'I'm A Mother- And I'm Autistic.'
Over the last few months I've been writing a fair bit. Learning I'm autistic and always have been has been a huge, life-changing piece of news. Becoming a Mum for the second time has also changed my world forever. And my tastebuds, apparently. Since pregnancy I've been unable to eat pineapple without my mouth bleeding. Can't see Miriam Stoppard writing that one up in her next book...
I've spent a lot of time stuck to the sofa breastfeeding since December so I've taken up writing again. It rarely leaves me for long. Since I was a toddler, writing has always been easier than speaking. It's one of the elements of my being and I've been lucky enough to find people sometimes like what I write.
Having enjoyed 'The M Word' online magazine since my first child was new, I was thrilled when I was offered to write an article on being an autistic mother. The team thought it was a vital subject to be covered, they all knew autistic children or men but not many autistic mothers. So I put my fingertips into tapping overdrive and wrote my first article.
Read the full version:
"You can't be autistic because I watched old videos of your birthday parties and you followed your sister around, happily copying her. And I saw you dance!"
This sound bite came from a genuine and loving place, as my mother struggled to understand autism in the weeks preceding my assessment. The puzzle piece symbol that often represents my neurotype is better suited, in this instance, to the uncertainty my mother was facing. Trying to piece together memories and retrospectively analysing events only served to add more questions. The most poignant of which being 'What could I have done?'.
Comfort lies in the fact that no amount of teaching me how to play with dolls or smiling at strangers would make me socialise 'normally' as a little girl. Squeezing my hand when I was speaking too loudly or inappropriately on the bus just made me think she really liked holding my hand. Excusing my behaviour as shyness didn't allow me to gradually become accustomed to maintained eye contact, it's akin to getting someone to pat their head and rub their belly while talking.
During school the high grades rolled in, reading and writing beyond my years meant school reports were littered with 'excellent student but too quiet, needs to participate more'. Some meaningful friendships were founded. These friendships were one at a time, unequal and based on me trying to 'rescue' or 'mother' the other child, only being able to mirror the relationship I had with my parents as opposed to the mutual, carefree friendships typical of childhood.
I arrived at university with one or two good friends and intense excitement at finally being able to study my specialist subject, linguistics, as deeply as I wanted. Now, success was measured not by my social life or peer approval, but by how well my brain could study. I'd found my calling. I found it in the library.
Only too shortly the happy academic bubble was burst and societal expectations began to rear their inquisitive heads again while my friends partied, dated and worked. In my reality, jobs and relationships were both equally fleeting and ill-suited. Despite my capabilities in other areas, here I faltered at the gate, unable to succeed when progress is earned by (in part) functioning as a sociable and relatable person. I was perceived as stand-offish yet aloof, uncommitted but too focused. The paradoxical nature of being autistic in a neurotypical society was shaping my journey in a markedly different way to my peers.
Burned out from masking my struggles, I moved home from the city for respite and to recalibrate my approach to 'doing life'. Online dating was becoming an inviting prospect, where I didn't have to 'interview' for a relationship. After some trial and error an electronic 'wink' turned to weeks of e-mails with a dry-witted, observant and funny man living 30 miles away. Reader, I married him.
After having worked with autistic people during my stint as a trainee teacher I suggested my husband take an online Autism-Spectrum Quotient test, with a result high enough for him to begin his journey to diagnosis. Years passed and I developed a sense that the qualities we share may be more than coincidence. A close family member shared a blog by Tania Marshall, an expert in female presentation of autism. Scrolling through the profile of characteristics my heart fluttered, ticking off one after another until I had scrolled to the bottom. Research began with haste soon after our first child was born, with the diagnostic pathway taking nearly two years from start to official diagnosis. I'm one of the lucky ones as despite the long wait I was met with a positive, encouraging female psychologist who helped me and my mother understand my brain's wiring.
Now, as I begin my thirties, I have a clear sense of self and purpose. Helping inform others about autism is something that I'm passionate about, for the society I'm trying to understand as well as my wonderfully neurodiverse family.