I grew up without and Autism diagnosis. All I knew was that the other children thought I was weird and I did not fit in. Growing up I wondered what was wrong with me. Feelings and emotions that others had escaped me. I remember feeling disconnected and thinking I was incapable of love.
Recently I watched all of the home videos from my childhood starting with my first bath. Even at a very young age my Autism was obvious – if you know what to look for.
Being my mother must have been difficult. In almost all the videos I want nothing to do with her. She (and everyone) calls my name over and over again, but I act as if I cannot hear her. I have no interest in my mother in my baby videos. It is as if she does not exist to me.
My toys however DID exist, but not the dolls and stuffed animals. Little me LOVED the toy phones, radios, and record players. Anything mechanical with buttons to press or wheels that spun, and I had no interest in sharing these items and experiences with my family members.
Over and over again, my mother enthusiastically said my name in a sing song voice, but I did not even flinch. Eventually I learned, out of fear, to pay attention to my mother when she called me. When I became a teenager, failing to hear my mother would bring out her wrath and got me into trouble.
Another marker for autism, stereotyped repetitive speech and movements filled all my videos. I flapped my hands, spun in circles, rocked back and fourth, and in an earlier video when everyone is singing the birthday song to my aunt, I seem stuck saying “happy balloon” over and over and over again (as I flap a balloon in the air like a maraca).
Even in later videos, at about the age of seven, my verbal and physical stims are hard to miss. It is as if I cannot stop moving. There is a video of my step father holding me still and tickling me, watching it makes me want to cry. Doesn’t he know?
Being tickled was the worst and being held still was almost as bad. I say over and over again “let go, let go, let go!” in the rhythm to the song playing on the radio as my family sings along. He was torturing me, and laughed as he did it. I hated my step father.
There are things that I remember about my childhood that we did not have on tape. My mother would always telling me “Look at my nose. Look at my nose” when she spoke to me, trying to teach me the eye contact that has never come naturally.
I also remember my family constantly reminding me to “use my indoor voice” becase I had a VERY hard time modulating my speech when I was younger, I still do from time to time if I get excited. Sometimes when I am feeling extremely enthusiastic, even now, the tone of my voice becomes squeaky and high pitched.
Thirty years ago Autism was not as well known and understood as it is now, and was primarily thought of as a “male disorder”, but still I remember my mother fighting back when the teachers at school tried to suggest she have me examined by a professional.
She was protecting me. I know that, but can’t help but wonder how my life would have been different if I had been diagnosed as a little girl. Would I have been diagnosed correctly or would I have been heavily medicated with Ritalin like so many other kids were back then?
I will never know because although my Autism was obvious everybody around me missed (or ignored) it.
For you visual learners – more info about the early signs of childhood Autism in the video below.
Early Signs of Autism Video Tutorial – Kennedy Krieger Institute