The Myth of Recovery,

I read a article that on the surface seemed to some in the autism community at least more positive which is a bit of a sad commentary on what we have become used to. The article is here: http://seattlemag.com/article/autism-identity-or-disability?page=0%2C1 . It contains perhaps the most damaging notion for both adults and children on the autistic spectrum. That recovery is possible. They often put it another way that we can be recovered like some junked guitar found in the dump I guess. I don’t know.

I understand people need hope. Even if your child falls on the end of the spectrum where people mainly just think they are extremely strange I know a parent struggles. Nature conditions parents I think to have dreams for their children and then a doctor comes along and puts a label or two or three on the carrier of those dreams and well I can only imagine it must be very hard.

A good parent learns I suppose to be open to dreaming a new dream. Altering it often. Ideally realizing as pretty well every parent no matter what kind of child you get that this child is not on the planet to do the things you didn’t get to, go that one step further than anyone n the family has before or demonstrate they too have a cherished family gift for whatever.

I will never know what it is to be a parent, let alone a parent with a child with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. I do meet a lot both online and in person. The internet being a bit of a mixed blessing for a hermit.

Recovery is perhaps the most damaging to people who occupy they part of the spectrum I do. We have technically competencies in language and a normal or insanely high IQ. I have a degree which was often on the wish list of parents who would come into a an autism chat many years ago.

By the things focused in in that article I have recovered and this was indeed the notion of my youth (which is holding up services a bit as no one with an adequate grasp of the DSM seems to be employed by the agency making the decision) You finished speech therapy and someone, somewhere declared your autism residual and your parents had already been cautioned that mentioning the word would cause backsliding so you spent time with this weird notion the word somehow applied to you but if you brought it up or heck even dared to read a book about it your parents would yell that you were not autistic. This always seemed odd to me as the only people I knew like me were in those books and I read the first one when I was 5. Protected then from being yelled at by the fear it would send me under a table or down to my crazy kart fro 2000 of so laps of the basement.

The hard truth of the matter is a child like I was may experience brief windows in time when what is expected of them seems bang on with what they can cope with. We may almost have passed for normal during the grades of 4 to 6 if I had not spent one of those years talking like a robot the entire time (which thankfully did not bring on the speech therapists again). Spending every academic subject in the library wasn’t helping but on the whole those years will count as the most normal seeming of my life I fear.

We had, , once the notion that I was probably mentally retarded had been shed, acquired a new and better identity. One that gave some leverage for me to be a little bit odd I suppose in the eyes of adults without questioning outright what was wrong with me. I settled into the life of the super gifted and talented as they would describe it when trying to have me moved to private school.

I can sees how much better this seemed. How in a family with a good history of denial it would be better to totally attach themselves to this. I was too gifted for the gifted education available was the claim so multiple attempts were made to have me shipped away and private citizens even made the occasional offer.

For my parents the period where my school district became very insistent about it was a hard one. They had moved me from a city I was comfortable with. Friends I had picked up during the glory years when I was away from class too much to seem too weird and who were thus inclined to be kind to me even though I wasn’t keeping up as we entered puberty. The last kindness I would have from a peer group was when one of my inner circle pulled me aside and insisted if I were to wear a yellow shirt to school the time had come to wear a bra.

After we moved if I try to think of it from my parents point of view they were very conflicted. They could see I was not able to make friends. That I withdrew to my room and seldom spoke about anything. My grades were excellent though and the school’s main concern was not that I fit in socially but they were ill equipped to educate me not because of my autism but because I had actually finished with the content by the third grade.

Many hushed discussions were had and many impractical solutions come up with as my parents still saw me as something that could be recovered. Heck they had been told I pretty well had. If it were not for those few clingy bits of autism they could glorify in having a child to intelligent to be educated anywhere within 600 kilometers of where they were.

I don’t know why my father always turned both people and school districts down. He was in the odd position of not having to fight that the laws about an appropriate eduction apply but rather people would come to him and he would say no. Did he suspect another change would undo me and in the absence of any family member to wonder how I was functioning I would slide all the way back into whatever it was they feared?

