Autism, ADHD, SPD, PDA - a story of difference
I am the daughter of an eccentric man and a member of a family that often felt different to most. My main struggles through childhood related to my dad's behaviour and the daily arguments our family had usually accompanied by a generous sprinkling of bewilderment all around. I remember the explosions that never made sense. The sudden calms after inexplicable storms.
Why I could be so peaceful, as a child, most of the time, and then suddenly my world or I would explode. I remember my mama shouting at me to just sit still and stop talking, her ears and mind exhausted by me. She would frequently say, "What's wrong with you? Are you hyperactive?"
It is through having my own kids that I was reminded of some of my own oddities and that of my family, growing up – seeing my kids with hands over ears at sounds I barely noticed, one of them describing themselves as being made of TNT, strong reactions to smells and bright lights.
I started to read up on ADHD and autism, and while my own little family has no formal diagnoses, so much of what I read resonates like a clanging bell through my mind, and casts light and clarity on behaviours that used to previously baffle me – in my wider family and in myself.
"What's wrong with you? Are you hyperactive?"
I would have said, then, had I had the understanding, "Yes, I am, please fix me." I often felt like I’d been born with something broken, as if some part of me wasn’t working as it ought to.
Now I say, with understanding, and self-acceptance and self-love, "Yes, I am. And that's me." I see my little people racing around and over and under the sofa at regular points during mealtimes, and I know they are self-regulating and attending to their need for movement. I couldn’t stop them if I tried.
Most of the time I love being this way. Sometimes I exhaust myself. Sometimes I just stop, in the midst of a whirlwind of activity and I think, "I'm so tired, I just need to stop," and I do. I take a break, like a spider, before I continue with my rushing. I’m getting much better at taking breaks. And I see other spider-people in my family too.
Really seeing ourselves and others can facilitate such massive change in our lives.
My greater understanding, since having my own kids, and really having to understand all of this to function – of sensory processing difficulties, ADHD, autism and PDA (pathological demand avoidance) – has allowed me to reinterpret much of my childhood, a gift I am extremely grateful for. It is also a gift that luckily came in time for me, before my dad's dementia stopped us from having two-way conversations.
Instead of looking back at a man that confused me – who didn’t get social norms; who didn’t get how to hug ‘normally’; who didn’t understand how his long-winded stories weren’t always what I wanted to hear; who could never answer a question with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’; who didn’t see when I was hurt or angered by something he’d said; who didn’t seem to care when I was worried, as he’d launch into yet another of his own stories; and who blew up with anger during mealtimes on a regular basis – I now look back at a man I understand more clearly.
I look back on his boundaries and see that he really didn’t know when a handshake or a hug was best; I look back and I see him awkwardly trying to console a sobbing teenager; I see him trying to do his best while feeling bewildered with why his solution-focused approach wasn’t working; I see him opening up and offering a personal story of his that matched my own, as a way to show empathy and to prove that he really did get how I felt; and I see his tension and winces in reaction to the loudness of the voices around him, or the sound of too many people chewing, chattering, clanging cutlery.
I think about how he was put down a class for talking too much as a child; and how I was the same, doing little to no work until the age of seven when the motivation to study arrived in the form of competition with a rather lovely boy, who happened to be very studious. I've always needed to find my own particular form of motivation to get things done.
Seeing yourself and others
I see my dad through entirely new eyes and the man that I thought was my father was just a figment of eyes trained to see others through the veil of neurotypical behaviour. I can reinterpret many, if not all, my memories of him, and that is healing. I also see myself, and so many people that have crossed my path throughout my life, through entirely new eyes – and I feel blessed. It is almost as if I have accessed a new level of seeing others, a shift, like my eyes can now see light off the end of the usual spectrum. And I love it.
Really seeing ourselves and others can facilitate such massive change in our lives – both in how we feel about ourselves or another, and in what we bring into our lives. For me, the triggers to this healing, as with many counsellors, was through my own therapy, as well as through chance encounters with the neurodiverse rainbow. Really understanding and accepting your true self is the key to healing and bringing about the change you want in your life.
As Thoreau wrote, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you imagined.”
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