Letting Him Out

derived from <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-74741107/stock-photo-alone-  man.html">"alone man"</a> by luxorphoto/Shutterstock, used under <a   href="http://www.shutterstock.com/license">Shutterstock Standard License</a>I had a boy nobody knew about: a feeble autistic child. I was barely an adult myself when I put him away. I had no options. And I told no one what I did.

My boy avoided people. He would slip off to the basement, hiding in the narrow space behind the furnace, comforted by solitude and constriction. He barely ate. He rarely spoke. I knew my rail thin, silent child was not made for this world. To protect him — from himself and others — I found a place for him behind thick walls.
He was isolated, but safeguarded. It was the best solution I could come up with.

The years passed while I kept my dark secret. I would lie awake at night, picturing the young boy, his brow knit as he puzzled out the world. I saw him counting the threads in a woven carpet with a magnifying lens or spending hours cataloguing the floating shapes in his eyes, ignoring the people around him. He was remarkably unprepared for life among humans. As difficult as the world was for him, on those nights I wished he could have been lying beside me, sleeping and happy. I would doubt — briefly — my decision to put him away before once again realizing that it was the only option.

I could not risk the further complications of fathering children. I had already failed to properly care for the one autistic child. So I cut off that option, electing to have myself surgically sterilized.

I told no one about the boy as I advanced my career. The desks of my coworkers were chockablock with photos of children. They must have noticed that I had no such mementos, but I assume they chalked me up as an “all business” type with no personal paraphernalia at the office. Break room talk often led to questions about kids. When asked about mine, I simply said, “I have none.” When pressed, I revealed, “I can’t have any.” That always ended the conversation.

I dined with friends, laughed at their jokes and enjoyed their wine without them being aware of my secret. Of course, there were probably a handful of people who suspected that I was keeping something hidden — something big. They would chuckle, sometimes uncomfortably, when then wine flowed and I let down my guard — babbling in unconscious imitation of that lost autistic boy. My best friends were the ones that I didn’t feel a need to apologize to the next day.

I confided in one, younger, friend — a father of an autistic son himself — coming completely clean. In a crowded, noisy pub, over stout, I confessed, “It was different then. There wasn’t the support system at the time, not what your son had. I did what I had to do.” I held his eyes, both daring him to contradict me and inviting him to catalogue the mistakes I made. His sympathetic, “God, that must have been tough,” surprised me. I nodded, speechless. The food came, along with another round. The conversation veered, but my years of silence had been broken. His parting embrace told me I made the right decision.

It would have been impossible to live with somebody without revealing this secret. Early in our relationship, I took the woman I would eventually marry to visit my autistic child. It was better than waiting for her to stumble upon the evidence. We visited him frequently. She would smile at him. Occasionally, he would smile back, even approaching her. Eventually he accepted her. One of my happiest moments was when he felt comfortable enough to touch her, grinding his head into her abdomen, vocalizing wordlessly in autistic glee. I was grateful that she was willing to pass inside those walls, to hold that child with genuine affection.

The walls that enclosed that boy, that protected him, that my wife was willing to penetrate, were the barriers created in my own mind.

The autistic boy was seventeen. He saw how different he was from others – his inability to speak to strangers, his awkward interaction with humans. He was strange, but he didn’t have a name for it, nor — in the clueless world of the 1970s — did others. But the message from the world was clear. He was becoming an adult. He had to function on his own. What did it mean to live alone? How did people support themselves? He had no idea how to get a job. And yet, somehow people did it. There had to be a way, even though he could not see it.

Desperate and frightened, the boy latched onto an idea. He created me. I was a simulacrum, a sacrificial construct. My birth was his one competent act before he retreated into the cell he had me create for him, all those years ago. I was an experiment over thirty years in the making — his Hail Mary pass. He had no reason to believe I would succeed, and yet I did.

My first act was to bury that scared child deep inside me, keeping him safe while I struggled on. I had to figure out how to act human. I was the one who clawed through terror to speak with landlords and employers. I was the one who laid at night on a single mattress on the floor of a dirty apartment in Hackensack, endlessly rehearsing conversations I would have the next day. It took me hours to get out the door in the morning, repeatedly dressing and redressing until the clothes felt comfortable. Finally, I would walk a mile and a half to the back room of an electronics assembly firm where I worked alone, diligently, silently. I stayed until ten at night, stopping off on the walk home at a deli to pick up food I knew how to microwave. I ate once a day. I wasn’t brave enough to ask where the bathroom was at work, so I waited until I got home for that too. I would run home to eat, urinate and hide.

