Quirky

That’s the word my preschool teacher used to describe my daughter. At the time she was not the topic of discussion- that would be my son, who had been recently diagnosed with autism. The teacher was talking about how she would have caught it once he joined her class the following year, especially as his sister was so “quirky.” This is a teacher I love. Someone who respects her students and their individuality.

I was an odd kid. I’m an odd adult. My husband thinks I have Asperger’s. I don’t know if I do and it really doesn’t matter. What does matter is that both my daughter and I march to the beat of a different drum from most of society. Traits are there. Maybe not enough to get a diagnosis, but still there. When my son was first diagnosed and we went through the seemingly endless number of evaluations I kept finding myself answering questions thusly:

“Does he reject new food? Is he a picky eater?”
“No, but his sister is.”

“Does he have a difficult time with transitions?”
“Well, all kids do. His sister is probably worse than he is.”

Sometimes I feel like autism is spread throughout our household in various ways. My son is sensory-seeking and has no major health problems. His autism mostly takes the form of various developmental delays: speech, abstract concepts, social cues. I have self-diagnosed as having sensory processing disorder. It has been amazing to be able to have an identifier for how I feel- why I hate being touched, why I hate certain textures/flavors, and why I lash out verbally when the noise is so overwhelming that I can’t take it anymore.

My daughter is very intelligent. But early on we noticed a lot more oddities in her than we did with our son. Lining up toys. Things having to be exactly a certain  way. Obsessing over letters.

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The above is her handiwork.

One time I caught her bawling because a book wouldn’t say upright on a shelf. Books were supposed to be upright! She held it up with her hand, but then she couldn’t walk away because it would fall. So she just stood there, hand on book, completely losing her shit over the situation.

But she was very intelligent and that allowed me to help her get a handle on some things. I found out that explaining things in detail ahead of time could prevent a lot of problems. If something set her off it was impossible to calm her down. If I explained X was going to happen at Y time she was fine. “Tomorrow Mommy is going to sleep in. Don’t wake me up. I put yogurt on the bottom shelf of the fridge for you. It’s already opened, you just have to peel back the foil. Don’t wake me up. I will make you waffles when I get up.” And because this event was scripted, she screamed at her father not to make her waffles when he got up early. “No! MOMMY GAVE ME YOGURT! NO WAFFLES!”

Transitions for activities were horrible and explaining time was difficult. Kids have no concept of “two days from now.” Not at that age. I bought one of those pocket calendars that teachers use and printed out my own cards for daily activities. Playgroup, doctor visits, school, birthday parties, family visits, etc. were all on there. Instead of obsessing over something for ages (like a grandparent visiting in three weeks) she could clearly see it on the calendar and get a feel for how long a day/week/month was. It helped immensely, and it was only later that I found out many parents use such methods for their autistic children. When my son’s therapists first started coming to our house they asked if it was for him. I have a teaching credential, so scaffolding her learning has just come naturally.

Which leads me to question the whole “neurotypical” thing. Back when we first started our journey into the ASD world, the therapists told us that “we’re all on the spectrum somewhere.” It sounded like something you’d tell to parents to make them feel better, but maybe it’s true. One of my friends is a speech therapist. She tells me that the parents often exhibit the same qualities as their children, just on a much more functional level. The parents themselves are eccentric, or hyperfocused, or quirky, and their kids demonstrate the same behaviors, just like 100x more.

It’s enough to make you question why we’re shoving people into these categories in the first place. I recently watched this TED talk where Jon Ronson described flipping through a copy of the DSM at his friend’s house and immediately finding out he had four different brain disorders. If you look at anyone hard enough you’re going to find things “wrong” with them. Autism itself used to fall under the category of childhood schizophrenia. It’s diagnostic net is now so wide that it captures 1 in 68 children. That’s a LOT. One of the struggles of the adult autistic community is getting people to view them as different, not broken. Do we really think that 1 in 68 children is born with a malfunctioning brain? Or is it more likely that this is just a normal variation on the bell curve?

*Originally posted on my Tumblr.

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