As a child I remeber placing toys, blocks, legos, etc. in rows and columns. Laid out in a manner intelligible to me and precisely in the place accessible during play. I also remember siblings, wanting to participate with me in play, and not knowing that coming into the space where play items had been arranged by an autistic, disturbing the placement pattern, would result in a squabble and, inevitably, parent intervention, always on behalf of my sibling because, I was suppose to share.
Now, I am not suggesting that sharing is unimportant as a principle of play. I am suggesting that what matters to the autistic is less the principle and more the pattern. Why? Autistic brains do not operate well in accordance with abstract social principles. We are concrete thinkers and processors of social information and stimuli. We must be shown, not told.
Of course, autistics are perfectly capable and often willing to share, quite generously. Let’s keep in mind that when an autistic is individually engaged in an activity, an interruption is likely to provoke a startled reaction and, depending on the sort of interruption, a defensive tone and posture. Understanding autism must precede acceptance.
That word. Acceptance. The bane of any autistic’s existence.
Raising an autistic child is difficult under the best of circumstances with full knowledge of the condition and access to appropriate therapeutic resources. Try doing so with no knowledge or access to therapies. That was my childhood. I was nearly done with secondary education before the medical profession in the US began to systematize diagnostic criteria. And with that systematization, came an increase in diagnoses though, mine came in my early forties. At least, the younger ASD generation/s are getting the assistance they need. All this is to say, have empathy for my parents and siblings. In their ignorance, they did the best they could. But there are unfortunate side effects resulting from that ignorance.
One such arises out of social and behavioral difficulties experienced by an austistic and immediate family members, often resulting in the (unknown) autistic child becoming a convenient scapegoat. An easy target. Some of the kids upset, must be his (her) fault. He (she) is doing something right — well almost right, need to correct where they fall short. This dynamic does not end with childhood or spare generations.
We were visiting one of my brothers some years ago. He and his lovely wife (she is just a peach) had a girl a few months younger than our special Aspie. Naturally, we wanted to cultivate a family relationship. That is, until, as late-toddlers our kids were playing and my brother’s daughter became enraged at my son for playing with a toy she deemed off limits. Typical toddler stuff, really.
She immediately and viciously attacked my son who looked surprised and confused. Her little hands scratching and choking, we (my brother and I) quickly intervened, only to experience my son being blamed for his cousin’s behavior. “We have never seen her act this way before. Why did [your son] teach her to act this way,” said my brother and his peach of a wife. Then, a day or two later, I get a call from the old man, lecturing me on how to raise a nonviolent child. All because our special Aspie dared play with a toy, he collected from his cousin’s toy bin.
Last visit, over two years ago, with the gene pool from which I originate, kind of a family reunion over the late December holiday break, unique to the culture in which we live. In one of the few conversations I had with anyone during that visit (I had chosen to remain non-verbal as a survival strategy during the visit); I disclosed that I with my wife and kids, had completed reading a sacred text as a family and had begun our second read through. A brother-n-law, a lawyer, immediately challenged the veracity of my claim with such incredulity that I was a little taken back.
He had misunderstood my claim as having completed the sacred text twice and, judging by the age of my children, combined with a quick google to discover the number of verses in that sacred text, had assessed such a claim as false. Now, keep in mind, that he did not celebrate, congratulate, or express any positive response to the fact that we were reading the sacred text as a family. No, he just wanted to tear me down, consistent with the family dynamic.
Once I explained that no, I was not claiming to have read the sacred text as a family twice, we had done so once and had begun our second go through, that we had started when our special Aspie was literally 6-weeks old, and that our minimum standard was 5 verses a day, often more than that, he backed off a bit. Later, with my sister his wife, he sort of apologized, I said don’t worry, I am used to being treated that way in the family. It’s my normal.
Yeah, in hindsight, I could have been nicer, but I was speaking literally, I’m autistic, I was not trying to be mean. Just stating the facts. It is what we Auties do. Still, this is but a microcosm of my status, such as it is, in the gene pool from which I originate. Such similar examples would fill volumes. I’ll offer one or two more because they are germane to and illustrate quite well being the family dumping ground.
(Note: The faith tradition to which I belong, accepts four sacred texts as canonical and views the cannon as open. It’s weird, I know, but works for me and mine. Anyway, entirely possible to read one of those texts within 3, maybe 4 years at a rate of 5 to 10 versus a day).
Mentioned, I had chosen to be nonverbal while on that last visit. Prior to the visit, my old man had called to encourage me not to be contentious. (Thanks for the kind compliment and vote of confidence in my character, by the way)! I asked him if he would have the same conversation with some of my other siblings who he specifically referenced. He said he would. (Found out, when I asked the siblings he specifically mentioned, he did not. Was not surprised. Felt, well, dumped on, as usual). Here’s why he made that call.
His logic was that when I spoke, I upset my siblings. Not because I was overtly demeaning or personally attacking them, it was just the mear contribution I made to a conversation, usually begun by a sibling, on some political issue, because they wanted to get the political scientist’s view. (Now, this is a bit ironic because, from the perspective of my family, the expertise I gained on politics through my Ph.D program is illegitimate. The old man told me I was not an expert. My dentist brother and lawyer brother, no question, they’re experts, even in a field in which they lack training).
Of course, when my answers did not support or comport with their ideological position, I get characterized as attacking them, being mean, and upsetting them. As if they are unable to control their own emotions or reactions. Or even countenance their confirmation bias. Nope. More like, “Hey, [OddDad] is here! Yippee!! I am absolved of all moral conscience, responsibility, and agency.”
