things like “chromatic variation is an aspect of the Doppler Effect” while pushing my child on a swing. Yes, I do. (And my kids are developing a great vocabulary as a result.) This morning I found myself wondering why. My first thought was, as you suggested, that I don’t bother to simplify my speech; but as I thought on, I realised that with English being so rich, I have a plethora of synonyms to chose from. Consequently, I have the luxury of using precisely the word I need to describe my point, even if that word is rarely used by others. So, regardless of what others think, I’m am proud of my language skills, and rightly so: I once won a contract on the basis of knowing the correct use of a semi-colon :o)

    [Reading back through this comment – to check for grammatical error and typos, you understand – I see “a plethora of synonyms” beautifully illustrates this particular point, and I rest my case:o)]

    • A Quiet Week says:

      I’m stuck trying to formulate an appropriate response other than YES! and HOORAY!

      I agree with you. Words are like paint, every syllable has its own temperature and palette. Seizing the right word feels at times as essential as breathing. I the like precision, cadence, and mouthfeel of the perfect word in a fine sentence. Talking to my son or husband lets my creativity flow, whereas speaking to others stifles me.

      Thank you for visiting with me an sharing your story. I will hold my head up a bit higher and give myself props for my vocabulary!

  4. Life&Ink says:

    Hi Lori, Lovely as usual. I chuckled as I read this for in our household it was Teddy talking with great enthusiasm about physics and me interrupting him to ask about vocabulary and explanations of the theories. This still happens today, I just hang with him better now as he is more patient with me! 🙂

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Ha! A switcheroo! I look forward to the day that I can’t converse with Tyoma without Google nearby!

      The enthusiasm our boys feel is one of the purest joys in life. I am grateful to be a part of that! 🙂

  5. Erma says:

    This is very well written commentary. Share your world with your son. Life is good.

  6. Oh, goodness this all sounds so familiar. This may explain why Ariel and Joshua use the words that they do. I had visions running through my head of lecturing my children just today about Felix Baumgartner jumping from space as I was reading this. Daniel asked a ton of questions I immediately went into science teacher mode so it seemed. Ha ha ha

    I am very happy that you shared this because I am having mixed emotions about following through on getting my diagnosis. I start the process in two weeks. However, I feel that I really need to go through this for various reasons. I love reading your posts you have such a marvelous way of creating written visuals and giving us such lovely tales from your life.

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Thank you Angel. I am sorry that you have mixed feelings about getting a diagnosis. Your online fans love you and accept you 100% as you are, but sometimes the world needs paperwork.

      I respect you very much for schooling your children. I can’t even answer my comments on time, I tremble to think of the work to educate my son–lecturing is easy, structure and consistance are hard. Your autism is a beautiful part of you. It makes you a fantastically gifted poet and, I suspect, a blast to be around.

      I wish you the best on your journey. Many hugs, my friend,

      Lori

  7. Mark says:

    A beautiful post. I think so many people reading this will be able to relate to what you are saying. Oh the joys of the visual thinker

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Thank you Mark for dropping by and encouraging me! The best thing about blogging is finding others who can relate. I appreciate your comment!

      Lori

  8. jess says:

    ha that made me chuckle and remember. Ive argued all my life against various mental health diagnoses (well i didnt argue but i knew they were wrong). The other day i was trying to find out why I have such terrible handwriting and spelling and discovered dysgraphia which is mostly caused by asd. so of course i investigated and since then every thing i read has been a light bulb moment (as you say heart pounding with excitement and fear) then i discovered wandering OMG OMG the relief. I never quite realised how very odd i was till i started putting all together. Ive kinda learnt to withdraw from society so i dont get many comments on it and dont notice it. Your story reminded me of a complaint my 22 yr old daughter still has with now, that when she about 6 she approached me some help with her math homeowrk and i spent the next cpl hrs trying to teach her Pythagoras theroy lol. she wasnt impressed, mind you she did just get a 1st at uni so some of it goes in. thanks all this box ticking from others stories gives me strength to seek a diagnosis 🙂

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Thank you Jess, for visiting with me and taking a moment to comment. I am about to conk out for the night, but I could not resit sending a high five to you.

      I understand completely what you mean about multiple MH diagnoses. I sometimes feel as if a I have a sprinkle of everything! Nothing ever pulled my life together like autism, however. Exploring this new aspect of your life can be very exciting. I wish you the best of luck. Tommorow, I’ll post a few links for you–wonderful sites by thoughtful and sensitive autistics.

      Best of luck!
      Lori

  9. I loved reading this and my kids are always laughing at the long words I use too! Oh and I blogged recently about suspecting that I may have aspergers too, just like my son 🙂

  10. suburp says:

    You know you are a beautiful soul, Lori…
    Now as I said before I put my current social awkwardness down to certain life experiences, but my father’s genes went through me first and the more I read blogs by female autistics, like you, I am thinking there’ll be those so called ‘traits’ that could have come with these.. For sure.
    Age appropriate speech ? Yeah, we never did that either. I suppose things could have become complicated, at least temporarily, if I did have my way and raise him bilingual. But that was rejected violently, so it didn’t happen. But fact is I never did the baby talk and as my English had a certain level in those years, I guess you could say, he learnt at the same level…certainly no academic lectures, but I would explain things properly and with all the proper words.
    When he was 5 and I had just started discussing with the teacher the possibility of autism, they had a sort of show about stranger danger in school. And the teacher told me afterwards how they discussed people touching kids here and there and why it’s not ok and he said “it is very inappropriate!” She was quite amazed and I thought, well, yeah it IS though, right? =D
    Nemo doesn’t sound like a little professor, I think, just like a kid who is a bit on advance on vocabulary and finishes even complex sentences. I am quite happy with that result, however that happened :). (And then he goes and shows another side for his linguistic talent and talks, like, so totally like a bratty teen about his games..0_0)

    • A Quiet Week says:

      Absolutely! I have noticed the same things. I gravitate towards others with traits similar to mine and I feel that most of these traits are hereditary. Diagnoses are sometimes arbitrary. My husband is definitely on the spectrum, but he looks at his life in terms of “traits.” He has many traits, but compensates well. The biggest difference between us is that he is not flattened by sensory sensitivities.

      Good for you for talking to your son at your level. Some brains absolutely gobble up equal treatment! Maybe it’s a mother’s intuition to feed strengths. We were sent to have T evaluated early, in part due to a push for early autism screening. It was a bizarre time. We were so puzzled because both of our families were chock full of eccentrics. It felt like society was trying to normalize us with some faddish diagnosis. How much we have grown and learned. Reading the stories of other autistic adults helped me so much! I am sooo grateful to connect with another mom who has views similar to our own. The rift between autistic adults and parents is painful. It is a horrible thing to view your child as a burden or fuel for dramatic blog posts. Your comics and words are refreshing and delightfully shareable!

      Cheers!
      Lori

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