Dancing like Chewbacca it hit me: I am autistic
Everyone I love sort of knew, except me. And I think I know why.
Last week I was diagnosed with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder), and when I shared the report with my loved ones, not one questioned it. Not even a bit. That surprised me. I was expecting at least some skepticism. I got intense looks of loving energy and some jokes. Then a few cute “awwws” after I confessed crying all night long reading over and over the study’s pdf under the sheets. Then more jokes came and we moved on sharing ridiculously funny Mandalorian memes.
ASD girls who turn into women like me are rarely identified as such, I fear even less by their own selves. I am 51 years old, and throughout my life never checked in many of todays common diagnosis criteria: I don’t remember mean bullies calling me freak or weirdo. I was the restless social classroom clown, not the sad kid faded in some corner. I thrived in college, succeeded in the workforce and lived fairy tale love, and passionate forbidden romances a la telenovela.
I beat the odds on many levels, and am determined to wear with pride my ASD diagnosis as a certification of the hardships I’ve conquered and those I’m ready to face in the future. I want to be proof that being in the spectrum is not a tragedy when you are raised around certain kind of people.
Nonetheless, I feel furious of why after decades of therapy, psychologists, medications, self help books and psychiatrists I wasn’t diagnosed properly, and earlier. Looking back I conclude it was a matter of good luck. I didn’t present the classic ASD symptoms because I grew under different circumstances of most girls today.
In high school no one made fun of me when I shaved half my head, fluffed the other half, and wore construction boots through the halls of a posh private school my mom barely could afford.
I was voted “Most Popular Senior”. I lost my yearbook the same day I got it, but remember smiling in the picture, sporting a very Madonnaish* torn hair rag and attitude. I looked a bit lost, but cool, hugged by the hottest boy in school; a smart guy with deliciously popular lips who ended up going to Harvard.
(*BTW making up words like Madonnaish is common in people with ASD )
My girlfriends used to keep my books and PE clothes in their lockers, and take them to class so I wouldn’t be lost and late running around like the road runner after the bell rang. They always carried extra pens, tampons and maxi pads in case I needed them. I wrote their book reports, and gifted them good grades because I read fast, and loved the assigned authors they didn’t care for. I corrected their grammatical errors, not only in my native Spanish, but in English.
(BTW Please pardon the errors in my posts, English is not my first language.)
I improvised last minute poems, touching haikus and grand essays for their college applications. It was a piece of cake for me. They slipped me their answer sheets in Physics and Calculus final exams – that was terrifying, but helped me build up nerves of steel. I proudly taught them perfectly choreographed Grease and Menudo dances, we had fun. We had each other. My good friends always had my back and my true love and friendship. Most are still in my life.
I’ve been successful in my career because many coworkers in the past kindly covered up my executive shortcomings organizing paperwork and handling money for me over coffee and pastelitos. Many still do today.
Same thing took place with my favorite bosses; they regularly overlooked my organizational flaws, while encouraging my creativity and assigned me great assistants and interns to help me out. I still mentor some of them, and we often exchange loving eyes and thumbs up on Social Media as they climb up the corporate ladder.
I’ve been loved to the core by young boyfriends and by my amazing husband who has patiently rescued my lost cell phones for 25 years. Yes, I misplaced even the huge brick sized ones of the mid 90s, and can’t count the beepers that disappeared inside my huge purse.
My kids, now in college, laugh in good spirits of my inappropriate questions and feed my obsession with Star Wars, buying me the coolest pajamas and blankets. My oldest girl got me a Chewbacca pajama onesie that brought me so much joy that the minute I tried it on, my body started dancing, channeling Julie Andrews in the Sound of Music. It was then, in the middle of a crazy twirl that I saw my reflection on the window and realized I’m weird. Very. Really. I couldn’t picture another mom, in fact anyone my age, or any human above 5 doing what I was doing at that very moment.
The most adult and revealing moment of my life, happened while I was dancing shamelessly, not in a night club wearing cool heels, but in the kitchen dressed up in that costume.I was joyfully twirling and shimming in front of my family when I realized that I was 51 going on 6, and confused took in my neurodivergent epiphany.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I believe my kids are rarely embarrassed by the way I act or by my out of place comments. They’re used to a mom like me and they enjoy it. I think it’s true because as young adults, they still dance goofily in front of the TV screen when the theme of “Law and Order” fills the room. I’m not the only one who hurries to pop up the volume. In the cluelessness that characterizes me, I may doubt of plenty of facts I believe to be true, yet I’m 100% sure of one thing: my kids love me.
My mom helped me raise them. She still lives with me and loves me with the intensity Latina moms do. My first month in kindergarden I had meltdowns and vomited every single day because I wanted to stay home with her. She diligently went to school to shower me, then changed my uniform for a clean one — drenched in Baby Johnsons cologne, and lovingly held my hand and escorted me back to the classroom. I ended up loving school.
I didn’t like to attend birthday parties. I wasn’t good at socializing with kids willing to hit Minnie Mouse with a piñata stick. Being expected to dive on a dirty floor to fetch candies in a crowd of sweaty kids terrorized me. I’d rather stare at was what left of Minnie, still smiling with her cute bow and destroyed womb.
My mother started taking an extra gift to every party. She conspired with the clowns and moms so I always won a raffle or a fun contest and felt triumphant. I remember that feeling in my gut expecting my number to be called and then winning a prize and then hearing the applause and then feeling the joy of everyone in the party rooting for me. It was so nourishing and beautiful.
A funny thing is I’m still super lucky at winning stuff, and love throwing the biggest and loudest birthday parties ever — where zero piñatas are destroyed.
When I reminiscence on the first half of my life undiagnosed, it’s the light of unrelentless kindness, inclusion, community support and unconditional love what faded up some of my obstacles and difficulties. That’s why I was safe from the heartbreak, bullying and isolation many with ASD experience. I’m proof of the power of good people to make any child grow lucky and happy. Feeling different, maybe. But never less.
I can’t even guess how many people around me felt there was something neurodivergent about me, but I’m sure that at every stage of my life, someone chose to exert their patience and loving heart to welcome my quirkiness into their life. My diagnosis reminded me that the good humans of the world need a call to action to put their power in practice regularly, until it becomes a habit, a way of life for a better world.
I hope my story serves as a testament of the potential of kindness, as a reminder of the super power we all have in inclusion and tolerance in such a diverse world. May the force be with you.