When choosing holiday decorations stay away from stimulating colors such as reds, oranges, and yellows. When everything else in the world is stimulating and overwhelming you will want to be able to go home to a sensory-friendly safe zone. Blues, deep purples, creams, greys, dusty pinks, and other soothing colors are good choices to help reduce stimulation for Autistics during the holiday season.
In the movie A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven chose red and green for Freddy Krueger’s sweater because he had read in Scientific American that red and green are difficult for humans to perceive at the same time. This is due to green being a calming color and red being a stimulating color. Wes Craven used this to his advantage by dressing Mr. Krueger in his signature red and green sweater in order to induce discomfort in audiences so it enhanced the perception of anxiety and fear when Freddy Kreuger was on screen. You may be asking what the heck does that have to do with the holiday season, right? Well, the two colors that are associated with winter holidays the most are red and green. When we are exposed to these colors, whether or not it is in a horror movie, we still have a difficult time processing green, a calming color, and red, a stimulating color, at the same time and it increases our anxiety and discomfort during the holiday season. To help diminish the anxiety associated with the holidays ban red and green combinations from your holiday decorations at home. This also goes for other stimulating/calming color combinations such as red and blue, yellow and blue, orange and green, yellow and green, and other similar conflicting color combinations. Mix relaxing colors with each other such as grey and dusty blue or choose monochromatic decorations in a calming color.
Skip the metallics! We all love tinsel and glitter. We love the mirrors under candles and the sparkling table runners. Unfortunately, our nervous systems think otherwise. Shiny metallic decorations can increase stimulation, as do mirror ornaments, and other reflective decorations. The sensory experience they provide and the light they reflect can be disorienting and lead to overstimulation and rumbling. We may not even realize that may be the culprit of our stressed-out mood. Try skipping the shiny stuff in your holiday home decorating and you may see your anxiety go down.
Be super picky about the lights you choose to use on your tree or windows! Forget about the super bright LED’s. No Autistic needs bright blue/white light keeping them up all winter long. That defeats the purpose of winter! Instead, stay with lights that complement your calmer decoration colors. Once again you will want to stay away from contrasting colors so if you have a green tree shy away from red lights. However, oddly, red lights in and of themselves are not stimulating. It’s actually quite the opposite. Red lights won’t stimulate the brain at night and disrupt sleep patterns. Red lights are a good choice for around windows where light may shine into a bedroom window possibly keeping people awake. Good colors for trees are golden, clear, blue, and green lights all the same color or even intermixed with purple, orb style lights that give the tree more of a glow are also a good choice. Multicolor lights can add to increased stimulation when mixed with the colors of other ornaments and it may be wise to avoid them. Also, consider forgoing chasing or dancing lights.
Don’t stress about decorating your entire house. The point of decorating is for you to celebrate as you see appropriate. If all you want is a tree with clear lights then by all means just have a tree with clear lights! If all you desire to put up for the holidays is a wreath on your front door and nothing more then go for it! The point is to lessen your meltdown potential during the holiday season by making it a sensory-friendly haven for you. It’s all up to you and what your unique Autistic nervous system can handle.
Rise in Autism rates. Autism Epidemic. Autism Boom. Spike in Autism. No matter how you phrase it the question is the same. We have many theories but no one seems to agree. However, sometimes the answer is so simple and obvious it’s mind boggling and so I step forward to posit an answer to the question, “What is causing the increasing rates of Autism?” I put forth that the internet is a major factor that answers why we have been seeing an increase in Autism Rates over the last 20 years.
Since the beginning the internet has connected people. After all, that is what it was made to do! It went from simple information exchange to the leviathan it is today. Social media connects nearly everyone on the planet including Autistics and Autistics connect via the web just like everyone else and just like everyone else Autistics have found it to be a boon to their community. One that didn’t exist in pre-internet times. One we are protective of and cherish.
