AN AWKWARD CHILDHOOD.

For the first three years of my life, I was an only child, then after nine months of me following my mother down the hallway, asking her if she was going to be sick for the umpteenth time, she gave birth to my brother.

It’s awkward how things can go, my father was the eldest of five kids and my mother an only child, and interestingly, despite having two kids of the same gender, each took after different parents in the personality department.

Despite being autistic, I was verbal, and what was different about me was that I displayed bonding with outsiders, for example, I wanted, when I was small, my mother’s childhood best friend, who was one of my godmothers, to give me a bath. My brother, while he is the life of the party now, was incredibly shy and if anybody talked to him, would cry.

As we grew, my brother was highly sporty and one, and sometimes two, days of a weekend were spent with him playing soccer or cricket, as well as going swimming and later cycling, and I can remember one soccer carnival where I spent the day reading a newspaper and a detective novel. Although I have no interest in sport, I well remember being dragged along to such events, as my mother maintained that we did things “as a family”.

Extended family relations were complicated, and for the first five years of my life, I can remember seeing my mother’s parents, who lived about two kilometres away, around three times a week, and spending Thursday afternoons with my maternal grandmother, while my grandfather played bowls. My father’s parents lived further away and we only saw them a few times a year.

Perhaps some of the earliest signs of autism I displayed were inflexibility, and I can remember, at the age of four only wanting certain foods on certain days and I can remember being distressed because we saw my mother’s parents every Sunday, yet one week, my father said that we had to go out to see his parents because it was his youngest sister’s 21st Birthday and my grandparents had organised lunch at a local tavern to celebrate.

Thursdays, despite being a day where I could see my grandmother and enjoy a few hours with her, were a day I also dreaded, as that day, and Tuesday, at that age, were days for swimming lessons. As can be the case for some of us, with things such as writing, I found, as well as not being comfortable holding the pencil the way the teacher prescribed, swimming the way the instructor showed was uncomfortable for me and I was frequently in trouble and unhappy.

School was to prove the same, and when I reached Grade Four, I was sent to Cubs, which I hated, as my grandmother had thought it would be good for me. Later that year, I was able to leave cubs, as we had to move to another city to be closer to my father’s new job.

A little over a year after we had moved to that city, my father was to find that a work colleague was to desire social interaction, and this was to prove to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they had a son around fifteen months my junior, and with my brother finding my desire to be alone reading books quite frustrating, he was able to find someone else to play with, but on the other hand, while his parents gave me some books they had bought for their older son, who was now in adulthood, they were dismissive of my desire to read books.

When we did not see these people, my brother would be frustrated as I wanted to spend my time reading, and if I ever played games with him, he couldn’t understand why I preferred to line toy cars up rather than whizz them around or racing them. When he wanted to play Lego, my mother would say, “He uses his imagination to build things, you just want to follow instructions from the boxes.” Another sign of autism and something that should have been expressed as, “There’s nothing wrong with either method.”

Where these people did not help my sensory issues is that usually, when we were invited to their place, they took the approach “The more the merrier,” and their friends would bring other kids and those kids, as well as the son who played with my brother, would cause my sensory issues to be exacerbated, in the son’s case, by sitting on me and poking his fingers onto my chest, saying, “The typewriter.” My mother, knowing about this, would just tell me I was too sensitive and too buttoned up.

I did, however, enjoy my visits to my paternal grandparents, and there again, conflicts arose. My grandparents lived on acreage, and I would want to go out there, like my father, for the silence, whereas my brother wanted to tear around the backyard playing sport or doing one thing or another. My grandparents were accommodating of my desire for silence, but my mother was insistent I spend all my time with my brother when we went out there, even though I could sneak in some time talking to my grandmother.

Among school, social events and family, I struggled to find any space where I was free to be myself. While some people were accommodating, when those accommodations were overridden, my childhood and adolescence became increasingly awkward and the depression that engulfed me was horrendous.

I am grateful for my diagnosis of autism and now understand why I have always been so different and difficult to so many people, but have found my online community, so that my adulthood, as I head into middle age, is not so awkward.

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Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.

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Peter Wynn

Peter Wynn

Diagnosed with autism at 35. Explained a lifetime of difference.

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