I had goals this year. I wanted to move out on my own, find a full time job, date seriously, become a Real Grown Up who has Accomplished Things. The truth? I have not accomplished any of these things. I did, however, accomplish other, lesser goals of mine: I have deepened good relationships and cut off toxic ones. I have spent more time outdoors, gone on adventures, done new things, danced, sang, cursed my limits but accepted them, seen new places, met new people. And along the way, I have met a new goal, one that I didn’t even know that I had but I am so, so glad to fulfill.
This year was the year that I discovered the gifts of autism. This was the year that I finally accepted it, and stopped calling myself ‘a person with Aspergers’ but ‘an autistic person’ instead.
Let me be clear: I dislike autism. Immensely. It has this odd habit of running, and ruining, my life. However, since I cannot change my brain, I decided quite some time ago to change my outlook, change my environment, and change the people I spent time with in order to lessen autism’s grip. I found a really, really good therapist. I found some really, really good friends. I still have weeks now and then where depression and despair take hold, but I know now that life will go on, and that no matter how much pain I may be in at any given moment, the sun will rise tomorrow, just as it always has. Life will go on, and all I can do is live it, each day as it comes.
And then – to take this blog’s name literally – quite unexpectedly – the rose which I never saw as a rose before – opened.
It opened with community. It opened on a bright, sunny day when I sat on the sand in the company of friends and their amazing kids, and some of these kids had autism, and some didn’t, and it didn’t matter, it didn’t matter at all – but it did. Because autism, you see, was what had brought us together. Without autism, we would never have known one another. And so, on that day, for the very first time, I was grateful – very grateful – for autism.
It was kind of amazing. It was kind of awesome. It was ordinary, and extraordinary, and it was so very, very joyful. I loved these people. I trusted these people. I let these people touch me. (Well, okay, not their husbands. But still, that’s a pretty damn big thing for me.) My fears, my insecurities, didn’t matter – the more painful aspects of autism that my friends deal with daily didn’t matter, the seizures and communication issues all faded away, and for just one day, just one long moment, we were ordinary friends, sitting in the sun and soaking up this life, and this gift which has been given to us.
This year, I saw a play, heard a concert, explored a museum and relaxed on a (different) beach with people that I have met through the autism community. I had the unforgettable experience of introducing a young teen to a fantastic music group. I had deep discussions with adults of kids with autism about the similarities their kids and I shared – really odd similarities, like our reactions to certain medications or the way we read other people’s energy. I inquired gravely about a certain fictional character’s day, and was rewarded with a smile that could power Manhattan and a long, detailed explanation of it that, quite frankly, I didn’t really care about, because the point was not that I was invested in this character: the point was that I asked, and I listened. And in turn, others listened to me.
It is one of my firmest beliefs that autistics need other autistics, and we need autistic community, for one major reason. The fact is that I, at least, with the exception of my mother, cannot fully relax around *anyone*, or in any social situation. I am always, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I am always alert to the fact that I might offend someone at any given moment, might read a social situation wrong, might be overwhelmed by an assault on my senses, may lose the thread of the conversation and be unable to pick it up again. I am always, always worried about appearing stupid, or annoying, or ungrateful. I apologize profoundly, I rehearse conversations in my mind, I leave before I get tired at an event, before I make a mistake.
But when I am with autistic people, I do not have to do any of that. I do not have to offer up feeble excuses for the way that my brain works. I do not have to suffer in silence. I do not feel burdened or annoying, because I know that if I were to do something hurtful, these people would come right out and tell me so so that I could cut it out.
This, then, is the gift of autism. The gift of community, of laughter, of shared troubles and triumphs, of insignificant things made memorable, of tears, and laughter, and meltdowns. It is finding friends of all ages and abilities and realizing that even if the rest of the world should abandon you, these people will not. These people – your people. Your community. Mine.
Yes, 2014 did kind of suck. The world remains in turmoil and I acknowledge that the privilege of my having good food, shelter, and other basic needs met mean that I can revel in having more than that. I am grateful for my home, for the material comforts that I possess, for warmth and chocolate and tiny babies growing up into big boys. But I am most grateful of all for what I never knew I had before – for community. For love.
Happy New Year.