Before January 1, 1983, the birth of the internet, and the subsequent invention of social media Autistic people depended on the same modes of communication that everyone else did. The spoken or written word and anyone can correctly guess how that went for us! As the dawn of the internet communication revolution progressed little by little Autistics, like the rest of humanity, have become connected via the internet.
Autistic people now have a tool, the internet, of juggernaut proportions and it has led to the increase in Autism rates. The use of the internet by Autistic people gave the Autistic community a way to simply meet. Something that was more difficult to do in pre-internet days.
One way the world wide web has fostered our growth is recognition. We see others like us now and we connect. We realize we are Autistic too and seek out a diagnosis. One must also take into account that parents and families will see Autistic tendencies in children and each other and pursue an Autism diagnosis for their loved ones. This is all thanks to the internet where before we may not have known others like us existed at all. Internet access has increased recognition and therefore DX’s of Autism have gone up.
A stimulating aspect of the Autism boom, is that the internet has fostered, to be blunt… sex and reproduction. Prior to the mainstream internet we were either not aware of each other, or were under watchful eye. Both can cause issues with meeting and having sex. Now we have a way to connect and don’t fool yourself. Autistics even use hook up apps such as Tinder. These meetings have led to romances, interludes, and marriages. Just as it’s helped non Autistic communities improve their sex lives.
Another way the internet has affected Autistic mating is observation and comfort. We can now get to know people prior to meeting. We can process and analyse, as we do, potential sexual partners. This increases comfort when finally meeting and the subsequent relationship that follows. Not all internet friends turn out to be intimate partners but it’s safe to say they the internet has quelled some of the anxiety that comes with seeking a sexual partner. As a result, birth rates between Autistics have gone up. We are seeing more Autistic people because Autistic people are having Autistic babies.
As mentioned before the internet has helped form an Autistic community. Now we aren’t afraid to go out and seek a DX or even come out self DX’d, when we realize that we are Autistic! We know there is no shame in our community and we are protective of our own. Instead of hiding in the shadows and masking a life that is not true to us we can go forth and say “I think I’m Autistic” or “I’m Autistic” and I need a diagnosis. Autists aren’t alone anymore and people feel better about seeking a diagnosis because of the community the internet has allowed to form. We have a cushion to land on when we get that final word that we are Autistic. It has emboldened people!
It seems overly simplistic when you think about it. However Occam’s Razor says the simplest answer is the best one. The internet gives us a platform in which recognition of each other, reproduction and romance, community, and comfort has increased the rates of Autism in the world. Do you know what? It’s a good thing!
Today, I am compelled to the keyboard with a heavy heart. We once again have “mercy killing in the name of love”. A mother, to use the term loosely, killed her son because she was stressed and overwhelmed by his Autism. In the past years, there have been increased news reports of parents killing their Autistic children. Why?
Now I’m not one to simply say it’s just an increase in occurrence, just like I’m not one to believe that “compassion murders” haven’t happened before now. They always have happened but the reported frequency has been increasing in recent years. I would like to say this is because we have more awareness of this insidious behavior but the responses that have always been the same from the ableist, typical, non-disability crowd have proved otherwise. That is overwhelming compassion for the murder(s) because they had it hard as a parent or caregiver. Nevermind the fact that the disabled person is the victim of abled egoism and homicide! Oh, think of the horror to perish at the hands of the only person you trust on the planet! The general public romanticizes unsolicited mercy killings, but at what cost?
In a very tongue in cheek way, I am going to say it’s my Autistic Empathy that reasons that when a person engages in consenting acts of sex with the intent to reproduce, the lack of concern if they are to conceive offspring because they feel that they are ready to be parents or even just accepting you are pregnant and choose to keep the pregnancy, you enter a covenant with the child/ren that you have conceived (or adopted in some cases). It’s an eternal agreement with nature and whatever higher power you may believe in, whether moral, ethical, the universe, or religion, that you help that child thrive. In times where the child is born disabled, it’s a covenant that we all should honor until we leave this Earth.
