Is Autism Really Three Times More Common in Males Than Females?

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It’s been too long since I wrote a blog post. Since the last time I posted, a few things have happened that I did not feel inclined to share online in the present tense. My husband broke his ankle, and my daughter started her last year of high school. While I haven’t felt overwhelmed by either of these events, I’ve definitely had some bittersweet, melancholy days because both are proof that the past is slipping away.

My daughter will soon turn 18, and there’s a lot of uncertainty about which path she’ll take in the transition to adulthood. For those of you who don’t know me in real life or are new to this blog, I will add that my daughter has autism. She was not diagnosed until age 14, despite inquiries on my part to mental health professionals, speech therapists and the like that began when my daughter was two.

I think there’s a strong bias against the diagnosis of autism in girls and women. Perhaps this is the case because it is possible that autism is defined by how it manifests itself in males. Has anyone taken the time to study females with autism to see if they share symptoms in common that aren’t seen as often in males?

As time passes since her diagnosis, I have a growing confidence I myself am one of the uncounted women on the autism spectrum. This is not a case of a mother’s desperation to empathize with her daughter. I can think of several individuals in my family tree who likely lived their whole lives unknowingly on the spectrum. My daughter and I are just the latest ones who carry this unique way of perceiving and relating to reality and the people we encounter in it.

I will close this post with a picture I took of my daughter while she waited for the bus on the first day of this school year. Notice the smile. When she was two and was in speech therapy because she hadn’t spoken a two-word sentence, the staff told me that it was unlikely that she had autism because she could smile at me and hold my gaze. Maybe this is a another example of a gender bias in how autism is defined. My daughter has been able to mirror the gaze and facial expressions of a few people during relatively brief encounters.  I’ve experienced the same thing myself. I can enjoy the company of a particular person for a limited amount of time, and then I’ll need solitude to recover.

Autism in girls and women is still an undiscovered country.

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To the Moon

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In blogging I often encounter posts by other bloggers that affect me deeply. I don’t take enough time to thank the authors for opening a window onto their lives and revealing their struggles, for in doing so the authors do much to validate the humanity of their readers.

This week I had the privilege of reading “From Earth to the Moon” by Rachel Mankowitz. In that post, she opens the window unto a dark time of her early adult life, and I felt great relief in knowing that I was not the only one who lagged behind in my youth. I often think I’m past regretting those days, but essays like Rachel’s remind me that I have work to do in this regard.

I responded to her post this morning at her blog, but I will take the time on my blog to expand on that comment.

I’m intrigued at how she found inspiration in the miniseries that shares the name of her post. I’ve also gravitated toward the “moon shot” during times of adversity. Just last year, I wrote a post called “I Choose to Go to the Moon” when I moved forward from my failed back surgery. I thought it only natural to use that metaphor given that I live just 20 miles from Neil Armstrong’s hometown, but now I see that the process of America’s moon landing has inspired many people to overcome the odds, regardless of place.

Now I will approach the heart of the comment I made on Rachel’s post. I wrote:

This post affected me deeply. Much of my young adulthood was a wasteland due to mental health issues, mostly major depression. I dropped out of college twice and did not get a degree. When my depression would clear temporarily, I’d make impulsive choices with a long-term impact on my future, such as up and moving 2,000 miles away and coming back with an infant daughter. The fog didn’t begin to clear until I was 35. I’ve found a way of thinking of that time that helps ease my regret (because there usually is regret over the loss of what-could-have-been). When I start to beat myself up over what I may have lost during those dark years when I was 19-35 years old, I think: What did I really miss out on? Buying a bunch of stuff that by now no one wants anymore. The secondhand stores and junk car lots are full of the things I couldn’t afford to buy when they were new. What is the time pressure our culture imposes on mental health recovery but an indictment of the patient’s economic productivity?

I admit is rather odd to use a block quote on one’s own writing in this case, but it’s the most efficient way of taking what I wrote there and putting it here.

It is possible that I owe my thoughts on economic productivity and mental health to my history of madness. I choose to embrace the term madness because no better term captures how I made choices in my early adulthood. What I do know is that it does me no good to disavow my past diagnoses. Doing so would be a disservice to myself and those who currently live with major depression. I’m aware that I may undermine the authority of my words spoken and written in admitting my mental health history, but isn’t that risk wrapped in stigma? While stigma reigns, people will not understand the intersection between mental health and the rest of one’s life. For instance, just because I was depressed at the time doesn’t mean that my testimony has no validity.

I am grateful for my fractured past. My struggles both mental and physical were persistent reminders of how much I need God in my life. I know the truth of Solomon’s words, “Whatever happens or can happen has already happened before. God makes the same thing happen again and again” (Eccles. 3:15 GNT).

The things I buy now will become things no one else wants. My car I so value now will someday be deconstructed, recycled, its parts reused. Meanwhile there are young people just emerging into adult life, and some will progress slowly because of mental health issues. If you have such a young person in your life, be patient with him or her. Life itself is a gift worth far more that what a person can buy or do.

On a clear day you can see the end of winter

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The saga of my lying coworker continues, but compassion has calmed most of this storm. In borrowing from the losses and frustrations of those around her, she may be telling us, “I am no stranger to pain, but I cannot bring myself to tell anyone what wounded me.”

Half an eon ago in internet history, I read a superb parody tribute to Journey’s Steve Perry which listed bizarre fictional accomplishments. The feats included being locked in a sauna for seven years, which somehow destroyed his perceptions of the present tense. It’s like my coworker was locked in that sauna too and emerged with a faulty grasp of the past and the present.