During that last visit, some of the older nephews and I were playing PONY / HORSE. A game played on a basketball court. The older niece was also present. She is very very sensitive and can be rather manipulative, bless her heart. One of the nephews made fun of her a bit. I came to her defense and said knock it off. A few minutes later, she takes some license and makes fun of the nephew, whereupon I tell her to knock it off. She gets upset, runs inside, and announces that I am being mean and super competitive. Did I mention she can be manipulative? She understood all to well my status in the family and used that to get her special little revenge. I pity her.
Next thing I know, I hear the sliding glass door open and observe out of the corner of my eye, a crowd of family members marching out, the lawyer brother in law advises his son to let me win. Now, I have two choices, I can stop playing and leave, causing quite the ruckus likely, or I can just complete the game and then leave. Initially, I tried hard to lose. With each obviously missed shot upsetting the crowd. It was rather ridiculous as both nephews and I were obviously trying to miss shots. In the end, I chose just to end the game, made a couple shots, and endured the nasty stares on my back as I said nothing and left.
Next day, the old man tries to harangue me over the incident. He was not present meaning that one of my siblings who was there, clearly called him to inform, making me out as the devil and them plus the rest as angel/s — as usual. When I tell him and my mother my version, they actually investigated, discover that my version is what happened. That they investigated had more to do with what they know of their grand daughter not out of any sense of fairness or of trying to discover the truth.
Of course, the old man says nothing to me after discovering the truth. My mom tries to make excuses for my niece and my sister, mother of my niece, offers what for her is an apology though, does not require her daughter to do the same. Why? I do not and never have enjoyed the same level of respect, dignity, or status in that family hierarchy. Remember, an autistic child is difficult from a parenting and sibling perpesctive making for a convenient dumping ground without knowledge, training, and therapeutic assistance. Accordingly, the kids follow the grandparents and parents in how they interacted with me, my wife, and my children. One last example.
A short time after returning home from that last visit, I get a call from the old man. “Why didn’t you speak to anyone during your visit? You were so angry and ruined it for everyone.” I explained it was to honor his request not to say anything contentious. He did not take that explanation very well. You see, my general silence had been interpreted as anger. Even when trying to avoid a confrontation, in a family that thrives on confrontation and debate, I nonetheless am blamed for ruining the reunion. It’s like that scene in Cool Hand Luke, when Luke is being punished by having to dig a hole in the prison yard, only to be told that the dirt from his hole does not belong in the prison yard. Caught between the threat of violence associated with two intentionally contradictory (paradoxical) rules, Luke’s will gets broken.
It was at that moment, I experienced an epiphany. My family was a prison as vicious and brutal as that prison portrayed in Cool Hand Luke. They were trying to break my will, thy saw my will as a threat. I needed to escape for the sake of myself and, more importantly, my wife and kids. Because, no matter what I did or said, the members of the gene pool from which I originate would always find fault, grounds for accusations, pernicious motivations with what I did, said, or did not do. And the same applied to my wife and kids. I felt a deep sense of needing to protect my children and lovely wife. I was done being a dumping ground and sure as hell was not going to allow my lovely wife and special children endure any more treatment akin to how Trump treats immigrants. But, there is the aftermath with which to deal.
The product of being the dumping ground. Of constantly experiencing blame, resentment, and rejection. Of buying into the notion that you must be a bad person becuase that’s generally what others who you care about and are supposed to care about you consistently reinforce through word and deed. Of constantly having to deal with and process always falling short of alien social mores, norms, rules, principles for which you lack the capacity to comprehend and communicate intelligiably in that alien language, be it a family, neighborhood, school, town, city, nation, culture, world, galaxy far far away….
Now, the gene pool from which I originate will claim that I rejected them first. Well, I just put voice to what their word and actions had long indicated was my status in their social hierarchy. Of course, their claim glosses over the fact that they unfriended my on Facebook after that last conversation with the old man. Convinced, though I have no proof, he engineered that move in a vain attempt to teach me a lesson. Have a nice life, dude.
Do I feel guilty? Sure, I do, constantly. When one is constantly told what a terrible person they are through word and deed by family, when one can’t brief for ten suffocating and confusing rules that seem to only apply to you, and not matter how you act or what you say, almost always guaranteed to be misconstrued, leaving one with a sense of ineptitude that borders on absurdity, yeah, one feels guilt for constantly being that person everyone tolerates in the family but no one really wants to be around.
Do I feel guilt? Since diagnosis, I feel guilt for being autistic and not knowing. Guilt that causes me to wonder if I were not autistic would it be different with my parents and siblings? Wonder why I have autism. Wonder what I could have done to avoid this and many other outcomes. I wonder how not having a relationship with grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins will affect my kids. I feel especially guilty for that, like I robbed my kids of something for which they will resent me later.
I wonder why? I wonder how an awareness of autism has answered some questions only to provoke others for which no apparent answer is discoverable or developable. I wonder why acknowledging my culpability for my actions and words, expressing that to my family, even in light of the ASD diagnosis, is insufficient to feel free of the dumping ground guilt they labored so hard, for so many years to construct on my soul. That guilt, is their guilt. I’m not carrying it any longer. I will not give them opportunity to use that guilt as a cudgel to break my will.
My will won’t be broken. They tried, and when they couldn’t break me, they tried harder. Now, I’ve escaped their prison. Freedom feels oh so good!
Disclaimer: A word on evidence in this post. The examples provided should be considered anecdotal at best and decidedly one-sided. They do, however, represent snapshots of what happened to the best of my recollection. They are not intended to be value judgements rather, to serve as limited evidence of processes which contribute to being a family dumping ground incident to and lacking a diagnosis of autism. Even so, in families as in politics, there are always two or more sides to an issue, with the truth somewhere in the middle. Regrettably, members of the gene pool from which I originate, accept their version as their moral / scientific truth having no desire to consider my views with any degree of legitimacy. My way or the highway is their motto.