For years I had a secret that I was reluctant to tell, and rarely did. After Nigel’s diagnosis, I thought that people wouldn’t believe it. But people here might, and so I divulge: I have always been fascinated by autism. I first read about it when I was eight years old and I used to read the twenty-five volume hardcover Encyclopaedia Britannica volume by volume. I would sit in the brown upholstered rocking chair in our living room, open up the large, heavy book in my lap, turn the crackly new pages, and smell the fresh paper-and-ink scent of a previously unread book. I’m sure I didn’t read all of them cover to cover, but I read enough to learn all sorts of things. Autism was one of them.
I became intrigued right away. I studied it throughout childhood and adolescence (although the only printed information I found was archaic), and in college I received my minor in psychology, stemming from my long-time interest in autism. Even at a young age, I wondered what caused it. In adolescence I wrote a story about a teenage girl who had autism, and she could talk, but her speech was echolalic. I didn’t know about echolalia at the time; I hadn’t even heard of the word. I just somehow knew that autistic people communicated that way. It was as if I had this innate understanding of autism. When Nigel was diagnosed at age three, however, at first the idea seemed impossible to me because he was so affectionate. The old stereotypes (and the archaic descriptions I read) really got in the way of recognizing it.
Many parents whose child is diagnosed with autism will feel a need to grieve. The future of their family will be vastly different from that of most, if not all, people they know. They are fearful, not knowing what to expect, and their response is only natural. Oddly, emotional as I am, I did not cry when Nigel was diagnosed. I have on many occasions since; for example, out of frustration and sadness for not being able to do things with my child that other people take for granted (going to the grocery store or a restaurant), and, in recent years, I’ve cried because it pains me to see Nigel try so hard to fit in with his peers only to be laughed at and bullied. But I didn’t cry when he was first diagnosed, and I’ve often wondered if, in addition to it being a shock, maybe I subconsciously knew that I was destined to have an autistic child. Maybe all those years I spent reading about and studying autism, due to a childhood interest, was my subconscious mind prepping me, saying, “Start wrapping your mind around this.”
Is that farfetched? I’m fascinated by autism for most of my life and wind up having an autistic child? I don’t know. I remember a chill came over me when Nigel’s diagnosis was uttered. I was scared, it didn’t seem logical, based on what I had read, but deep down I knew it was true. Some words etched themselves on my soul: This is my path. Somehow I have always known it.