An Autistic at a Party

I had what I call “a bad autistic day” today. On a bad day, I feel like my head is filled with wet cotton wool, I lose all peripheral vision, my language skills and hearing get impaired, and I can’t perform many of the very simple, basic tasks. I was trying to work on my translation but I had to keep looking up in the dictionary words like “smooth” and “eternal”.

And this, of course, had to be a day that I had to attend a departmental party.

This was a baby shower for a colleague I really adore, so missing it was out of the question. Besides, I had promised to bring a dish, and the person who was organizing the party – and who is a colleague I adore even more – was counting on me to bring the dish.

Honestly, it took all I had to make the shepherd’s pie I wanted to make tolerably well and deliver it to the party.

Autism gives one many amazing gifts but it also limits you a lot on what you are and can do. I even have to tell N. regularly, “I’m autistic, you have to accept that I will do XYZ.”

So this was one of the bad days.

The moment I got to the party, a colleague to whom I speak to every day at work exclaimed, “Oh, so this is your husband! You have to introduce me to him!” And, of course, at that point I didn’t remember anybody’s name, including hers. I felt completely humiliated.

“This is N., my husband!” I announced. “And these are my colleagues.” The colleagues (all of whom were instructors and adjuncts) must have surely thought I was snubbing them for not being “real professors” and, therefore, worthy of being presented by name.

I know that I should have discussed my autism with my colleagues who are instructors by now, especially since one of them, according to the departmental rumor, has two autistic sons. However, it has been quite a trial on my patience to discuss it with people I hang out with more often. Some try to pretend I never mentioned it and just talk over me out of a sense of discomfort. Some start treating me like a have a terminal disease to the extent of leading me to a chair. Some get so uncomfortable that I start wondering whether, instead of autism, I might have said I have three heads, two of which are growing out of my ass.

Nothing makes me happier than discussing autism but it’s hard to do when people just clam up whenever you mention it. So I stopped bringing it up in a professional context.

During the party, a colleague came up to me, put her hand on my forearm and said, “Look, I just heard about your predicament, and I have to say that I’m very very sorry. My husband and I had to go through the same thing, so I totally get how you are feeling right now.”

N. and I recently were told that the green card process will be delayed for moths yet again. For us, this means N. will have to stay unemployed for at least 6 months more. Of course, we are understandably distraught. I had no idea how my colleague had found out about all this, but I was grateful for the compassion.

‘Thank you!” I said. “It is very hard on both of us.”

“You know, my husband and I had to keep trying for ten years before we got there,” the colleague said.

‘Ten years?” I thought. “OK, that’s just horrible. Nobody said it could last this long for us.”

“And you know what happened?” the colleague continued. “We finally got what we wanted. And – believe it or not – just nine months later we got another one!”

“This is getting too weird,” I mused. “Why would anybody want a second green card 9 months after the first one?”

So I wandered off and then a second colleague accosted me.

“I have just heard you’ve been trying to get pregnant forever,” she said. “This must be so hard on you!”

Before long, another colleague approached me to share his compassion with my supposed conception issues.

Finally, I realized that somebody must have started a rumor that we’d been trying fruitlessly to get pregnant and were suffering as a result. It’s good that I don’t mind this specific rumor, but just imagine a person for whom this is, indeed, a sore point. What kind of emotional damage such rumors could have caused?

When my sister got pregnant but was still unwilling to share the news, her colleagues practically hounded her with endless “Are you pregnant? I know you must be” questions. Finally, she snapped and said to her most insistent colleague,  “Please try to concentrate on what’s going on between your legs rather than what’s happening between mine.”

This is a piece of advice many people would be served well to heed.

9 thoughts on “An Autistic at a Party

  1. I’m so sorry about that immigration situation, I hope it gets better for you two, that is a pain.
    I personally loathe parties, and Jaime does too (Party for us being defined as 10+ people at the gathering) because of the noise overload, but they often end up at least being interesting social experiments, testing how long it takes before a conversation with two aspies and some neurotypical acquaintances ends up either taking off into interesting and eclectic topics, or lapsing into awkward silence.


  2. i was counting on the cleavage to distract them! serious wtf on the pg questions. Under what circs is that an OK conversations for colleagues to have about you? I do have friends who have suffered infertility for whom that would have been torture.


  3. And who would start a rumor like that? I actually wouldn’t be surprised if someone just assumed based on the fact that you’re married people nearing the end of babymakin’ age.


  4. Wow! Some people are weird…
    Let me share a story. We had our daughter pretty young, at least for professionals, i.e. at 21. And we both look younger than our age. My wife claims that at some point some other parent in our daughters class (in the Midwest, not in Montreal) told her, literally, “do not worry, my grandmother also eloped when she was 16”


  5. If it helps, I have always had trouble keeping names straight, and I am not autistic. It seems to be very disarming to just state that you just completely blanked on someone’s/everyone’s names (if it’s someone close to you, you can always add that at least you can remember your own, and people will laugh). I’ve never had anyone be offended by just being up front about not being able to remember a name.

    And many people are way too fond of gossip.


  6. Compañera, I’m sorry to hear about the green card! Hopefully, it will be only a few more months, but that sucks! About the baby situation, I’m still trying to assimilate that two people at the party came to you to talk about babies!


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