Never underestimate what an autistic person understands, or especially, remembers.
It is bound to be a helluva lot more than you think.
Even with an autistic person who is verbal, communication can be oblique, indirect, hinted. Somehow, the direct route got derailed in the brain, or entangled in what science has found are far more neural connections than “neurotypical” people have. There’s a LOT more going on in the brain of an autistic person than in a “typical” brain.
As our daughter matures, I am reminded of this daily, and often, I’m amazed.
How did she….? Where did that idea come from? I didn’t know she even know that word!
When I was writing the other day about missing Mike’s centering influence in our lives, I mentioned how he loved to discover new music, and how he and our daughter would learn a lot of great songs by artists I had never heard of before.
One of those was a Canadian singer-songwriter named Jann Arden. They started listening to her when our daughter was a toddler.
Thursday, I noticed she was listening to Jann Arden on her phone.
We hadn’t played Jann Arden in this house for more than ten years.
Suddenly, as I am writing about Mike finding new music, she starts listening to Jann Arden again?
The truth is, Jann Arden’s music was the soundtrack to the most painful period of our marriage, a time that had ongoing traumatic effects for the rest of our lives together. But Mike had gotten our daughter so hooked on that music during that fraught time that I actually took it away, with the promise of return if she mastered an essential skill.
Denying an autistic child something they are attached to is agony.
But it worked.
It was also the beginning of the end of our listening to Arden’s music.
I’ve been writing about how we’ve been going through another wave of grief, unexpectedly, and how I tell her to hang on to the happy memories.
Was playing Jann Arden, within earshot, her way of telling me the sad memories are there, too? She remembers listening to Jann Arden with him, and she remembers me taking the music away and giving it back again after a week of painful deprivation.
She also remembers the wrenching, raging discord too often present in our marriage.
My Mother used to accuse me of being “oversensitive” when things other kids did or said upset me, or when I objected to her nit-picking about my hair, my clothes, my reading habit (“go outside!” – I realized she nagged me about this because she wanted to go outside) or my choice of activities, jobs or diets. When I explained I felt attacked, she called me “paranoid.”
Mom often started her criticism with, “what will people think of your Mother if you (wear that hairstyle, leave that job, eat that food…?)”
Not what would they think of her daughter, but what would they think of her.
It infuriated Mom when I called her on this – that her complaints and criticisms had more to do with her than me.
The idea that I might have some insight into the motivation behind her criticism offended her.
The idea of insight itself exasperated her, I think. Who needs insight when something needs doing. So stow your precious little feelings and don’t forget to unload the dishwasher. We’ll talk about your feelings later. As in never.
Mom saw sensitivity as a threat. Acknowledging undercurrents means uncovering pain. Lost father, lost brother, kid-thwarted career, lost mother. Regret.
She did not want to open that box.
Whatever she had packed away so tightly burst out of her occasionally, as tears or anger. But she wouldn’t say why.
Other than I had forgotten to unload the dishwasher, again.
Or that she felt unappreciated.
I wish my “oversensitivity” had been comforting to her, not annoying. Not a threat.
Sensitivity is receptivity to expressed emotion in people, or observable beauty in nature, music, dance, literature or art.
“Oversensitivity” is the ability to discern things unexpressed, unspoken, unseen, but present, meaningful, and worthy of discussion, or at least acknowledgement.
That’s a gift, Mom, not a problem.
A gift your granddaughter displays in the unique, sometimes heartbreaking ways she communicates what she has discerned, through whatever alchemy of receptivity her overconnected brain employs (sensing tiny blips of my neuroelectricity? or a disturbance in the local magnetic field? glancing over my shoulder?) as I sit here, writing about Mike and music and our lives together.
So thanks for the compliment, Mom, but it is your granddaughter who really deserves it.
Listening again, after a very long hiatus, to Jann Arden, and allowing myself to remember the pain that is the flipside of love, I remain,