And yet, this was my role. The autistic child gave me two things before he retreated: the instinct to try and the ability to suffer. With sufficient capacity in both, my survival was possible, if far from secured. Then he put me in the human petri dish and left me to heartless, yet effective, evolution.

I learned through trial and error how to talk at work: which topics were acceptable, how long to keep it up, what were the best moments to make eye contact. I learned I could score points by showing up at a meeting and handing out an impressive technical document that I worked on in secret, at night, for months. My internal furnace burned bright as I poured energy into the gradually improving human. I suffered. I drained myself. But in a thousand small steps, I succeeded.

I learned I could live in a nicer home. I discovered where to go for simple furniture, how to follow recipes and eat real food. I bought a car so I could range farther. I learned how to make my conversation sound genuine enough to make a friend, and to go with him to noisy places like bars. Bars with women.

My first relationship was an awkward attempt. I was odd and difficult to communicate with. I did not know how to hide my hidden autistic child and still be close to a person. Eventually, with more failed attempts, partial successes, and eventually long-term relationships – including one that led to marriage – I discovered that the only way I could succeed was to show a glimpse of that boy. I could be different. I had no choice but to be different. There were women who liked different.

I improved at talking to humans and it paid off. I learned how to use my voice to influence people. I got better at figuring out what people were thinking: coworkers, store clerks, girlfriends. I was growing. I was molting. Each successive shell endured, fitter than the last, stronger, more realistic in appearance, better integrated into the human world. With very few skills of his own, somehow, an autistic boy managed, over the course of a few decades, to create a functional human being.

It didn’t bother me that he was real and I was not. I passed the Turing test. I felt real enough to me, and that was all that mattered. Happiness was out of reach. I was working too hard at being human to be happy. My only goal was success. And, against all odds, I achieved it.

Yet now – with a wife, a home, a career – I yearn for more. I hope it is safe enough to finally let the boy out. I want to be whole. I want to be with him, to be one with him. I want to face the sun together, to feel its warmth. I want to show him that we can survive, together, that we can only be happy together. He can be free and I can be real. And we will know joy. It is our last, greatest, challenge: to merge, to be ever different, yet finally, fully, human.

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84 Comments on "Letting Him Out"


Guest
Anonymous
June 13, 2015

You made me cry. I finally got a glimpse inside of your head. I’ve waited more than 30 years for that. Thank you.

Guest
Anonymous
June 27, 2015

This is so beautiful

Guest
Anonymous
August 11, 2015

Very well written. I can really relate to this.

Guest
isabel
August 17, 2015

Me too 🙂

Guest
karen
August 15, 2015

I am so glad you feel safe enough to let your self out and be whole again!! Blessings and best wishes Jim!

Guest
karen
August 15, 2015

I want to add that my daughter and I are both on the autism spectrum along with a genetic disorder that may be part of the reason why. We both battle to be whole

Guest
Anonymous
August 16, 2015

Ah, love, you are whole. It’s a different kind of whole than many people, but the world needs people like you and your daughter just as much as it needs the rest of us.

Guest
Anonymous
August 16, 2015

Yes……

Guest
chavisory
August 16, 2015

This is so hard to read, and beautiful.

Deciding to be whole again is such a good, and such a weird, experience….

Guest
Heather E. Johnson
August 16, 2015

So much this.

Tried explaining this a thousand times, a thousand ways. My first diagnosis was in 1980 when I was 3… then 27 years of hiding… then not hiding anymore.

Feels so freeing… so GOOD.

You wrote it so beautifully and brought tears to my eyes.

Guest
Anonymous
August 16, 2015

I’m speechless.

Guest
Anonymous
August 17, 2015

This affected me deeply. I had tears running down my face as I read it. Thank you for sharing your experience. My son and I are both autistic.

Guest
Farah
August 17, 2015

It brought tears to my eyes , is there any treament for it when its genetic

Member
August 17, 2015

Thank you for this. I have hidden my little autistic girl inside for 43 years. My own daughters have SPD and my 10 year old was diagnosed as ASD a couple of years ago. I was always different. Always struggling. Trying to be acceptable to others. Not understanding why everything was so hard for me yet seemingly so easy for others. I learned how to adapt and change myself to be acceptable to others. I didn’t want to be different – I just wanted to fit in. I have been searching for truth and balance all my life. I was missing something that I couldn’t put my finger on. It has bothered me for the last several years, since my oldest daughter’s diagnosis. Now I see. Now I understand. I have to let her out. I have to let her be part of me and for that to be okay. My mission is JOY. Thank you for shining a light in the darkness for others, like me, to follow. Blessings to you and thank you.

