When my son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at age three, I had a very hard time learning about the prognosis. I perseverated over my two main concerns: the affected’s inability to “get” humor and the difficulties involved in making a friend. This was not going to work for our affected one. Meaning me.
I could deal, for the moment, with the humor part. I was in no way, shape, or form laughing at this most unkind cut to the funniest girl alive. I promised myself I’d at least tell a blonde joke again one day, even as I felt like a walking one. However, the friendship part would be a deal breaker. No FRIENDS? Though I have been known to lack interest in relationships, preferring to laser focus on lining up my heels by shades of nude, proofreading others’ social media posts in silent disgust, and waiting by the phone for Dave Barry to call about a collaboration, I’ve never avoided eye contact with a Tito’s Vodka and orange juice. I possess self-awareness at least!
Or do I? Little did I know I was engaging in a sort of parallel play, a sign of social development according to those who believe that load of crap. There was another, bearing the weight of autism, resigning herself to reign over an unfunny, unfriend-y life.
Back then, my uber sensitivity to the sounds and smells of my then infant caused me to give even less of a shit (pun intended) of what the rest of the elementary school car pickup line thought. Waiting to pick up my ASD child was plenty disheartening. His special class was released a tad earlier than the rest so not only was I allowed VIP parking but even more time in the day to ponder how “special” our lives were. Ugh.
Shielded by the lift gate of my SUV, surely no one would notice me change a diaper. And certainly not the mom idling behind me who was likely waiting for her non-screwed up, Superkid to race up (and perform Shakespeare). I may hate her.
The problem was that mom, who can’t stand to get her hands dirty and has a major language deficit in the area of maintaining her “inside voice” in restaurants, did notice. She became fixated on my daily shit show and as much as she probably wanted to put her hands to her ears and violently rock back and forth in an effort to unsee me, she could not.
Other than perform diaper duty, for months I did little more in carpool than wish for a friend with whom to share lime and olive garnishes while she pondered other shades of green, represented by a mom’s most destructive emotion and the obvious color of her counterpart’s grass. Neither of our children physically present as having special needs, so she just assumed the four year-old boy I was there to pick up was an enviable, typical kid much like my other lil’ stinker. She was wrong, and frankly I sped away too fast to do a double take on her son. Before someone else pooped.
Long story long that autism mom and I were eventually introduced, ironically on World Autism Awareness Day. Neither of us had ever been happier to have been so mistaken, for the conversation went something like this:
B: I know you. You’re the mom who changed her baby’s diaper in your trunk every day; I was parked behind you. Hot!
K: WHATTTTTTTTTTTTTTT?????? People saw that????????????
B: Yep. I figured you had it all: looks, skills, and not a care in the world.
K: You would be incorrect (hmm, well I am really pretty). My grass is no greener than yours, sistah.
Thank goodness ten years later our exchanges have matured. Okay, who am I trying to kid? They have not. Cue uncontrollable flapping when Michael Kors shades anything in orange. The slightest change in our treasured friendship routine can send us reeling. It’s early release today at school? How are we supposed to have a proper lunch date? Have I mentioned the elopement? We keep trying to run off, not responding to our names, but our families eventually find us. Sigh.
Topic maintenance is next to impossible. In the course of one sitting, we touch upon every subject known to (wo)man, each for a total of a half-second. We admit we’re exhausting, and that’s why we have each other to inappropriately laugh with, cry with, stim over Ricky Martin with, and HEY LOOK, A SQUIRREL! Our behavior issues aside, I am proud to say the phrases we echo (other than “spa day please; spa day please”) are all for the greater good. Together, we are restless, boundless, and unstoppable. As long as our lofty goals are reached before afternoon carpool. Our friendship has everything to do with our autism “in common,” while at the same time nothing to do with it in the slightest. We are rigid in our routine of supporting one another, even if we communicate it in atypical ways.
I have an unusual attachment to my B. I would be lost without her, and I have a pretty high tolerance for pain. Hand over hand, and generous in verbal cues, B has taught me immeasurable life skills. And helped me reach measurable milestones.
If you’d like to reach team BK, you’ll find us lounging in the lushest, greenest, most envied turf on the block. It’s a self-soothing lawn party of two, produced and groomed by our perfectly imperfect friendship. You can’t miss us, we’ll be the ones waving the red flags- not to be confused with white ones. C’mon by.
Kristi Vannatta is mom to two boys, ages eleven and fourteen. Her blog focuses on her (not always shitty) life with her thirteen year-old who has autism. In her infinite spare time (ha!) she runs Puzzle Peace Now, a South Florida based charity that raises money to send children with special needs to summer camp.