We have an entire section of society that frowns on terminating viable pregnancies even if there is a disability found prior to birth, however, this pro-life outrage is often absent in the wake of a mercy killing. If one is not for terminating a pregnancy on the basis that it is still a human why are we okay with killing a postnatal 10-year-old with a disability? The answer is simple and can be explained with the boiled frog metaphor.
A “Cliff Note Explanation” for those who did not click the link! There is a myth, or fable if you prefer, that if you put a frog into a pot of hot water then that frog will jump, fight, and try to flee for its life but you put a frog in a pot of frog friendly tempered water and gradually heat it up the frog will allow itself to be cooked to death.
This is exactly what is happening with society in regard to mercy killings! We relate and feel bad for the first one we heard that made national news, often it’s a romantic expose on a husband that killed his wife “out of love” and not being able “to see her suffer”. The next one, well, it’s not as bad as the first or it may be worse than the first, either way, you reason, they were under stress as well and people act out of character under stress. You understand how someone would kill an adult child that was afflicted such as theirs was. The disabled adult is in a better place now. Soon, we learn of another carer snapping under duress and murdering a loved one, a child, and we feel for them, relate, empathize. You reason that the other two were acceptable and so this is as well. You can see yourself in their position and your heart aches for them, that they had to make that decision.
Years, go by and we keep hearing of these heart wrenching decisions. All of the abled society deems it necessary that these are acceptable murders that should be forgiven. You’re consider yourself pro-life and against abortion and assisted suicide but thoughts turn to the disabled in your own family. The last time you attended a March for *Insert Hypocritical Cause Here* or convention your Autistic child made it impossible to be there. They were clearly in extreme distress and you just “can’t watch them suffer anymore”. Instead of doing what is rational and logical in the name of love which is adapting to them being in your life by adjusting your lifestyle to enable them to thrive, your mind turns to murder for mercy. You’re a martyr in your plight and God and society would understand! You focus on your perception of quality life, you don’t consider that this person, this human that loves you and trusts you to cherish them and help them live may not even perceive themselves as in need of death to escape. All they know is that when you enter the room their heart soars.
I will end this entry there because without saying the people that have allowed themselves to be peer pressured into seeing the murder of the disabled as acceptable are incorrigible monsters. We may have a disability but at least we aren’t morally inept.
Until Death Do Us Part may we all join hands and enable each and every human to survive regardless of life circumstances.
Most would agree that the Autistic Meltdown is the most notorious symptom related to Autism. An Autistic Meltdown is when the Autistic Nervous System reacts to being overwhelmed by environmental stimulation. These can range from external reasons (such as bright light) to internal ones (such as panic when plans change abruptly). Often this reaction manifests in an apparent display of intense feelings. Passion, Rage, or Overly Silly and Giggly. Meltdowns manifest in many ways. Which makes sense because humans overall are creatures with feelings and our emotions lead to their display. As with NeuroTypicals, the NeuroDivergent comes in a plethora of variations.
When Melting Down the Autistic Nervous System is being overstimulated and is interpreting that overstimulation as pain. It will do whatever it can in order to stop that pain. This is where Extreme Stimming comes into play.
During an intense Autistic Meltdown, Autistics both young, old, male, and female may engage in Extreme Stims commonly referred to as Self Injurious Behavior (SIB). I prefer the term Extreme Stim because the stimming isn’t intended to cause injury or harm. It’s meant to flip the figurative kill switch and bring you out of fight or flight mode. When Melting Down the Autistic Nervous System is being overstimulated and is interpreting that overstimulation as pain. It will do whatever it can in order to stop that pain. This is where Extreme Stimming comes into play.
I’ll explain but first I’m going to explain it to you in a smaller, more understandable, and way more relatable, way. I’ll use baseball as a life reference.
Baseball in and of itself is a painful experience and I’m pretty sure most people were unreasonably forced to play baseball (or some form of sports that included a ball in school). When you or someone else was hit by the ball either you’d instinctively rub the area or your gym teacher or another kid would tell you to rub the injury and rubbing where the ball hit would surprisingly help the pain even though it makes no sense at all, or does it?
