My daughter has high functioning autism. Aspergers to be exact. Every day she is tortured by the possibility of overload, a meltdown, and shutdown. We are very close, closer than most mother and daughters. In ignorance, people make comments like, “Now that she is grown she should become more independent.” or “Why hasn’t she moved out?” I don’t blame them. Even though she is exceptionally smart, witty and clever, they don’t understand. In the 20 years, I have been gifted with her I have become her interpreter of the world. I am her guide dog, her translator in a world she does not understand.
As she opens the door to the outside world she steels herself against the barbarous barrage of daily sensory assault. Already she panics, fighting the urge to retreat, she fights the creeping paralysis that would make her agoraphobic.
Noise stabs her with auditory javelins: honking horns, hissing truck brakes, screaming children, cell phone chattering, airplanes, trains, slamming car doors, thumping car basses, holiday bell ringers, barking dogs, cawing magpies. In distress, she clamps on noise-canceling headphones and floods her ears with John Lunn, drowning out the din.
She slips on dark glasses to dull the visual overload. The world thrusts at her with techno-color streams of light. Colored cars, houses, landscapes, clothes, paper posters and people. Shop windows and their array of displays designed to entice. In protest she shrouds herself in black, keeping color at bay, it’s calming, serene, quiet, and uncomplicated.
Odors invade and violate her sensitive nose: Redolent perfume from lipsticked ladies clicking past, miasmic dumpsters, homeless stairwell piss, bus diesel, cafe fried eggs and black coffee, the body odor of sweaty runners passing by. She is besieged. She pulls the lavender infused scarf over her nose, choking back the urge to retch and heave.
She has a sophisticated palette but it is at the mercy of texture. No meat, with its sinew, muscle, gristle, and fat. She doesn’t like the feel of it in her mouth. It feels invasive as if there is no room in her mouth to hold air. She opts for one bowl meals to keep things simple and bypass the confusion and cacophony of choice.
She desperately craves to be touched, but not by strangers. She doesn’t like their fish-fingered handshakes, hearty claps on the back and insincere hugs. She is aware she seems aloof as she stands back during gathering greetings. When she comes home she clings to me as if to make up for all the touch she has lost in the day. She is lonely.
She wants to contribute. At work, she is quick with tricks and tips and trivia. She soaks up information at an astonishing rate. She is competent, responsible and charming. However, inside she is fractured, confused and anxious. She doesn’t understand small talk, pop culture, and social mores. She is a snapped powerline whipping around trying to connect.
She tells me, in great detail, the conversations of the day, so that I might explain the meaning and nuances. She doesn’t understand why people don’t mean what they say, say what they mean and do what they say they will do. She is a literalist. She takes one at their word. There are no shades of grey in her world, only black and white.
Every day she anguishes and languishes under the weight of her Aspergers. She is keenly aware and yet helpless to control the torment inside. She is terrified of medication… that it might change what she sees as good in herself. And there is so much good. Behind her doe-eyes, she rages against the oppression of her depression, a warrior for her survival.
She is a wonder, compassionate without compare. A gift from her is a labor of love. She takes everything she knows about you into careful consideration. Agonizing and obsessing over the tiniest details And with impeccable timing she will present you with the most perfect personalized present. She is a walking Google with thousands of facts (both useless and useful) at her finger-tips. Her perspective of the world is fascinating and refreshing…as if she were standing on the opposite side of the world. She is quick-witted, once telling a co-worker who asked about her less than perfect toes that she had “toe-polio” in complete deadpan.
But when she is battle weary, I am her champion. I nurse and nurture and cultivate the embers of her fiery fight. I am her respite, her balm, her salve from the chafing daily grind. It is because of her, I know what love is and what love is meant to be.