I Am Autism

Summer, 2016

 

Excerpts of letters from Barbara Moran to Mary-Minn Sirag (edited to fit by Alisa McLaughlin)

 

My Life as a Child

I was quite small when my parents noticed I had a problem. First they thought I was deaf then retarded until I spoke around three and they found out I was intelligent. 

Mother was nearly 50 and had a huge house to clean with seven children. She didn't have the energy to have another little girl around. My sister started school that year and there were no other children at home, so I was alone too much. I didn't play the way others did, and little effort was made to find someone to be with me.

People thought I had no interest in others because I didn't know how to show I cared, so they were unmotivated to connect with me. A Catholic family in the ‘50s was obsessed with conformity but not much on relationships so if you didn't fit in, you were simply out.

I was a sensitive child who cried easily and my biggest struggle was tactile. My clothes didn't feel right if they were made of fabric that felt sticky or rode up. Washing and brushing my hair was always a problem. I complained a lot about tangles and how it got in my face. By five I was able to quietly accept my hair when it was long enough to braid so it was off my neck and out of the way. At the  Menninger Clinic I wasn't allowed to choose my hairstyle but thankfully by the time I was 16 I was given a say.

 

Drugs and Brainwashing

I had Tourette tics as a child that were made worse with medication. Most of the tics were silent but my parents became annoyed when I became noisy and it made my mom furious. It broke my heart to be that way and was one of the many reasons mom said I caused her heartache.

No one at Menninger's understood the tics either. Though the tics were ignored in the younger kids’ group, I spent 2 years being told to "stop jerking" in the big girls’ group.

I was in several schools throughout my early childhood because the teachers didn't know what to do with me. At eleven I was put on Thorazine and Ritalin but couldn't function and missed a lot of classes. My anxiety skyrocketed and even after I crashed and burned they kept me on the medication for about fifteen months. The long-term effects were apathy and compulsions. All I could think about at 13 were cathedrals and I thought I'd burst if I didn't talk endlessly about them. I had no real life in my head. I couldn’t even tell a decent story about a cathedral. 

I never did well in school. It was always a struggle even after the drugs were stopped. It's a miracle I graduated by eighteen. Had I never taken pills, I could have been interested in stories, enjoy reading and had good material for writing.

My life was so empty that even my fantasy life was in black and white and so crazy that I am ashamed of it. There was no help to deal with my unresolved obsessions. No one asked, “How can we make your life better?” There was no way to get my tears and pain validated; I really did feel crazy.

The Freudian religion never lets a person have something taken at face value. Autistics are literal. We don't speak in metaphors. So what I often said "meant" something else to others and I had the find the "unconscious" answers inside of me. There were no magic secrets to cure me; for decades I searched for them. Is it this? Is it that? No change came.

I was so brainwashed by propaganda that by the time I was on Thorazine, I was searching, racking my brains for why I was feeling “butterflies all over my body”. I didn't even have a word for what I was feeling.

Had I not heard their fantasy talk, I could have thought, "The past couldn't have led to this." I had never felt this way at home. It was never so bad before the pills. Maybe some people get more anxious when they take them.

Someone I spoke to recently said she thinks that if I been taken off the meds, I could have said something about the terrible feelings I had. Thankfully, I was taken off the meds. Otherwise, I doubt I would have ever lived outside of a hospital or nursing home. I wouldn't have been able to finish school or go home for visits.

 

When I was drug free, I was offered a short home visit but refused because I thought I'd be upset and get scolded. It was really hard to be with them because I felt like I never fit in and my chronic anxiety would go up.

At fourteen it was arbitrarily decided my progress had stopped. I was scared the next time my parents came because I thought Menninger's would dump me to make room for someone else. My parents begged to take me home for an extended visit and the social worker agreed without saying they had given up on me.

They thought I had chronic schizophrenia in the ‘60s and never changed their minds as far as I know. I got to see my records eventually and it went from  "severe" to "mild' later on.

My parents had no support to help them accept me or accept themselves for having a daughter like me. They thought no one had a kid like me or ever heard about a kid like me.

In the early ‘50s "defective" babies and toddlers were dumped into warehouses and made wards of the state. Society coerced parents to get rid of kids they said would be a burden. My parents were an exception: they were going to give me a chance because Catholics were taught to care for people who are less than perfect. That doesn't mean the church practiced what they preached. The Catholic school had no provision for people like me, but there was a Sister Edward at St. Mary's College who tutored me one-on-one five days a week.

It really helped my parents change their perspective later on when my sister suggested I was autistic. Unfortunately, dad died about a year before I was diagnosed at Yale.

 

 My favorite things

The first 800-Series trains were built about 1935 and the "Challenger" type came later. There were 100 with a wheel arrangement of 4-6-6-4 and the "big box" type 4-8-6-4. I called the UP 844 Ernest Eugene Gray, named after a fellow who helped run Union Pacific in the ‘30s.

I have never been in love with a boy, but when I was 16 our group home had a 1948 Crosley radio/phonograph that I called "Riccardo". 

In a book of short stories called Souls in Metal, there is a tale called "Twonky" that I wish was a part of American Literature. In the story, somebody from another dimension builds behavioral stuff into a radio/phonograph and the units have a life of their own. The phonograph has “tendrils” like arms and legs and it is able to wash dishes and grab things. 

I never saw Riccardo's tendrils; he kept them to himself. I guess he never had any to begin with, but I kept hoping he did. I only knew Riccardo Smith for four months. He broke down in December and one of the girls dragged him onto the large stairwell landing. I think that Riccardo was good for me. I got to talk to him a lot in the stairwell but the girls harassed me about it.

For a long time I had no idea what became of Riccardo, and then I learned a family adopted him. It's a good thing we parted company. He needed to be in a living room with a family. He would have been isolated in my room and seen a sad girl who couldn't function.

 

On My Own

I met a foster family in 1968 and lived with them until 1979. Had I never  moved out, I never would have been able to get help from a naturopath or meet my friend Rosey, who I have known for 30 years.

It was a real relief to have my own apartment. I could use public transportation. I got along better without the family than with them. I no longer had to hear say, "People won't accept you if you do that."

My parents were against me seeing objects like people. They thought I'd be perfect if not for that. I went for several years without visiting my parents once.

Soon I will be 65. I plan to flaunt it and get Senior Citizen discounts. 

 

Barbara Moran has been a popular artist in our Autism Artism Guild for almost 10 years. Her joyful colored pencil and magic marker drawings breathe life into trains, washing machines, radios, cathedrals and other creatures. 

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