In a nutshell when you get hit by a ball the signal that you were hit by the ball travels up the nervous system to your brain. The brain sends signals back and produces pain. When you gently stimulate the injury by rubbing, shaking, or “walking it off” it sends a signal up the same nerves and interrupts the nervous system process and signals from the pain and this helps make it feel better.
The same thing goes for the nervous system pain during an Autistic Meltdown. As I said before during a Meltdown the Autistic Nervous System interprets overstimulation as pain and reacted as though it’s on fire. It panics and senses impending doom. (I’m not being overly dramatic this is how an Autistic Meltdown feels psychologically and you can’t control it at will, you just go along with it because you have no choice!) In response, the nervous system does the only universally wide instinctive thing that we all share. It seeks out and applies stimulation that will stop that pain. Since the nervous system is on fire and in panic it seeks out stimuli that are more extreme than the environmental assault the Autistic Person is going through. Head hitting, screaming, rocking, head banging, pulling hair, stabbing oneself, etc. are all ways that this can be done. These extreme stims help calm the nervous system by stopping the pain with alternative simulation very much like rubbing an injury.
Extreme Stims also provide enough stimulation that activates the Endorphin System which is the body’s natural pain killer. There are many studies on Endorphins and Autism including evidence that Autistic’s naturally have Endorphin Deficiencies. Which would explain why our nervous systems panic in the first place! That’s for another article though.
If you, or someone you know, experience Extreme Stims that are dangerous, potentially dangerous, or life-threatening you can learn replacement activities that will produce the same neurological reaction when applied when you are still in the rumbling stage and still maintain control over yourself. Replacement Stims may or may not prevent or lessen a Meltdown overall. If you have the opportunity please consult an Occupational Therapist or other Expert in Sensory Input.
You will want to focus on things that get your endorphins flowing. I have had luck with running and sprinting. (If you do take your stimming outdoors make sure you take a sedative that will calm you but not put you to sleep just in case you do sense a loss of control approaching while out but it’s even better if you have someone with you. I suggest both. These are precautions in case you encounter negative attention.) Throwing soft objects. Rocking. Pounding my legs with my fists (up to hard enough to bruise but not so hard as to cause swelling). Vigorously shaking my hands. Pacing. Sex. Jumping and coming down with force. Slapping a firm surface with an open palm. Applying pressure to my temporal nerve until uncomfortable. Hot shower. Basically, anything that may overwhelm the environmental overstimulation and produce Endorphins with little to no injury is the best. If you can match it up with the type of sensory input you crave, even better! Do this from the beginning of rumbling and throughout the Meltdown. I wish you luck!
What causes Autism? It’s the question of the millennium in many communities. From simply curious Autistics to the pro cure (eugenics) crowd the question is ever present. Why is this so important? Because many of us believe that we are just a natural variation of human DNA and therefore are normal in our own right. Meaning, we don’t need a cure but the only way to prove that is to find out why Autism happens. I’m going to explore one of my theories in this post that I believe may be an element to unlocking the mystery of why Autistics exist.
The first thing most of us learn in life is that coincidence, correlation, and causation do not need to coexist and there are a slew of variables, X factor’s, if you will, that we may not know about. Yes, Autism can show up around the time the first vaccinations are administered yet Autism can also show up before vaccinations, after vaccinations, or in children who never have been vaccinated. Study after study has disproven the Autism Vaccination Myth and if that isn’t enough to convince you the fact that the doctor that made this claim retracted everything should. We can dismiss this and should. So what, you may ask, if not vaccinations?
There is an observation that I have made that may explain Autism and it’s increased prevalence in our modern times and that’s modern times in and of itself. We see a study increase in Autism with the continuously growing population and the more technicalogically advanced we become as a society. I believe that this is happening as a natural reaction within humans due to overstimulation and lack of sensory input that we used to be accustomed to.
