No one wonders if I might be autistic until I’m 25. My brother was diagnosed as a kid, and Daryl used my mum’s speculations about his place on the spectrum to justify his constant abuse. My debilitating social flaws are passed off as me being a rebellious and contrary daughter.
I want to kill myself at seven years old. (That’s the same age that Daryl decided he hated me.)
She says, “I’m surprised you aren’t autistic. I don’t usually get along with people who aren’t.” I make excuses. Of course I’m not autistic; stop projecting.
Everyone at my new job hates me, no matter how hard I try to seem normal and friendly. They look at me like I’m an alien. I’m too busy dissociating in the bathroom to ever figure out why.
Girls are diagnosed with autism at much lower rates than boys are, because of different social pressures, because of what norms we’re forced to comply with, because what’s acceptable in boys is a death sentence for us. At twelve years old, I still want to kill myself.
My brother and I come to identify as genderless. We have a lot in common: both asexual, both uninterested in gender norms, both wrong in some intangible way. In our elementary years, we receive matching diagnoses of ADHD and epilepsy. We receive treatment together, taking the same medication and sharing doctors’ visits.
My brother goes on to be tested for autism. I don’t.
I don’t believe that I’m autistic, even though my friend – queer, autistic, traumatized; just like me – gently provides me with resources and encourages me to think about my experiences critically. I don’t believe I’m autistic because I don’t have the symptoms I’m told characterize autism.
I’m not told that they characterize autism in boys.
Dozens of articles on “autism in girls” litter my web history. I ask my psychiatrist about it – am I autistic? How do I know? Are these symptoms just extremely severe ADHD? She says, earnestly, that it won’t change anything even if I am. I’m already medicated for what she can medicate me for.
There is no cure for autism.
When I’m angry, I yell about how stupid I am. When I’m not angry, it’s a little quieter.
Eventually, I come to embrace myself as an eccentric.
A research paper about PTSD symptoms, the ones unique to people with childhood trauma, discusses the relationship between post-trauma severity and cognitive disabilities. Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder, it says, can be exacerbated by exposure to trauma. It rings a bit too true.
Was I always like this? I ask my mother.
“No,” she says. “You changed.”
I remember being fearless and interested, fixated, adventurous and creative. I remember things I braved then; things that would crumble me now. “You weren’t afraid of anything,” mum says.
My brother says, “I wouldn’t be surprised.”
By the time my 26th birthday passes, no one doubts that I am autistic. My coworkers still regard me as an unnatural, unsettling goblin inhabiting their space. I pretend not to notice. I quit that job. I’m too depressed to cry about it.
Once again, I look into psychological testing, the kind I haven’t done since being evaluated for ADHD. I think, why didn’t this happen a decade and a half ago? No one has answers. (I know the answer.)
Multiple times, I am shunted from the social groups that defined my life. I don’t understand why I’m so wrong to them. My suicidal instinct comes to the forefront each and every time, telling me that if I can’t puzzle together the broken shards, I might as well give up. After my third attempt, I decide that they don’t deserve the satisfaction.
I buy a shirt that says, “Queer, Autistic & Cute.” I reclaim a small piece of myself.
Twenty years past my sixth year, when my abnormalities came to the forefront, just before Daryl decided I was too smart and stubborn to be a loveable daughter, some things finally make sense.
I stop questioning why people look at me like an alien. I guess I know why, now. So much for dissociating in the bathroom – it was never anything I could change, no matter how hard I tried (and I did).
There is no cure for autism.
It’s okay, though. I don’t think I want one.