I was bullied brutally for many years but the yearbook evidence would suggest I had peers. Peers who were highly inclined to join in on the pack violence so it was a strange time for me. I placed myself in structured activities which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. A sports team can be a very brutal place even if you are good at the sport.

Army cadets was my salvation in a way I think. A youth program that told you what to wear, what to say and what to do. It has more of an academic component than it looks like from the outside so I did well in it. Progressed rapidly up the ranks which gave me greater control and information fast so I was not caught surprised by some thing I was expected to do. Within the context of cadets while undoubtedly still and outlier I had actual peers.

As you age and gain rank you take increasing responsibility for the operation of things so I actually achieved a great many things on the planning and organization still while still young which strike me as odd now having bottomed out of the tests that measure those things.

If one had viewed me when out with my Cadet Corps. You would have though I was an impressive teenager on he cusp of adulthood. If you stepped closer you may have had cause how I tactfully maintained a newly minted officers sense of control and dignity but spared my platoon a night march through a swamp. It is I am afraid a rather specific toolkit as far as diplomacy goes.

Not that I was always on the ball with that. When getting an award from our Colonel one day, he remarked I was female. I replied, “I am aware of that Sir.” I actually was not being sarcastic sadly but it could have been taken as such. What else was I suppose to say as that one had not come up.?

A few years later when I had an honour that would later be explained to me as being largely due to my height at a big event with Prince Philip well… History repeats itself. There were half a dozen people of my rank sent to get crowd control “volunteers” from the rest. At some point someone came out and said I would be in charge. I could see my training officer come towards me at that point but someone said something.

There were shouts of protest from those who felt they had seniority despite our rank but I had no clue either. Someone slipped up to me and said he knew but he wasn’t allowed to tell me. This indeed proved to be the case. I would learn after the fact that someone taller than a royal has to stand in this central spot. I would learn it after Prince Phillip came up to shake my hand and make small talk which protocol dictates is appropriate. No one had told me about this part in the program and as he approached I got nervous. The cadets in the UK were not accepting females then and who knows he may never have run into a female in this point position but he uttered the same words as our Colonel had years before. I could see a look of alarm cross the Colonel’s face but wasn’t sure why until my typical response had slipped out. The Prince did not seem to notice but several higher officers were either in the middle of trying not to sputter or trying not to laugh. He said a few more things and was gone thankfully. My training officer came over and explained what he had wanted to say beforehand. That this would happen because since any bullet fired from the crowd would have to go through me.

I was not impressed. I would have done the position having been told to with that knowledge and in Canada the odds of a bullet flying through the crowd are pretty narrow. The worst thing we had to deal with were the kindergarten teachers who resented that the kids could not simply sit in front of us but those were the orders we had.

There must be official pictures from that day somewhere although the Prince and Queen kept a pretty tough schedule back then. I would have looked like a teenager to take great pride in if you could not I suppose hear my replies. I can’t remember the rest of the conversation at all because I was a bit distracted by people turning various shades of red and purple.

Autism being a shameful word to utter my mother would not have said this was due to any intervention on her part of declare me recovered despite the stamp of residual in my chart. By then even a mother who deeply wanted a daughter like other daughters knew she didn’t have one and she was not one to focus on what I was good at as it was my social deficits that she was obsessed with.

In the post I made after her death I make it clear I love my mother. Those were words I could not have said with certainty up to a point. Certainly not then when shes may have longed to hear them in a way that wasn’t a synonym for hanging up the phone.

I spent my early years not looking like I would amount to much. I spent the later years having sometimes a conflict from appearance and reality but sometimes being in situations I was competent enough at to almost seem normal. I took comfort in the notion that I had read about a poet with a bad stint in the army during the worst of times as people did sometimes attach a just before my last name as if I was incapable of comprehending some of the things that went on that should not have .

Forever after I have lived not knowing how and how severely my autism would impact me. When you find some incorrect data in a coded study and get paid 300 dollars for something that took you less than a second that seemed nice but being dragged around the psychology department as “that student” not so much.

Depression would further complicate my life and like my arthritis it does not play well with my autism. They claim it make my depression untreatable so 4 times now they have concluded electricity might work better. This go around with doses of horse tranquilizer to boot.

