When I told a friend of mine who I’ve known since 6th grade that I was Autistic when I found out in college, she responded: “No you aren’t. You’re just a product of growing up with your (insane, abusive) mother.”
While I don’t doubt that some of my difficulties and social isolation are due in part to my parents’ abusive tendencies, one must also consider the root of those actions in the first place.
My parents took a “Harry Potter” approach to my upbringing. They knew I was Autistic (and kept it from me), and even before my official diagnosis, they had every desire to stamp it out of me, and took every opportunity to extinguish anything that might be related to my Autism.
(note that irrelevant pieces of text have been omitted here. This is from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” Chapter 4: “The Keeper of the Keys”)
“You knew?” said Harry. “you knew I’m a – a wizard?”
“Knew!” shrieked Aunt Petunia suddenly. “Knew! Of course we knew! How could you not be, my dratted sister being what she was? Oh, she got a letter just like that and disappeared off to that – that school – and came home every vacation with her pockets full of frog spawn, turning teacups into rats. I was the only one who saw her for what she really was – a freak!”
“Now, you listen here, boy,” [Uncle Vernon] snarled, “I accept there’s something strange about you, probably nothing a good beating wouldn’t have cured…”
My texture/sensory issues with clothes and food were a constant battle. My mother has called me a prude since 3rd grade. My special interest was beaten out of me, to the point where I would hide books in my bed and read them only in the dead of night for fear that I’d be caught. It’s amazing that I’m still interested in it today, given what I’ve suffered through because of it. When I tried to remove myself from stressful social situations, I was dragged back in forcefully, and physically restrained so that I wouldn’t try to leave again. Whenever I didn’t look at someone in the eyes properly when they were talking to me or I was talking to them, I would get backhanded or yelled at. And stimming was absolutely out of the question. I’ve gripped my hands together so tightly to avoid stimming in front of my parents that I’ve actually dislocated my own fingers. I’ve gauged my nails into my skin so deep it’s bled, and bitten my fingers and arms enough to leave scars, all to stop from stimming. Meltdowns were not an option. When I was in high school, my mother would take away my textbooks and yell at me to go out and party. Anything related to my Autism was punishable, regardless of the actual magnitude or relevance of the offense. Did this make me exhibit Autistic traits? No – if anything, it made me hide them, often to my own self-detriment. It was because of my Autism.
I exhibit more than enough autistic traits to earn me a spot on the Autism spectrum, and have my whole life, though I learned early on that if I let them show it was going to be bad. Yes, my parents my have increased some of them, but as horrible as it is, I might argue that the abuse I suffered through growing up has helped me to function as an independent adult, and has given me more of an ability to “pass” for NT when I need to. My drive for independence (and to get away from my family) was so strong that I am able to live on my own, at age 22, and have been paying for myself and school since I was 20 (19 if you don’t count tuition). I can feed myself, do my laundry, and get myself to and from work. Although I do not, under any circumstances agree with my upbringing and what I went through, I cannot deny that I turned out pretty much ok. I’m happy, independent, and doing what I love to do. I’m a productive scientist in an extremely prestigious PhD program. I didn’t have an official label growing up so people didn’t judge me by that (though they did judge me based on everything else). I don’t doubt that my parents thought they were doing the right things, and that they tried to do their best by me. And I don’t doubt there are many other (significantly better, less painful) ways to have learned the lessons I did growing up. But I can’t change the past. I can only change my present and future. I am Autistic. I was abused for it. My whole person was trained to be invisible and I was taught that I didn’t matter.
But I’m not invisible anymore. I’m here, and I’m me, quirks, obsessions, passions, stims and everything else that makes me unique. Look out world, here I come.