I went through my entire childhood and early adulthood not understanding why I wasn't like the people around me. Peers in elementary school laughed me at. Peers in high school bullied me. Colleagues largely ignored me for the past sixteen or so years. I have been able to see that for all of these years, not everyone was treated this way. People were liked, had friends, had meaningful relationships, were not bullied or abused or otherwise taken advantage of. Why wasn't life like this for me?
Suddenly it all began to make sense.
It wasn't until my children were diagnosed as autistic that I began to take apart every awful interaction of my previous 43 years of life, or as far back as I could recall. Suddenly it all began to make sense- I was prone to bad relationships with men, I have a lot of anxiety, I struggle to start projects and even more difficulty finishing them. I cannot fathom eye contact with strangers, and barely manage it with family. I've spent a lifetime practicing how to be considered socially "acceptable," and even so I fall just outside, always managing to say one thing wrong or slightly out of place. I stim as needed, usually in the form of rocking back and forth, and I struggle to enter one entire section of Target because I can feel the sound and vibration of the HVAC system in my core.
As a child, I could hear a piece of music and then begin to play it on the piano. When I hear a new song, I am able to begin humming along with it as if I'd always known the tune. While I am horribly face-blind, I can remember loads of "stuff" that I've learned throughout my life; typically insignificant bits of information, which are sometimes helpful to a situation, if I can manage to spit them out at the right time. I am a concrete thinker to the extreme, and while I do also understand humor when it is framed as such, I take people at face value. Always.
I began writing about my family a couple of years ago, as a way to share our story with anyone interested. And along the way I've discovered about myself that I was always autistic and never diagnosed. I don't know if I'll ever seek out a diagnosis or if it will be enough for me personally to self-identify. All I can know for now is that after 43 years on this planet, I finally make sense to myself. Does anything else much matter?
Laura Riker is a writer living in Upstate New York. She has identified as autistic and is raising kids who are diagnosed on the autism spectrum, one of whom also has ADHD. Mrs. Riker works for a non-profit agency supporting people with disabilities and their families, and she also manages her agency's Autism Lending Library and enjoys working directly with people with sensory needs. Mrs. Riker writes a blog about herself and her family at www.beautifulnoise.blog