The increase in the human population has left us with increasingly less and less individual room. We have a decrease in personal space with every birth, housing unit going up, resqued life, recovered illness out space decreases. Micro units and homes are becoming an ideal in many over populated cities because we have run out of space for us to comfortably have our own homes as we did in decades past. As a result we aren’t able to take times away to process and decompress our bodies and relieve the Neurological irritation that overpopulation comes with. This may have an effect on the Neurological System causing an over response in an attempt to protect itself. It’s a reaction to the perceived threat.
In genetics we see generational fears appear in familial units. There was an experiment with rats where they conditioned rats to fear the smell of Cherry Blossoms by associating the scent with electrical shock. The rats then became fearful of the scent as it now represented pain to them. When the scientists bread the rats the adult offspring were scared of the smell of Cherry Blossoms despite the fact they had no prior experience with the scent. This is a good indicator that neurological reactions to any overstimilation may be passed down the generations.
When we have all these phobias converge into one Neurological System it can cause genetically based general adaptation diversities and Autistic tendencies. Since Autism is a Spectrum with many unique and varied aspects we may have some humans not present with any Autistic traits until the genetic line is triggered by things such as overpopulation, lack of personal space, noise, and any other triggers that may be an issue to that specific genetic line.
When humanity’s population started rapidly increasing as it has in Earth’s recent history more genetic lines have been being prompted to react. This would explain Autistic familial units as well as the unexpected Autistic child/children being born into Neurotypical families. However with the increase in population there also comes an increase in technology in order to serve more humans efficiently.
The advancement of technology often results in a reduction in humans having their sensory needs met. When it comes to history humans have had to till, plant, harvest, chop, boil, smell, feel, and experience the sensory that comes with life. Even an introvert that did not do these things would experience a richer sensory environment than one does now.
We used to walk to a library while being out where birds chirped, wind blew, and the sun warmed you. Then browsing the nice neat stacks and rows of books. Pulling them out of place and feeling the book. Opening it and hearing the spine protesting as you spread the pages. The smell of the book and the neat lines of script that would cause stories to dance in your head as you found escape. But now, even the most book wormish of humans do not always get the rich sensory experience that we did a half a century ago.
Many humans do not go to the library but read digital books on their computer, phone, or tablet. While technology comes with it’s boons it also lacks the sensory input that humans need to cope with the reduction in alone time and the crowding with increased population.
For example if there was an Autistic in a crowded metropolitan area a century ago he or she may have completely flown under the radar because they had the sensory input that balanced out the overstimulation. If you took the same Autistic and put them into modern day America they may be more Autistic because of the reduction in sensory needs being met and the increased overstimulation from the surrounding environment.
Keep in mind reduction in sensory and lack of area for personal use isn’t the only issue. We now have digital technology. We have beeps, blips, digital noises, the everpresent electrical hum, LED’s, blue light from everything, the list just goes on and on. Even when outdoors we are connected to artificial stimulation that is constantly bombarding our brains.
We may be seeing an increase and a boom in Autism occurrences because the life humans have created for themselves is bringing about the protective genetic reaction that is programmed into their DNA. It was always there, it’s normal, natural. It’s a step in human adaptation that is a response to the progression of mankind. Not everyone has the genetic possibility of Neurodiversity but that doesn’t mean that we aren’t normal we are just a fragment of the vast spectrum that is the human species.
However, this is only one of my theories I have entertained regarding the in’s and outs of the causes of Autism. I think there may be something to it.
Like all Autistics, I have never fit in. Ever. I can fake it pretty well but something is missing that prevents me from bonding with others. A few hangouts or dates and they usually bail leaving me in the wake of “What the hell did I do this time?” I knew it wasn’t me as I always intended the best for everyone, I tried so hard to click. It never worked with females (the term was chosen because it doesn’t denote solely those assigned female at birth) but I was better at being friends with males. Which, as a married woman, complicates things. So I just remain lonely and for the most part friendless.