I cannot as I type this cope with the sound and intensity of the world out there without help. It is too much for me. I have lived for 20 months in a state of disarray due to the simple act of having to move. Anyone temped to label me recovered when I was hitting milestones like a university degree may wonder what the heck happened but in truth back then university was my functional place. I knew how to be be a student well. Not the bits that included partying or even knowing where the party was but understanding what the professor wanted and getting those A’s that I could do.

Now my work is similar. If viewed just by my capacity to do my very flexible computer based work one would probably rate me fairly high. I don’t now why the ability to do that remains when everything else is gone but it seems to. I set rules as safeguards though about not working past certain hours and I made myself come off painkillers before I resumed as it is complex work sometimes.

My boss does know about my autism as does anyone I work closely with even though to date we have never met in person. It doesn’t matter for the work I do for him. It matters a bit more when I have to run a team as I can forget the nice words. I put them on a too do list actually to remember to find something people are doing well and make sure they know you noticed as my team are volunteers that is kind of important but I can’t be dishonest so I will never be the type to gush.

Still it seems a bit strange that a person who had no hope of getting her coat and phone back as it involved going out in day light (brighter and more crowded) makes the decisions I do.

The internet is a great gift to people on the spectrum. I think more so than any other group. Parents can chat with each other, autistic people can chat with each other. My facebook friend list is filling up with autistic people I have never met but they think enough like me to be less annoying than the contingent of people you have on there because you can’t say no

It can however be used to spread terrible things as a truth. As positive as the article seemed in many ways the truth is if you have autism you have it for your life. Some people seem lucky to me in that the things thy have learned seemed ta bit more static as in they can talk and that ability doesn’t tend to flee but I have to suspect they have their own challenges.

I cannot change my autism. Sometimes I hate it to be honest. That doesn’t mean I want it cured as it has formed me, any hypothetical cure would not change the structure of a brain well into adulthood. What gets removed in the process may be debated as well.

I am normally in a state of acceptance about it. I am honest about it to the people it will impact so it doesn’t have as much potential to blow up with everyone wondering why but the way I have been the past 20 months I described to my psychiatrist as much like living without skin. He is a very ethical man and he was concerned he was hurting more than helping and I had to say right now it all hurts. I can’t manage any of that and this is a record time of being in this state.

In some ways as no one is my parent my situation is not so different from a parent wondering will their child ever do this for the first time or again. I am my own parent in a sense. Only I can take hold of myself and try to convince myself the day will come again when you can go outside in the day without help, the day might come when you can go back to school. We are dreaming small dreams right now so settling for being able to walk the dog in the day seems sensible.

In an hour my ride will come to take me to my swing band. I am competent at swing. It took a long time but yep I can play swing in my sleep. It caused what I am told a never seen thumbs up to a percussionist at another band I agreed to help last night when I was feeling quite terrified overall. (They have a huge and important concert on Saturday) Yeah functioning as I am the wisdom of agreeing to be a ringer for a concert of this magnitude of importance seems a bit stupid in retrospect but oh well. It did give me a rare chance to have someone by positive about a skill I laboured at. I value my ability at drums over that on the computer or the languages too numerous to count now that I can read. I value it because it was hard and that could be something to tuck in the backs of people’s minds as they struggle to stay patient with the progress of the child. As they struggle to avoid the trap that thinking of them as cured will be and so it goes.

It’s not a journey any of us whether Spectrum or parent asked to be on but it is all we have. Like all lives it will I suppose be good and bad and comparing myself to others of my age brings no happiness. I am deeply spiritual and although it is a concept that upsets some, I choose to believe I am as G-d intended and oh I do get so mad at G-d at times. (Jews are allowed by definition more latitude in giving G-d heck in case anyone worries for my soul)

When all else has been gone my faith has remained. One might think as some upset people have mailed me that it is a cruel G-d who would make people that would have lives much harder than others and struggle so much and so often just to viewed as competent and at times even human. I do not think that. I do not make guesses as to why and I have yet to get an answer. Sometimes I hope the fact that I can express this is part of the why.

I make a suggestion to some previously unknown blogger and a problem is solved, I visit for a day with a boy with AS and he works out that autism is not terminal, I take a new child under my wing so someone is there to say what his parents cannot. I am like you. I know it is hard. You can still be what matters to you on this day so rest a bit and then come when you can. We will wait. You are important.

