Last Christmas I went to my parents’ lovely house in regional Victoria for the annual Purkis/Smith family celebration. Before my brother, his wife and my lovely nieces and nephew turned up, my mum gave me a little card she had made herself on the computer. My mum is the queen of thoughtful little gifts which have little monetary value but which have a high sentimental or spiritual value. This gift was no exception. The card was simply a piece of folded paper with a photo of a butterfly on it. Inside, my mum had written something wonderful: she intended to get herself assessed as to whether she was somewhere on the Autism spectrum. Delighted, I put my mum in touch with a good friend and fellow author who is a psychologist and qualified to conduct the assessment – Tania Marshall. Tania booked my mum in very quickly and before long my mum told me that she was on the Autism spectrum – although maybe a little ‘milder’ than me. My mum has since told me that she got the diagnosis for me. As I say, my mum would win the Olympic gold if there was a ‘thoughtfulness’ or ‘love for your daughter’ category.
This is not so much an article about adult diagnosis. Rather it is about dynamics between Autistic kids and Autistic parents. For me, I have suspected for some time that some of my close family members may have Autism. My mum has always had some amazing interests – fungi, insects, orchids. In fact, my mum knows the Latin name of almost every plant she comes across. According to Professor Tony Attwood, an internist in nature is a very common Autistic trait, especially for women and girls. This was true of me when I was a kid too.
My mum’s diagnosis has made me think a lot more about what her life must have been like. For those of you who don’t know me well, I spent the first twenty five years of my life making every mistake a young woman could – I went out with inappropriate and often dangerous partners, I got involved in crime through some of those people, I had a drug problem, I joined extremist socialist groups. Some of this was probably as a result of my Autism and some was most likely due to all the bullying and victimisation I experienced and my subsequent low self-esteem. Needless to say, my poor parents had no idea why I was doing these things or how to help me. I did not have an Asperger’s diagnosis until I was 20 and in prison, so my mum and dad saw a child who apparently had ‘everything going for me’ – intellect, talent, motivation – but who sabotaged herself at every turn.
One thing which makes me sad even now is how other women especially treated my mum. Surely such a deficient daughter must me the result of poor parenting? I seemed to spend many years gaining extra ‘mums’ who thought I would be better off if they were my parent. In fact one obnoxious woman even said this in front of my mum.
Thankfully I am now a relatively happy and successful Jeanette. I own my Asperger’s and schizophrenia diagnoses. I even provide support to others in similar situations. I bet my mum would have enjoyed some support for all of us as a family. My mum was never a bad parent. She loves me and my brother so much it’s hard to fathom sometimes. Sadly due to general ignorance around Autism in the past and the unfortunate habit lots of people have of judging the parenting skills of others without knowing all the facts, my mum has had a bit of a rough trot.
I attended the Aspect Autism in education conference earlier this year and one of the speakers talked about a program she is running for parents who are on the spectrum in Victoria. I was fascinated by what she had to say. At the end, I made a comment about my mum being an Aspie and how she was the perfect parent for me, in part due to our shared Aspiness. Everyone clapped and I was glad to promote the value of parents on the Autism spectrum. Here’s a few reasons that I value and respect my mum, love having an Aspie parent and would’t have her any other way:
- We understand each other and always have
- My mum and I are like a little club
- She is always honest with me
- As a child and teen I could tell my mum anything and she would listen and understand
- My mum never called me ‘weird’ or put me down for being different
- My mum is like my best friend and always will be
- We share some common interests and understanding.
A sunflower. It’s full of life and love and beauty – like my mum