My family was literately ripped apart by my younger brother. He was intellectually impaired. Severely. He was one hell of a burden on the women (his mother, and then briefly his step-mother), but never my father. Dad escaped into work, golf, gardening and the pub. Bastard. AND he decided into the bargain that Phillip wasn’t his son and thus the ripping began, and ended with two new families, two households, step parents, half-siblings and the whole miserable clusterfuck.
The damage was immense, to all of us, but I had my own trauma to endure and gave no thought to my siblings until now. Anyway we survived … to grow up and then fuck up our own relationships. Repeatedly.
In those same years, little was ever said about autism. Compared to the frontline I constantly experienced, autism happened far away, in rare instances, to someone else’s children. When I did read about it I couldn’t comprehend it. There were no degrees of autism. It was absolute; truly weird. It was like intellectual impairment. Equally debilitating. And where did they end up? I never gave it a thought. Perhaps in the IHC? (the Intellectually Handicapped Children’s Society of New Zealand, where Phillip ended up.)
That was the era that explained it away by ‘refrigerator mothers’ [see link], and few people ever bothered to doubt the accuracy of the patriarchal medical profession. Yeah, right, blame the mothers! (Like my father did.)
Oh – and only children got it. Adults were never autistic.
Anyway my mother got lumbered with the Phillip problem, she took it on, and did well. He was placed into the care of the IHC very early on, and spent his days in their shelter. He is still there at age 58. At least he’s happy!
[UPDATE: Phillip died recently, at 59. Out of all of us, he had the best life. Srsly. Farewell, Baby Brother. I’m sorry I was never there for you enough.]
And I blundered onwards through life as a semi-functional adult. I dropped out of university (due to ‘depressive illness’ – a diagnosis I rejected at the time), but I repeatedly succeeded in getting employed, only to quit every job I got, the good and the bad, and I moved on, changed cities often, became a truck driver, then a hippie. I ‘chased tail’ to be utterly crude about it, and had a whole string of fleeting relationships, every one of which I wanted to last forever, and none of which ever did.
Two marriages was my family standard so I achieved that (with a significant de-facto marriage in between, which I eventually sabotaged (unconsciously of course)), and children happened. My second live-born child was a boy, and holy crap he was hell from the get-go! It took years for the penny to drop. He was autistic.
And there the dissonance began. Autism was NOT what I thought it was. Nothing like it, in fact. I was forced into a brutal learning curve; a crash course in disabilities. We scrambled to keep up. ‘M’ was astonishingly bright, but rejected all forms of parental teaching; violently! Book-in-the-face violent. “Don’t try and teach me reading!”
That was heartbreaking. All of it was heartbreaking. And exhausting. The OCD. The wandering. The skirt phase. The utter disinterest in playgrounds, other children, paint, crayons or pens, art & craft of any kind. Oh – and the screaming; the obsessions; the massive crippling anxieties. Then there was the breath-taking genius of his utterances. He was an 18 year old in the body of what looked like a 3 year old (he had growth hormone deficiency – just to add to the fun). He fully understood sexual reproduction – to the zygote level – before he was 4. Got it in the first pass. But he hated swings.
So: autism. suddenly it was right in my face – and little by little, as I lived with and experienced his tantrums; his fears; his voluntary social isolation and his genius – it dawned on me: I was having what he was having. I, too, was autistic.
OH! I’VE MANGED TO LEAVE A ‘TAIL’ ON THIS!! WHAT FOLLOWS IS A DIFFERENT SLANT ON BEING AUTISTIC. THESE SCENES ARE FROM MY 20s:
1) You’re in a room in a house. It is dimly lit. loud music is playing. The room is full of people hunched together talking. There are couples, groups, solo attendees such as yourself. You look around, trying to orient. What is the first thing to do?
Ah; there is a bookshelf. You cross the room and spend at long as necessary studying the available selection. It tells you about who lives here. You find one of those wooden assembly puzzles. Finally – something meaningful to do! You take it and look for somewhere to work, which leads you to the kitchen. It is properly lit, and quieter. You do the puzzle. It’s a good one: three false starts before you nail it.
Someone asks you if you want a drink. You look up. A complete stranger. You ask for chamomile tea. She glances around, perplexed. “They might have some here.” She is boozy. You find the smell repugnant, especially mixed with the taint of cigarettes. She retreats, looking for a bird of her own feather.
You get up and search the cupboards unashamedly. Withing minutes you’ve established a mental inventory of their kitchen, their eating habits, income, and health fads. You find peppermint tea. You make a pot. No-one else takes your offer. you drink alone. The finished puzzle sits begging attention. Someone finally asks, “Did you do that?” – YOU: “Yes.” – HER: “I can never do those.” – YOU: “It’s just a matter of being able to visualise in three dimensions, then hold the asymmetries as you rotate it. Also;” You turn one stick and pull it out, “one piece is usually the key that locks the puzzle. See? What’s different?” – She stares at it blankly, shrugs, “I can never do those. Is that your VB?” YOU: “No.”
She goes away.
Hours later, bored, you do the dishes. Suddenly, numerous women want to be your friend. As the party dibbles to an un-conclusion, you go home with one of them.
2) There is a film festival. You see five movies over eight days, going along with a bunch of your fellow uni students. Each movie is incomprehensible. Boring. Pointless. A waste of time and money. The others loved them! You don’t know why. Fools.
Decades later you realise why it was like that: the movies were about relationships, and at that time you had no way of perceiving that level of human detail.