I have separate Medical/Psych records that note my lack of eye contact, reduced facial expression, and several other Autistic tells that no one was able to hear. If Autism Speaks why then did no one hear it for 37 or so years. Simply it’s due to people not wanting to hear it. I even walked 2 miles to the ER to try to get help for what I assumed was PTSD and was told that I was the problem. I have some strong words for that but I’ll not mention them. I tried to tell them that I was about to have an episode in which I would not be able to prevent myself from hitting my head. Still. Nothing.
In 2017 I joined forces with my Husband and his Nephew who was itching to start an online Church. We were sick of the crap that was getting pumped out into the World after Trump was crowned King and we decided to fight the good fight. I was chosen as the face because, well, I’m attractive compared to them I guess. About 4 sermons into the formation of said Congregation I started to have a huge, monumentally huge, panic attack. I had one person watching at the time and I knew who it was. I was prepared. I was safe. Medicated for Anxiety. By all means, I was not in a position to have a panic attack from PTSD. This isn’t my Modus Operandi. I felt sheer dread, I was rumbling and about to Meltdown. The next weekend I couldn’t even turn on the computer. I was experiencing a Shutdown, a term I wouldn’t be familiar with for some time. Something was up that was far beyond anything that could be Therapized out of me and I was certain I knew what was going on. I had realized that I had had Meltdowns before.
That week I told my Therapist what had been going on and asked her something I had suspected since 2010. My nephew is Autistic and I think I’m Autistic as well, what do you think?
Her reply was, “I have noticed some things but if you are you can’t be very Autistic. Just a little bit, if anything. Do you know Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory?”
Me, “Of course that’s my favorite show! I’m not as social as him though. I don’t even have as many friends as he does.”
Therapist, “Exactly, he wouldn’t be either if he was Autistic in real life. He’d never be married or have that many friends.”
My awesomeness, “Do you know who could assess me?!”
I left with Sheldon wouldn’t be as functional and neither would you but she agreed that I should be assessed.
The search for someone to diagnose me was in my hands because it’s incredibly difficult to find someone that will do an adult Dx and I hate talking on the phone, so, naturally! They make it as hard as possible for those whose parents didn’t bother to look into why their kid was weird! The lack of consideration and respect for me as an Autistic was front and center. Thankfully my IQ is high so I was able to find someone in an efficient timeframe. (Anyway, that is what a Psych would tell me.)
I found a place that would take my insurance and assessed adults. It was a Godsend having the entire bill covered through our insurance and I feel so blessed because of that. Seriously, that never happens! But my state passed a law that increased the accessibility of Autism services to those who needed them. So I made an appointment.
(Please note that if I had not been awarded SSI and been put on Medicaid I would not have been able to afford the 850.00 bill for the assessment even with my husband’s insurance. I’m not privileged, I’m disabled.)
It was in the middle of the Christmas season in 2017 that my first half of a 4-hour assessment was scheduled. When we got there I spilled my coffee and felt horrible.
She looked at me and said “Most of the time when someone your age comes in looking for an Autism diagnosis it’s because they have a family member that was diagnosed and/or they have done extensive research themselves and already know that they are Autistic. Tell me why you suspect you are Autistic.”
I let it all out. I walk on my toes! The notes in several medical files that say I can’t make eye contact. The times I have tried again and again to make friends. My laughing at (it was really with but I didn’t know she wasn’t laughing) a friend in pain. I didn’t know she was in pain. To me, it sounded like she was doubled over in laughter. I still cringe over this!
Fun Fact: In the middle of my assessment my Doctor looked at my husband and said that she thinks he needs to be assessed next. A year later he received his Autism Dx!
I relayed to my assessing Psych how I would misread faces. To me, someone suppressing laughter and someone being angry, at times, can look the same. There’s the embarrassment when people walk away mid-sentence or conversation because I took too long to process the information and produce an answer. I was insanely quiet. Always assumed to be shy. (Once you get to know me though you can’t get me to shut up!) The one that took it though was that I didn’t speak until I was four. Four! Again, I ask, how was this missed!