I took the picture above the morning after last month’s storm. The beauty of that snow reminds me that I need to alter my attitude about winter. In the past ten years, I’ve felt like winter is at best a waiting room for spring. I’ve considered that this is a habit that could result in my wishing away 25% of the rest of my life.

Would I Lie to You?

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I resolved this year to dwell much less on the faults of others, but I continue to deal with a situation rich with temptation toward judgment. Last summer, I mentioned that I know someone who lies more often than she tells the truth.

What would you do if you worked with someone who told the truth about the work itself but lied about her personal life 80% of the time?

I’ve tried to approach this matter from many different angles. I’ve considered that her lies could be a firewall of sorts between home and work. If that is the case, I’d rather that she remain mum about her private life. For months, I’ve tried the strategy of I’ll-ask-you-no-questions-so-you’ll-tell-me-no-lies, to little avail. The tales continue, embroidered with ever-deeper fabrication.

That I even know she lies about her personal life is a problem in itself. I “smelled a fault” in her stories early in my acquaintance with her, which provoked my natural tendency toward playing Bluebeard’s wife. I admit that I’ve checked her stories versus information online about herself and some of the people she talks about. Yes, I’ve spent time enlightening myself about things that are not my business. I’m aware I should “get a life” and stop looking, but I think many people would be tempted to do the same in my shoes.

My husband warned me that I could discover something I wish I didn’t know (Bluebeard’s wife strikes again!), and he was not wrong in that warning. I know that my coworker is in the midst of a whopper of a lie, a lie of such epic proportions that I’m stunned she can craft such a tale and hold down a full-time job at the same time. In the past fortnight, she has fabricated the birth of a special-needs, born-at-25-weeks grandchild who was actually born full-term and healthy two months ago! She announced her daughter’s pregnancy to us the day after her grandchild was born!

Today she told me that her grandson weighs 2.2 lbs, is 9″ long and has an 80% chance of having Down’s Syndrome. And he was born this week, too. Apparently, he may be older than I am because today’s conversation makes me wonder if I was born yesterday.

I just let her talk, like I did a few months ago when I encountered a woman (outside work, btw) who told me the story of how she sustained a pregnancy at age seven complete with home birth and immediate, involuntary adoption of the baby. Sadly, the 7-year-old mother story is more plausible than the chances of a baby born healthy and yet reborn months later at 25 weeks with an 80% chance of a genetic trisomy (really?!? what hospital can handle an extreme preterm delivery that wouldn’t offer genotyping of a newborn at risk for genetic issues?).

What complicates matters at work is that her lies are circling the proverbial airport of actual struggles of some other coworkers, myself included. For instance, she told me a fictional name for her grandson today, and it was the same name that my late maternal grandmother gave a son that she lost late in her second trimester of that pregnancy. Worse, yet another of my coworkers, a person who is very, very dear to me, actually received a devastating, pregnancy-related diagnosis years ago at the same hospital the liar claims her daughter gave birth at this week. It’s like the liar is retelling the greatest loss my dear friend ever suffered and corrupting it with a false ending!

Has the liar become malicious or is she disintegrating into delusion? I wish I could tell my friend that I’ve discovered that life had broken the liar in our midst before we even met her, that her stories tell us no more of her heart than a trail of broken glass on the road speaks of a car accident. I do believe that the liar is broken, but the revelation of her fractures doesn’t do much to heal the hurt she is causing to my friend.

I’ve tried talking around the subject with the liar, trying to remind her through stories that it’s never too late to tell the truth. I retell the tale of how one of great-grandfathers lied about his identity and how blessed my family was to discover his real life story, even 80 years after his death. How much better things would have been had my grandma not lost 80 years of time with her father’s extended family!

It’s times like this that I must remind myself that Christ died for everyone’s sins. I try to see my dishonest coworker as Christ would see her, and I know that I am only beginning to understand the how vast the mercy and love of Christ is.

Happy New Year

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I hope that 2019 is full of happiness and good health for you.

This week I’ve seen some memes on social media suggesting that one should disregard the passing from one year to the next on the grounds that time is an artificial construct. I think that time matters no matter how arbitrarily it is divided, and I am hoping for a better year in 2019.

I continue to work on changing my outlook on life to one that is more positive. The best thing that happened this year was my realizing that I had become so negative about people, situations, and challenges that my very perspective poisoned many dimensions of my life. My mindset made almost everything harder to do, and my sharp tongue undoubtedly hurt those closest to me at times.

Every New Year is a reminder that old habits can be hard to change. I strive to be more optimistic and ruminate less on the perceived faults of myself and those around me, but this process is not an easy one. For instance, why waste time at all anatomizing the shortcomings of someone else? There is only one scenario where such an exercise would be beneficial, within the creation of a fictional person whose imperfections shed light on what it means to be human. Which brings me to something I think is one of the great yet frustrating mysteries of the human mind and heart: why does it seem so temptingly easy to see what someone else is doing wrong yet so hard to see what role we play in our own problems?

I am devoting more time to prayer and faith because I crashed upon a rocky shore of misery worrying about the present and the future. Praying has helped me a lot, but I have a long way to go in deepening my trust in God. I worry less but still too much. I worry most of all about my daughter. Any prayers for her peace of mind and courage to do what needs done to finish her last year and half of high school would be appreciated.

What are your hopes for this New Year?