This week I bought my husband a new-to-us car. (by the way, big deal, this is the first car I’ve ever purchased on my own. I’ve always had someone else around to test drive and negotiate for me) When I took it out to drive it, the owner came with me. We got stuck at a light that was broken for a *very* long time. I told him that we were frequently in that area and he asked why. Here’s how the introduction to the conversation went down:
“oh yeah? Why are you down here so much?”
“well, my daughter goes to ACI over there. We come down a couple times per week.” (the autism center she goes to for play therapy)
“Oh, so your daughter is autistic? I have a friend whose son has autism.”
“well, she and I both are autistic, yes.”
blinking “what? You? How??”
Hahaha, I was pretty nervous at this point, but it occurred to me that I had an option. I could help him understand that autism may not be what he thinks it is or I could get offended at his ignorance and clam up. Ever the activist, I pointed the conversation towards how lots of autistic girls can be so adept at blending and how so many of our issues bubble below the surface. We talked about hiding anxiety and learning not to stim in ways that people find odd. We talked about societal norms and how the struggle is very real, even if it doesn’t “seem” that way to the outside observer. We even discussed my experience with what I jokingly now call “Homegrown ABA Therapy.” (I told you we were at that light a long time!)
At the end he was as excited as I am about my daughter’s service dog and her strengths and I could tell he was still unsure, but his mind had been opened to the possibility that autism is maybe not what he thought it looked like. It made me much happier to buy that little convertible from him, too. So, note to autistics: if you choose to disclose, be kind and patient. Note to neurotypicals: if an autistic person lets you into their world, listen and be ready to have your perspective shift.
Now onto what the heck is Homegrown ABA Therapy? I think it can take all kinds of shapes, but it’s anything that helps us build our perception of “normalcy” to the outside world. For me it was being a pageant kid. I was in dance classes and pageants from the time I could walk. I learned how to walk, how to smile, how to talk, how to move, how to impress people, what seemed “weird” and how to hide the weird. I learned how to appear confident and how to talk over the butterflies. As a result, I’ve always been pretty good at masking most things and can even be more “functional” than some neurotypicals in certain ways.
Being that outgoing and putting on that much of a show does take it’s toll, however. I do need frequent breaks from being around people and when I crash I crash HARD. I struggle to maintain that level of composure with my family (I feel like I shouldn’t be fake with them) and then am wracked with guilt that I treat strangers “better” than I treat my own kids. I also struggle with knowing people for years sometimes and then letting down my guard (or dropping it, because I can’t hold it up anymore) and then them thinking I’m completely jacked up and they never really knew me at all.
One thing Violet has on me? I won’t make her hold up that face. I want her to have *real* confidence in who she is. I struggle with these lessons because I haven’t even learned them myself, but so far she is far more sure of her strengths and weaknesses than I was. We’ll just keep parenting with intuition and learning WHO our kids are and what they need and hope for the best. Just like my parents did.