After the first session, I was exhausted. It was Christmas and Christmas is hard on me when it comes to overstimulation. I melted down that night because of the 2 hours of assessment and all the Christmas cheer that was forced onto my nervous system in Walmart. I almost canceled the whole thing out of doubt but I went back for my second session anyway.
I wanted to hide, the coffee stain was still there, I obsessed about it. This time she ran me through a battery of puzzles, simple math equations, memory exercises, and other tests. I found out that if I don’t have to think about the mathematical formulations that I can make an educated guess and guess the solution accurately. I have incredible lingual abilities which were probably learned out of the desperate need to communicate effectively. (It didn’t work. Being more proficient with words just makes people think I’m a snob and know it all. I’m not. I just want to connect.) I was able to logically deduce people’s state of mind even though I can’t intuitively pick up on things. (Ex: Crossed arms means someone is guarded, mad, or cold and I can analyze and extrapolate information from clues. Not always correctly.)
When I came back for the results she told me Autism was exactly what was going on! Oh! I was so happy but I didn’t show it because I don’t show my empathy outwardly as much as Neurotypicals even though I have plenty of empathy for people. I have a great IQ, which is what the second session was about. She explained that the IQ test was simply to rule out any other conditions that may give the appearance of Autism such as an intellectual disability, which I did not have, I was quite intelligent. I am a bit slower at learning but I also retain more information and in the long run can learn things better and more accurately than others therefore can carry out a job more completely and satisfactorily in comparison to my NT peers. (Even if it’s annoyingly accurate because I have problems deviating from what I’m taught and what I’m used to.)
In the end, I was given a Level 1 Autism diagnosis which used to be called Asperger’s. It gave me answers upon answers. Look no one wants to hit their head it’s messed up but I had a reason as to why I hit my head. Why is this?
It was because I was Autistic. I am okay with that.
Autism is surrounded by much controversy as to what causes it. Is it vaccinations, no. Autism predates vaccinations. Is it abuse, no. The best parents in the world can have an Autistic child. Environmental, weak at best. As soon as a family changed environments they wouldn’t have another Autistic child yet often they do. Pollution, no. Autism emerged when pollution was drastically lower than it is now. Then what causes it?
In 1943 Leo Kanner, the first person to openly observe and publish studies on Autism, also noticed the same eccentricities in the parent’s of the child that the Autistic child exhibited. Mr. Leo Kanner correctly thought that the condition was genetic even though he would waiver to and from that belief throughout his lifetime.
When I hear that the person who first recognized and studied Autism originally thought that Autism was a genetically inherited uniqueness, I get chills. I can recall, quite clearly, the two people who raised me from the age of two to the age of eight. My Grandparents. They are the perfect example for the argument that Autism has a strong genetic component. Both of them were loving and introverted, for the most part.
My Grandma was a quiet and compassionate woman. She didn’t have many friends but she did have her routines. Up in the morning, coffee, breakfast, daily obligations. Then she would rock in her rocking chair while watching the same shows she did the day before and the day before that, as she sipped her wine. Her Rocking chair, that was her favorite chair. The only place she sat. My dear Grandmother also walked on her toes, a trait I possess. As an adult knowing the quirks of Autism I now know that those were her stims and I smile. She is part of me.
My Grandmother had additional symptoms such as Sensory Processing Disorder, undiagnosed, but with twenty-twenty hindsight it’s obvious to me. She had an exaggerated startle reflex to loud or unexpected sounds. They clearly gave her anxiety. She had moved out of my Grandfather’s room, or removed him from hers, I’m not sure which, because his snoring kept her awake. (In all fairness he was a champion snorer and you could hear him everywhere!) However, everyone assumed it was because she held a grudge but no one knew what it was, I’m thinking it was just about the snoring. Grandma’s bedroom also had blackout shutters turning her room unnaturally dark, even in the daytime. These shutters were also installed in my room as they probably recognized my sensory processing issues as well. Even if they didn’t know what it was they knew I needed more darkness than other people night to be able to sleep. As a young child I would climb into bed with her. I have faint, but happy, memories of her carrying me down the hall back to my own room. Now I know it was because she couldn’t sleep with a tossing and turning 4 year old in the same bed with her.