I almost cried when uttering the last words to the child of a friend the other day. I thought what a difference it would have made if anyone had been there to say things and to simply be leant upon during what seemed like a catastrophic time to him. The odds that someone would see it was not a big deal over nothing seemed slim and added to the shame. Shame nipped in the bud I hope at least that time before it bears fruit.

 

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6 thoughts on “The Myth of Recovery,

  1. This idea of recovery is awful and drives parents to such extremes, at least it did for me. I am so grateful I finally stopped believing it. We are all so much happier as a result. No more chasing something that doesnt exist. Now we can spend our time and energy loving each other for who we are and not what we might have been. Sending you love Gareeth.

    • Yes that’ pretty much precisely what makes it so destructive but even when no one needs to recover from anything it takes an act of will I suspect to just take people as they are.

  2. I respect your experience of recovery and understand. I trained and worked as a Son-Rise participant (http://www.autismtreatmentcenter.org/), was placed on teams dedicated to encouraging and modeling connection in children on the spectrum. And the results I experienced were extraordinary.

    In this approach the parents are supported and guided so the shaming bit is worked through (continually), as all of us are guided to work with/and see the gifts the child possesses uniquely.

    I’d be very interested in your opinion of their work, how this could be detrimental. Respectfully…

    • I wasn’t writing about recovery. You recover from surgery or the flu. I was writing about life with my autism and the negative effects of people using words like recover or cure or what was used then – residual. How that doesn’t reflect a longitudinal reality.

      I read the series of book Kaufman wrote way back when. I have never seen the program implemented up close so saying whether it could be detrimental or not would be irresponsible.

      I don’t have a problem with the word treatment (as long as what is being treated needs treating) but words like recovery, solution, and of course cure are both not scientific and not respectful. My autism doesn’t have a solution. It is. I am. What needs solving are the every day issues that go with being autistic over a life span.

      My issue here is with language and how it shapes what people believe to be true about autism. How falling short when some people regard you as High functioning and others oddly enough as low is not just hard but that confusion seems impossible for health care providers to reconcile.

      If I was missing a limb I could learn to walk with a prosthetic but no one would think that limb would grow back. I don’t really understand why it is hard for people to grasp my underlying wiring will always be substantially different than the more standard issue.

      I honestly don’t think it takes a name brand program to give an autistic person better tools for coping with the life in front of them. It isn’t difficult to think about the words you might say and how they may do harm or good. It isn’t difficult to simply know that the autistic in your life isn’t making a scene on purpose or whatever and support them in ways that make things better not worse.

      I can’t really speculate about the whole connection issue as it is not one I have ever had with any kid no matter where on the spectrum people put them – well actually any kid period. I suspect that things I do automatically help. I remember in grade 11 learning some programming so I would go to the special ed class and customize the math program they used for each student. One student was autistic and I always acknowledged him by waving my hands in the monitor as he was always turned with his back to everyone but would look quickly at me than away. He would look more and more often which I did not find that interesting having no clue what people thought he could and couldn’t do. Seemed natural enough so I think I thought it was related to the personalization I was doing on a regular basis to keep doing the math program interesting to the students. The expectations were low there. There was a girl who could count to ten and she was therefore the boss of the time they spent working on the same thing the sheltered workshop did as the function of school for these students was not to learn overall but to learn how to do the tasks they would spend their lives at.

      Just before I graduated he spoke to me. A long and complicated sentence which his teachers said were his first words since he was 3. This created great excitement but at a remove of time I find it sad that no one else had thought to engage with him that one step removed so he would come to anticipate their coming instead of running for the wall.

  3. Thanks so much for the feedback and I have to agree, concerning people being more tuned in. But I also know a huge factor here is education, if people have not taken the time to learn about autism they simply follow the narrative about regarding it.

    The connections you wrote about toward the end of your response are so needed, as I see troublesome communications with children with autism often. I’m in NYC, so everyone is on the train. I really hope you get to do more of that.

    Anyway, I look forward to your future blog entries and hope to speak with you again soon.

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