In the ever-losing game of balancing out the time I spend with each kid so that neither assumes I love the other better—or both of them assume I love the other better, but I feel pretty confident that they are being ridiculous drama llamas—I was thrilled to discover that the day after Chickadee’s birthday, there was going to be a screening of Autism in Love at our local indie cinema.
“Hey Monkey, would you like to go see this documentary with me? I think it’ll be pretty interesting.” I was braced for a shrug or a swift refusal (this would, after all, cut into his gaming time…), but to my delight he agreed right away. (I also invited the rest of the family, by the way. But it ended up just being Monkey and me, which was fine.)
This movie caused me to have A Lot Of Feelings, both because of the movie itself and how Monkey reacted to it. The premise is simple: they follow four autistic adults who are either in or want to be in romantic relationships. Two of them are a couple, one is married (but his wife is in the hospital with end-stage ovarian cancer, and it’s unclear if they ever lived truly independently), and the youngest of the bunch is a young man who really wants a girlfriend but is struggling with… well, everything, seems like, but especially that.
There are highs and lows in the film, but it was the ride home that was most interesting.
“Four people isn’t enough,” he said, first. “Everyone with autism is different. All of those people in the movie were sort of on the same level of functioning. There wasn’t anyone like me.”
This was surprising on two fronts. First: The couple lived independently, both of them had driver’s licenses and “regular” jobs, and struck me as being on the same level of functioning (I hate the whole high- and low-functioning thing, but I don’t have better language for it) as Monkey. In fact, the woman in the couple struck me as VERY similar to him, and I briefly wondered if his inability to see the similarities was because she’s female. Second: The other two subjects in the film were more limited in their functioning (again, sorry for the “functioning” label)—they didn’t drive, their thinking was extremely rigid, and one had a job through an organization employing those with disabilities, while the other had no job at all for most of the film (towards the end, he’d found employment as a supermarket bagger).
The fact that my normally very discerning kid was lumping all four of these adults together was interesting to me.
“I thought the couple was sort of like you,” I ventured. “Her, specifically. What do you mean there was no one like you?”
“I could tell she was autistic when she talked,” he said. “I mean, it was really obvious she has a speech processing issue. I’m not like that.” Huh.
“Okay…” I said. “You don’t have that specific thing, but sometimes people can tell you’re autistic when you talk. If you get excited about something you sometimes drop some consonants and become hard to understand. That’s okay.”
He nodded, but was clearly frustrated that I was missing something. “None of them had regular jobs. Do you think I’m going to be able to have a regular job?”
Ah. Now I understood. “First, honey, yes, I fully expect you’ll have a regular job in a field that interests you. But… I think the couple did have regular jobs—they just didn’t show as much about that because showing the special job, or the complaining about not being able to hold a job, was different. See what I mean? I’m pretty sure both the guy and the girl in the couple had gone to college and had what you would consider ‘regular’ jobs.”
He nodded. We talked some more about Lenny, the one who was single, who seemed to struggle the most through the film. During the screening, Monkey had leaned over to me several times to make comments, as Lenny was outspoken in his desire to not have autism and to be “like everyone else.” Monkey pointed out to me, at various points, that 1) Lenny was clearly suffering from low self-esteem, 2) Lenny didn’t seem to have a very good support system to help him come to terms with his autism, and 3) Lenny wasn’t sad because he was autistic, Lenny was sad because he was clinically depressed. And now he wanted to talk about him some more.
“I feel like I could’ve ended up like Lenny,” he said. “I mean, if I hadn’t had all the support and help I got, and you guys helping me to realize that yeah, I’m different, but that’s hard in some ways and good in others.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Sure,” he said. “His mom didn’t really seem to understand why he couldn’t just snap out of it. That’s not how you help someone who’s depressed. But I remember feeling like that, sometimes. I felt really bad for him. I think if he would stop believing everything he read on the Internet” [Lenny had some interesting beliefs about how relationships work] “he might be happier, too.”
“Well, he’s a pretty rigid thinker,” I said. “That’s… well, you know. That’s a pretty typical autistic thing. You do that sometimes, too.” He started to protest. “Not about the same stuff, of course. But sometimes that same kind of ‘this is the way it is’ thinking, right?” He nodded.
“I think I USED to be like some of the people in the movie,” he said. “But I’ve gotten a lot better at handling things.” I agreed. “I just would’ve liked to see someone more like me.”
Sometimes I wish I could crawl inside that kid’s head and see how he sees himself. I sure am enjoying my little glimpses from the outside, though.