5 Years

I did not tend to project into the future when I was younger. Life imposed changes from different directions that I could not predict so I didn’t invest time trying to picture what I might like the future to be like. I was very much focused on the present. When Amber, Ben, Claudia and Bela brought me back to Philly from my first year of college I did not envision that just a few years later I would be an integral part of their family.

Climbing into the rental van, greeted by Claudia’s “I love you, Tucker”, I could not have imagined that within months I would be present for her first day of kindergarten and removing her first loose tooth.

Sitting in the Korean restaurant before leaving DC, I would not have guessed that soon I would learn from Amber & Ben to prepare the Korean noodle dish japchae, at a time when I had little cooking experience. Or that I would be providing instruction on this dish to Bela, along with other recipes that I have used over these years, now that he too is showing an interest in cooking.

As I read the D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths to Claudia & Bela that summer, I would not have guessed that in time she would have followed in my hellenophilic footsteps. And while those myths at first seem to be just fantastic tales of men & women, terrible beasts and the power of the gods, that she would be the person who’d one day appreciate the nuance of the hero’s struggle between right & wrong, and the grayness of good & evil.

As I showed Bela my Rubik’s cube the first time, I could not have known that this past week I would help keep him distracted in the CHOP emergency room so they could do diagnostic blood work. And when I showed the kids the world of Skyrim that I had only ever wandered alone, I would not have known that I could one day be the creator of a D&D fantasy world to wander with them.

I had known the four of them for about 2 years already at the time they came to get me, but I did not know how much deeper those relationships – and my friendship with Amber in particular – would grow. That she would be someone with whom I would be able to share my interests and passions. Learning from her to knit that summer, I knew not that this would be the beginning of a creative partnership that I had not ever had with anyone. That our friendship would be a source of empowerment that would help me to grow personally, or that I would be empowered to improve the quality of my relationships with biological family, long before they each revealed the depth of their toxic attitudes and commitment to stagnation.

When gifted with a smoky quartz early that summer I knew not that it would be the first thing I reached for in a moment I was worried about Amber’s health, nor the extent to which 5 years time would show me how far a person can push to survive or to fight for her children and family. I already recognized her as a rock before then, and time has only shown me further that no one else I have ever met comes close to either her strength or her gift of insight.

In these 5 years I have been able to watch these two kids develop and grow and develop as people, with increasingly more defined interests and passions of their own, and learning myself how to fill the strange role that entering their family at 19 created. I ahve been blessed to be part of this process, and especially to have been alongside someone as amazing, engaged, and insightful a parent as Amber is. I marvel at her abilities as a mother for them, and am grateful to have her as a friend.

Choosing this family, and being chosen by this family, was the best decision I could have made. I would not have guessed all the good times and hard times we would have, but I am thankful all the same that they came to get me five years ago. I love this family, and I need not know the whole future before us, but I know who I want to step out into that future with each day, and I know where my home is come the night.

So, as I tend to do, I wish a happy gotcha day to the rest of my family too, and to wish a happy mother’s day to the best mother I know.

gotcha day 2018

5 Years

When 53 is the average age of mortality for autistics, that makes all of the mid-20s burnouts and meltdowns mid-life crises.

When I turned nineteen, I was weeks into my second term in college, and, as in the first term, was back to working in the library until the sun came up multiple times a week. My workload was unmanageable, and trying to keep up was affecting my health. I felt more and more like my effort was in vain, and that my life direction was misguided.

To top it off, I was now half the age my mother was when she died, and I was the same age as she was when she conceived my oldest biological sibling. At my very age she was embarking on the confusing, messy business of parenthood, unaware that her life was half over.

I knew this though – that her life had been half over – and it highlighted how little I knew of the future, and the unsustainability of the present. It was a mid-life crisis, and I had recognized it as such, there in the library as the morning neared. I decided to drop the advanced elective that had held me to the fire for weeks. It did lighten the work load, but it didn’t save me much sleep in the long run.

Since then, I have changed homes, schools, lost 70 pounds even. And I also now know that I’m on the autism spectrum. Where I had understood Asperger’s Syndrome to mean being “socially awkward and intelligent”, I now understand that the sensory processing challenges, executive functioning deficits, and mind-blindness that have affected me all fall within the autism heading as well, and being aware of these as problems has allowed me to work with tools to address them, much to my own sense of well-being. My ability to kick over my head, limber stretching, and the excessive degree to which I lean on my surroundings for support I now know to be a result of ‘low tone’, a common trait in autism. Neuroscience research in autism mouse models have further connected impaired motor coordination to an altered synaptic baseline of activation, making it initially more challenging to encode new motor programs in the cerebellum; while I had not heard of low tone yet when I read this research article, I was able to think of the results with respect to my own experiences.

It has now been year since I became publicly open about being on the autism spectrum, and in this past year autism research has uncovered more and more about the long-term outcome for the lives of autistics, from co-morbid health conditions to the job and housing crisis developing for my own age cohort – the autistics diagnosed and given support as children, who are now aging out of those support programs as adults. And in this same year, autistics have been harassed in schools, abused or murdered by parents, and others killed by police during high-stress induced meltdowns. I have meltdowns, and it is scary to think of the danger that armed officers might be to me, lacking training to recognize and act in this context. I have an app now in case I find myself unable to speak in an emergency situation, given the willingness of the other person.

Knowing I am autistic does not protect me from these realities, but I would rather know that I am autistic, and be aware of these things, and try my best to do a little good for someone else that felt like an outsider growing up, impassioned yet disconnected. As I read about the experiences shared by other autistics online, in journals, books and more, about various stages of growth, coping with stress, and burning out, and much else, I am able to feel a sense of camaraderie with total strangers who bear more in common with me than blood relatives or anyone I ever was in class with.

In a world where the pressures of performing, interacting, and doing ‘normal’ things drive some to the absolute edge, it is unsurprising that other autistics are experiencing this by the early 20s, whether on their own for the first time, trying to find work and maintain employment, to feed themselves, or while dealing with significant sensory challenges and executive function impairments.

While it may have been absurd to be experiencing what felt like a mid-life crisis at 19 because of the age at which my mother died, the life expectancy of autistics has recently been found to be 54 years old, compared to the US average of 78.7. I guess that makes the burnout of autistics in their 20s a lot more like mid-life crises.

When 53 is the average age of mortality for autistics, that makes all of the mid-20s burnouts and meltdowns mid-life crises.