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.
Today I looked over some photos I took a decade ago, and I found one that delighted me anew because I’d forgotten the moment it captures. There is my daughter striding in front of me (just like she did at the park a couple weeks ago), and my dad stands in profile beyond the depth of field. Back then, he still wore short-sleeved Oxford shirts every day. For years, he had the fixed idea that his Oxford shirt should have a 15½” neck. Back when I was in high school, I made the error of giving him a pink Oxford shirt with a 16″ neck for Father’s Day. It lingered in his closet not because of its color but its size. Years later he abandoned the style altogether rather stoop to buying a larger size.
Dad almost always wears short-sleeved shirts. I have rarely seen him in a fully long-sleeved shirt. I inherited Dad’s short arms, and I can’t wear full-length sleeves without rolling them up. The picture above reminds me that my daughter shares in this trait, too.
Over the past weekend, my daughter and I stopped at a graduation party for one of her classmates. The event was a bittersweet reminder that we will be celebrating that same milestone in a year. If you, dear reader, happen to be the parent of a child much younger than mine, cherish all the moments of childhood, no matter how maddening they may prove to be. Pay no heed to the fact that moments can be held as about as well as water in bare hands.
The party was held at a local park I hadn’t visited before. The day was unexpectedly hot, but we braved the heat for a quick stroll along the new walking trails. In all three pictures, she is ahead of me. As she travels into a country that seems undiscovered to her, she walks in a land I remember from the days of my early adulthood. While we walked in a place that looked new to us, I know I was once in a place so similar to the one she inhabits.
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?
Each year I take a few days from work to help my daughter get ready for school. This morning I made a quick walk through a local public garden to capture some late summer blooms. Bumblebees attended sunflowers both tame and wild. I also spotted dew on some dark caladium leaves that looked like something from a dream:
I will close with a few other pictures from today’s walk, and then I will return to the yearly ritual of the back to school. The next step shall be the haircut. At least the hairstyles nowadays are simple and free of the perms and big hair of my school days.