WHAT WOULD HAVE REALLY HELPED ME 39 YEARS AGO.
Well, let me start this by saying, had I been correctly diagnosed as autistic when I was 6, rather than misdiagnosed with muscular dystrophy with a life expectancy of 12, my life could have been easier, provided I’d not been subjected to low expectations. And before that, if, when I entered this world, my father had been asked by a nurse either, instead of, “How does Peter sound?” “How does Emma Louise sound?” or, “You have an intersex baby.” Why? Well, as I reflect on a momentous change 39 years ago, I see what would have made it easier.
But how would being born a girl or intersex have helped? Well, okay, I had girl playmates when I was little, but I was in the era where boys played with boys and girls played with girls and mingling was frowned upon, and while I looked like other boys, there was the autistic wall between us. I remember, 40 years ago, an older boy called me a p-word, and I remember I told my mother. She asked me if I knew what a p-word was, and to be honest, I had an image of a monkey like character from a Dr. Seuss book, and I said, “No. What is one?” My mother replied, “It’s just a nasty name.” It wasn’t until a character played by Gerard Kennedy in an episode of The Flying Doctors, where AIDS was discussed and Maurie Fields’s character, the bartender, said, “You can’t catch it off a glass!” that I learnt what it meant.
I remember, when I was part way through Year Five, a traumatic year if ever there was one, that my mother told me that she had seen a woman in the bank whose daughter had gone to primary school with me. As the 30 Year School Reunion was recent, some people from my high school shared primary school photos and that girl was in them. Then, on my second day of high school, I saw the girl and she said, “I remember that face.” I introduced myself and it was nice. What would have been good would have been if our mothers had been friends, and when we were moving cities, if her mother had said, “So are we. And this is where we’re looking to buy.” Then, if her mother and my mother had both gone to the same schools to check them out and the principal had said, “Okay, I’ll tell you what. An autistic person likes and needs continuity, so what I’ll do is, I’ll put them both in the same class.” Then, if we had moved to the new house in the new city at roughly the same time, and the principal of the new school had said, “Okay, attendance at school is important, so what I’ll encourage is for you to stay at your old school until as near to the end of the year as possible (I remember my Year Four teacher telling my mother that she’d miss me), then, come up mid-week, and you can both have a few days off and rather than finishing at your old school on the Monday and starting at your new school on the Wednesday, finish at your old school on the Wednesday, come up on the Thursday, have Friday off and you can both start at the new school on the following Monday. A big change is better with a little continuity.”
We can be whimsical in retrospect, and hindsight is always 20:20 vision, but without hindsight there can be no insight.