Beautiful Chaos of an Autistic Mind

Memories of a dream long ago.

Every mother has a photo like this one — snapped on the fly at a water park – a little fuzzy – but bringing back the memories of childhood innocence – memories of a dream long ago — and the joy of a mother remembering.

August 10, 1997, is the date stamp on the photo. My daughters Phoebe (age 7) and Bianca (age 10) posing for a split second before they squeal with laughter and dash back to the water slides.

I remember this day very well. We were travelling to Glacier Park in Montana when our Winnebago broke down. We were in a small town still west of the park so services were slim. As Howard searched for a repair shop, I suggested to the girls that we find a donut shop. Bianca looked out the window of the motor home and noticed a police car near-by. She said, “Hey Mommy, let’s ask the police officers. They always know where the donut shops are!”

As I look at her sweet picture I am smiling as I remember her adorable conclusion (based no doubt on some television sitcom she watched). At the time I said, “I am sure they do know Bianca, but let’s not bother the police. I bet we can find a donut shop soon enough if we just walk around.”

We found something better than donuts – the water park. With snacks and drinks and water shoes, we made a picnic while we waited for Daddy to come back with a repaired camper. The girls and I splashed our way through the park multiple times. It was a glorious summer day in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. What could be a better memory than this?

Beautiful Chaos of Bianca’s Mind.

I have another mother’s memory from a few years later – this one is darker but just as precious.

Bianca sat on the window seat in my home office, drawing on a paper tablet. This was a common sight. Bianca loved to draw, so I let her be in her contemplation, while I sat in front of my computer composing a work document.

After a while I was curious though, so I took a peek at her drawing and noticed a bird wing drawn in the far upper right corner. I was always astonished at her ability. Even at age 14 her drawings were sophisticated, intricate and meaningful. I asked her, “How do you draw the whole bird Bianca? I mean, if you start with the wing on the corner of the page, do you already see the entire drawing before you complete it?”

Beautiful Chaos of Bianca’s Mind

Bianca didn’t look up from her drawing. She continued with her pencil and said, “Yes. It’s in my mind.” Drawing, drawing.

“I love it,” I said. “Can you draw anything you want to?” I asked. I was making an effort to have a conversation, to show my daughter that I admired her. I was excited by her talent.

This time she looked at me. “I can’t draw real things. Only stuff I make up,” she said. Then she returned to her drawing. Nothing more. Drawing, drawing.

When she finished her art work, Bianca explained that it was an assignment for school. At that time, she attended an online school for exceptional children. She asked me to scan her drawing and upload to her teacher. Fortunately, since I scanned the drawing I could save it. I asked Bianca, “May I make a copy for myself? It’s a beautiful picture and I would like to hang it on my bookcase near my computer.”

“Sure,” she said and shrugged her shoulders. Then she left my office to get a snack. My conversations with Bianca were always like that. She never extrapolated. If I didn’t ask a question, she didn’t go deeper. But we went deeper later.

A couple of days later she came into my home office again. I turned and smiled at her and said, “I just love this drawing Bianca. It is amazing.” I was filled with love and pride for my daughter and I wanted to share those feelings with her.

She said, “How do you like the bats flying out of my nose?” No emotion.

However, I had emotion. I was so startled by this comment that I turned quickly toward the drawing and exclaimed, “What?!” Then I swiveled back to Bianca and looked for an answer in her face, “What do you mean Bianca?”

I hadn’t noticed the meaning of her drawing before. I hadn’t seen the intricate weaving of the pictures. I hadn’t gone deeply into the drawing to see the mind and heart of my dear daughter.

Without skipping a beat, Bianca answered my question. “The assignment was to draw a self-portrait, Mom.”

Now as I looked at her drawing, I noticed and my heart leaped into my throat. I saw the snakes come out of her nose, and the bird screeching in her ear. I saw animals howling inside her head. I saw a jungle filled with plants and animals and symbols of the beautiful chaos she lived with. Still does live with as an autistic woman.

I wanted to hug her, to console her, but also to praise her for her insight and courage. In fact, over the years this drawing has meant much to many people who have seen it in my book, “Life with a Partner or Spouse with ‘Asperger Syndrome’ (ASD): GOING OVER THE EDGE?” One reader told me that he used the drawing as a screensaver on his computer, in order to be reminded of what his ASD wife lives with every day.

Memories and Drawings are All That is Left.

Bianca is 37 now. Phoebe is 34. Many birthdays have been celebrated since those early years when I was a young mother joyfully splashing with my children at the water park or proudly taping a child’s drawing to my bookcase. I haven’t seen Bianca in 18 years. For Phoebe it has been 11 years. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that my dear daughters would find our relationships so difficult that they would soothe their pain by cutting me out.

I loved them both so much and still do. But the love is convoluted these days. I don’t have the joy of remembering as other parents. Nor can I share the amusing stories with my daughters or my grandchildren the way other mothers do. I long for those moments when Bianca or Phoebe says to me, “Oh Mom! Please don’t tell that story again. It is so embarrassing!”

I tell the stories anyway – in my podcasts and blogs and blooks – because to tell the stories again makes the love grow stronger. It’s the love that helps me endure the loss and gives me the courage to reach out to others in similar families with autism.

My daughters (both of them) carried the burden of the chaos of our NeuroDivergent family. Bianca tried to warn me about the chaos with her incredibly insightful drawing, but I didn’t fully understand. I hope she knows I get it now and that I am here for her. I am here for both of my beautiful daughters and I need them both too. We can help each other heal by making new healthy, honest and happy memories together.

Retelling the story.

The most recent retelling of the stories of our lives together is published in the Anniversary Edition of “Life with a Partner or Spouse with ‘Asperger Syndrome’ (ASD): GOING OVER THE EDGE?” This time I don’t disguise the stories as I did back in 2009 (the first publishing). Not only do I admit that I am the main protagonist, Helen, but I finally acknowledge Bianca as the book cover illustrator.

Retelling our stories has been no less painful than the first time around, I have to say. But I do have that warm and cozy feeling of remembering with the ones I love. I hope they can feel it too.

Going Over the Edge

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