Living With Autism

There is a link between autism and allergies so a lot of the people who get kittens from us are the parents of autistic children.  It is a scary world out there and being told your kid is different certainly doesn't help.  You worry and lets face it the label makes you worry more.  I am not an expert on autism.  Nope, I am just one more autistic person living my life on this crazy planet.  There is no degree behind my opinions.  I don't need one.  I took the life experience course.  

When I was a girl autism wasn't a thing.  Oh, they knew it existed but awareness had not made its way to the school system of the small southern town I grew up in.  They had no idea what to do with me.  I became something of a school project.  Looking back, as a mother who has raised kids on the spectrum I have new found empathy for my mother.  The poor woman wanted a cheerleader and just could not figure out how she got me instead.  I was a decidedly quirky little person.

This section is for the other parents of kids on the spectrum and to some extent for other autistics.  I feel that people need to know we grow up, have jobs, lives, families and are happy.  Most of all I want you to know we do get to be happy.

The Library

Picture a room inside your head.  It is a library only instead of books the shelves are full of Lego kits.  Some boxes are big.  Others are small.  On each one there is a photo of what that specific kit is intended to make.  You love this library and you built it.  Its just right because you filled it with everything you love and were interested in.  

Then something goes wrong.  Someone comes in and dumps all the boxes of Lego blocks into a pile, stirs them up and demands that you build something very specific from them.  You don't have the boxes with the pictures on them.  The Logo blocks are in this huge jumbled pile.  Worst of all, you don't really understand quite what they want you to build.

That is the inside of my head.  I read a lot.  It is nothing for me to go through one or two books a day when I have the time.  When I am not reading I always have a documentary playing in the back ground.  My head is a pretty full place.  As long as it is organized it is also a lot of fun to be there but things go wrong.  When that happens it is much harder to find what I want to say to people.  It is also hard to do what I want to do.  I still have all the knowledge and mental tools I have accumulated over the years.  I just cannot put the pieces together.

Why Does This Happen

Obviously, my head is not really full of boxes of knowledge and nobody is coming in and dumping them on the floor.  That is just the best way I can find to illustrate how it feels to someone who doesn't have to live with this effect.  I tell my daughter we are like race cars.  A race car can go really fast which is an amazing thing but if you give it the wrong fuel or don't maintain it properly it will also break a lot quicker than a pickup truck which is designed for sturdiness instead of speed.

When everything is right you couldn't tell I am autistic.  Over the years I taught myself to compensate.  There are books on all the things I am not good at.  Don't get me wrong I have to work at it.  As a teenager I took a computer programming course and discovered flow charts.  They are amazing things.  When I was younger I used to use them to help me visualize and understand complex social situations.  It helped me decipher what neurotypical people seem to understand instinctively.  It can be done and once you get in the habit it is not really that hard.  

The problem is when something comes along and dumps out all your metaphorical boxes of Legos..  Knowing that there are times when I am far more functional than others it is easy to extrapolate that the same is true for other autistics.  Don't get me wrong.  You cannot "cure" autism.  Frankly, I think curing autism would be a real shame.  A huge percentage of the people who get cats from me display at least some autistic tendencies.  My cats are very expensive.  If someone can afford to spend $1100 on a kitten they are doing pretty well for themselves.  This along with other things I have observed has led me to believe society needs us.  The thing is it needs us as functional people so we have to treat and control the side effects of having brains that are more specialized than average.

Canary In The Coal Mine

In the old days miners would take a small bird into the coal mines with them.   When the deadly gasses trapped underground reached dangerous levels the little bird would stop singing and die.  The silence told miners that it was time to leave before they too expired.

I have what is commonly known as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity.  Doctors do not like the term but I have come to embrace it because it gives me a nice easy way of lumping all the factors involved together.  Something happens with my mast cells that is causing my body to have a harder time getting rid of allergic reactions.  I also have problems with the bacteria in my digestive system.  I spoke to a doctor at Wake Forest who used the term SIBO but we could not find a way to test me because at the time I was too ill to leave my home.

None of this is especially exciting or different.  Pretty much everyone out there has the same issues.  These are the ills of modern civilization.  We eat hyper processed GMO food that is more a gift of Monsanto than mother nature.  We wrap ourselves in chemical cocoons and surround ourselves with materials that are constantly off gassing and endless stream of toxic substances we were never intended to be exposed to.

The difference is that I am autistic.  I am good at the things that will get you a high score on an IQ test but I do not instinctively "get" the things that help make humans such successful social animals.  Another person might get migraines or a tummy ache.  I, well I, sort of forget how to be a social creature.  That sounds like an odd way of explaining it but that social thread is what ties humanity together.  Take away the ability to read body language and communicate effectively with other people and it doesn't really matter how "smart" you are because you are trapped inside your own little prison.

My Solution

I was lucky.  I became so physically ill that the patterns of cause and effect were unmistakable.  I had wasted years of my life trying to find a way to "fix" myself through conventional means.  In other words I went to doctors and took the prescribed pills.  It did not end well.  In fact, it almost killed me.  I ended up in bed on 60mg of Prednisone and a wide assortment of other medications for 6 months unable to even stand without help.  It was horrible so I decided I had to fix my body and in the process I fixed my brain.

For me, the answer was to return as closely as possible to the conditions the human body was designed to live in.  I had to change my diet, remove all perfumes and chemicals from my home and even ended up moving to an older (and thus less chemically laden) home in a nature preserve.  Is it worth it?  For me it is.  Is it necessary or even possible for most people?  That is a question I cannot answer.  What I can tell you is that I firmly believe that the supposed rise in autism rates has a lot more to do with the fact that we are more sensitive to these things than other people.  I also feel that the same is true for the increase in violence and other problems in our society.  If my mind becomes less effective once contaminates reach a certain level it seems logical that lots of other people are having the same issue and it is just manifesting itself differently. 

Wrapping It Up

I am not going to save the world with this page and I don't want to give anyone the impression I have the answers to their situation.  I am just here to say that we autistics can be and in most cases already are a huge part of functional society.  I want other autistic people and their parents to know that there are answers.  The answers are probably not the same for everyone but if you keep looking you can and will find your answers.  

Do I believe that a pet can be helpful for autistic kids.  Yes!  Loudly and vehemently YES but it is part of a bigger picture.  Pets have evolved to have social interactions with us.  The ones that were good at it were fed and had a better chance at reproducing.  I really do feel that a kitten or puppy can help an autistic child bridge the social gap.  It can be a big part of learning to fit in with others who are more socially focused than we are.

The thing is this page is not about convincing people they need to get a kitten.  This page is about the bigger picture.  I just want you to know what society has labeled as autism can be far different than the stereotypes.  I want you to know there are ways of modifying the negative side effects of having a race car brain.  Most of all I want you to know it can and will be OK.  You just have to keep looking for your path to happiness.