“My Date With Autism”, a performance monologue by Alisa McLaughlin
I found him late in life when I was tired of it all, I had no job, never been in love. Few friends and no income. The only relationship I had was with depression and it was not healthy. Maybe I could get disability. Depression never helped me get a job, all she did was lie around and complain about how life sucked. So there I was at the library perusing the DSM- that’s the psychological bible known as The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual–and as I read the pathology for Autism, and–bam!– there he was.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological condition affecting the ability to communicate and interact with others. Behaviors include difficulty making eye contact, narrow, intense interests, and sensory sensitivities.
Oh my God, it was a perfect match. Autism was super focused and understood me like no one else, even the specialist I went to agreed “Oh yeah you are definitely made for each other,” Autism showed me why I was rejected at work, romance and friendships. I was elated! It was relief to discover why I was a tactless, self absorbed neat freak. Depression left while I doted on my new suitor.
“Yeah, baby. It’s who you are and it’s not going to get better so get used to it. You will still be dismissed and marginalized by so called normal people.”
Wait, what do you mean it’s not going to get better? After my initial excitement died down, depression came strolling back and parked herself on the couch.
“Autism ain’t going to fix your life, honey, merely define it.” said the girlfriend from hell. How true, when I look back, I can see the symptoms were obvious. I was an temperamental child, I arranged the toys in my crib, was furiously impatient with people when I deigned to notice them at all. I was absorbed with subjects others found uninteresting. Apparently not everyone is fascinated with opera or sumo wrestling. Turns out, autistics can be endearing but insufferable bores. I had been cheated of awareness of ASD and a semi- normal life- no thanks to my well meaning parents who shielded me from it. If I had known earlier maybe I wouldn’t have felt like a failure or be driven to near suicide.
Being obsessive- an autistic trait apparently-I learned everything I could about the disorder. Autistics have difficulty reading subtle social cues- whatever they are. They prefer to be alone, well, not really, but a child sitting by themselves with odd quirks is usually judged to be weird and easy to ignore. They would socialize if they knew how.
You see, conversation is like jazz. You take a melody, hand it to someone, they change it a bit and hand to back, and so forth. The autistic, unfortunately, does not know how to improvise. They take the melody and hand it back unchanged. This will happen several times until the recipient looks puzzled and the autistic wonders what they did wrong–again.
Autism was once considered a rare mental defect defined to extreme cases of cognitive dysfunction- now, it’s downright fashionable. “Oh I must be on the spectrum, I’m so bad at social gatherings,” people will gush.
This at the top of the list of things not to say to someone with ASD. Other things not to say: “Why do you let things bother you? You don’t look disabled, I hear you people have no empathy, I bet you’re great at math or music.” We’re not all Rainman. I don’t have any cool savant skills like playing Mozart on the piano perfectly the first time, but if you want to make me crazy -and you will- just fold a map incorrectly.
Meltdowns are a constant source of stress for autistics. A normal person sees problem in degrees, like a dimmer switch. With ASD it’s a light switch; all the way on or off. Meltdowns can be triggered by misplaced keys, the rearrangement of the environment, flashing lights or noises. For me, it’s leaf blowers, sirens and phones. The opposite to these I call the simple joys. Mine is floor plans. Looking at or drawing them relaxes me instantly.
You may be mildly annoyed you can’t find your keys. For an ASD it’s hysterical panic. “Dammit, I missed a phone call again.” Should this happen, give me a floor plan, I’ll be fine.
So I’m stuck with autism, it’s not what I expected in a beau but then I’m at an age where I’m tired of pretending to be normal. I’ve decided this is me folks, take or leave it.
Art by Alisa McLaughlin