Guest
Anonymous
August 17, 2015

Last week, the third person in a couple years asked if I was on the autism spectrum. Both of my daughters are, and I am always trying to encourage them to be true to themselves. I feel like a hypocrite, because I actively shame myself all of the time. Your piece speaks to so many things. “Fractured” parts within myself, if that makes sense. Thanks for posting this!

Guest
Veronica
August 18, 2015

Thank you so much for writing this. I cried while reading this, because it was like you were describing me. Lately my mask and act have been cracking and falling away and I can’t piece it back together; I’m too exhausted. And I don’t want to act anymore. But letting my autistic self show is very, very scary.

I am not officially diagnosed, but the more research I do the more I am sure that I am autistic. I’m trying to get an evaluation, but it is very difficult where I live.

Again thank you for writing this. It touched me deeply.

Guest
Anonymous
August 18, 2015

It seems to me you have managed to articulate quite beautifully what many, many autistic adults have gone through and still are having to. But when celebrity figures such as Jerry Seinfeld decide to break that barrier down and speak out, they are greeted with such hate and vitriol – from parents, no less – they retreat back into themselves, which is so sad. I wonder what else you have written? Thank you so much for this piece of wonderful expressive writing.

Guest
chavisory
August 20, 2015

Seinfeld actually retracted, and to be fair, I think he did not initially say what he intended to say, or was massively misunderstood by the public. By “on the very very far reaches of the spectrum,” or however he put it, he was pretty clearly describing being part of the Broad Autism Phenotype. I.e., with notable features of autism that don’t meet the threshold for clinical diagnosis…which is estimated to describe up to 5% of the American public.

On the other hand, there was Daryl Hannah, who pretty much straight-up outed herself as autistic, and the reaction from many parents of autistic kids was just shameful. Including that she might be, but she just shouldn’t talk about it because it makes autism look not enough like a horrible tragedy when talented, brilliant people with decent lives admit to being autistic.

I was just like “What do you people even WANT? Do you want to see reasons to believe that your own kids could find their place in the world and build lives to be proud of, or do you not want that? Because the way you’re reacting here suggests that in fact you don’t want that.”

Yeah, it was amazing in all the wrong ways.

Guest
Anonymous
August 18, 2015

Several of my autistic fb friends identify quite strongly with this post. My own “simulacrum” was a complete failure–too many other conditions complicating the autism, perhaps. A few years ago it crashed and burned, and I changed my name and stopped trying to pass for normal. (I named myself after the phantom in “The Phantom of the Opera”, which says a lot about how unacceptable I felt.) I hope your experience in “coming out” will be as positive as mine has been.

Guest
Anonymous
August 18, 2015

Ja, die wetenskap kan raai en poog om te diagnoseer,maar wie weet hoe die enkeling ly, hoe diep die seer sny en hoe wreed die mensdom in sy onbevoegdheid kan oordeel. Hierdie blik in die siel van die “vreemde” is kosbaarMiemie Nothnagel

Guest
Cassidy
August 18, 2015

Beautiful & hits so close to home because of my own neuroatypicality. Thank you for sharing this

Guest
Stephanie
August 18, 2015

Hey, I really liked your writing. I try to understand autistic people as much as my NT brain allows me. My interest is in learning about how people function, wondering why they do what they do. Those are my threads in the carpet. It is great to have an insight like yours. I hope you can be well and relaxed (if not happy) in your life, getting better at it little by little.

Member
August 19, 2015

I was diagnosed when I was 17, in grade 12. It was such a joy to have a name for what makes me different, to know that what I experience isn’t my imagination, and that I’m not alone. I spent quite a few years breaking down similar walls and letting out my own inner person, rediscovering who I am, what I need and whatnot. Not everyone understood it. I had a relative, whom I see maybe once or twice a decade and whom I was on vacation with, tell me I didn’t need to “try so hard to be unique”. I had a therapist claim that I was “blaming everything on autism”, when I was trying to explain how autism is pervasive and I was still figuring it out and well, he didn’t know anything about it and had asked to be educated. It was rough, and not everyone has understood it, but I have met so many good people who have, a large community who understands and is supportive, and I am a much happier person.

Guest
Anonymous
August 20, 2015

This is very well written and a great insight into how some autistic people feel every day

 
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