She also had a peculiarity with collecting bread bag tabs, twist ties, and plastic tv dinner trays when they became more common. She claimed it was because she was a child of The Great Depression and they kept everything just in case. But bread bag tan closures? I think it was Autism.
Grandma was also very logical for a woman and applied knowledge to life. There was a time when nonverbal me was fussy because of a tummy ache. So what did she do? Instead of fawning over me and trying to appease my irritability she crouched down to my level and gently put pressure on my stomach and on my back with her hands. This caused the gas that was giving me pain to escape in a rather loud passing. This caused her to smile and asked me if I felt better, I nodded, I did. When I was 17 and “dating” I showed her a picture of the boy I was seeing and referred to him as my intended. (I was really into older works of literature so I’d borrow archaic terms and words from them). Grandma didn’t get “girly” like other women by saying he was cute or asking how we met and wanting every emotional play by play. No, she instead infomed me on the meaning of the term “my intended”. It was only after my telling her I was aware that it meant the person I was going to marry that she became upset because I was too young.
Oh, Grandpa! Grandpa was intelligent. Scientific. Loving. A collector of objects, lover of radios, and a fan of knowledge. A believer that faith and knowledge could exist in harmony. My grandfather loved fishing and everytime he would go he would bring back gravel from the locale he had visited. He would store his collection of gravel in coffee cans in the Garage on a shelf above his work bench. Each one labeled with masking tape and Magic Marker what it was, where it came from, and what beach. All uniform, all organized.
My Grandpa was also the collector of knowledge. It was he who taught me about the Greek Gods. He had books on everything from fish to mushrooms. I used to look at his books in awe at the array of color that this world has provided for us through flora and fauna. My favorite was the book of fish and pictures of the deep. I was a water baby, loving the sensory control it provided when I was submerged. So I would imagine what it was like down there at the bottom of the ocean. Safe and alone from the world above.
Grandpa had extensive knowledge, no doubt about that, but he had two narrow interests that I can vividly recall. His garden and his radio. He would spend hours on both of them. His garden had everything in it. Tomatoes, squash, eggplant, green beans, corn and more. It was magnificent! He’d spend summer days picking bright green, horned, worms out of the tomato plants. Behind the garden were orange, lemon, and grapefruit trees. A Loquat tree and strawberries also had a place in the yard. He knew everything about gardening and even had made the side yard into a greenhouse complete with a compost bin. My Grandpa loved different vegetables and even would brine his own olives. Perfectly content to be by himself. Like I am.
When he wasn’t gardening you could hear Grandpa on his radio in the garage. Click, click, click with the Morse Code. The crackle of the static. Maybe a beep or two. He would make friends this way. Much like the Autistic community has found connection in chat rooms and on Twitter my Grandfather found connection through the air waves of the 1980’s. I know he had a friend in Russia and a few in Canada. He was of Hispanic descent and loved learning about different cultures and sharing his. Much to my Grandma’s dismay, he also treated me to freshly fried, hot, chicharrones. Fried pork rinds which she thought were disgusting! They were delicious.
To me, in my memories, both of them were clearly on the Spectrum. They both had narrow interests, routines, and stims. They both were perfectly content in solitude. Neither were especially physically affectionate but they knew when to give hugs and when not to. They were incredibly loving and empathetic in a way that I understood even if others didn’t. I saw evidence of Masking (a form of “acting” that Autistic people assume so they fit in with Neurotypical people/society better) in pictures and other relics of family history. Like my Grandma attempting to sell Mary Kay. My Grandfather portraying himself as a ladies man in old home video reels. All of it. Them. They are where I come from. They are my genetic code. They are the people in which my Autism flows from. Autism is my heritage, my legacy and I cherish it because it connects me to them.