Teacher Professor

January 5, 2011

She Didn’t Stand a Chance

Filed under: Autism,Gifted,Twice-exceptional — Teacher Professor @ 10:01 pm

In the dark days of Elizabeth’s identification, when I was searching the internet and Googling, Googling, Googling; when I was scaring myself with what her future might look like- I remember coming across some interesting characteristics- Aspects of myself.  Aspects of my husband.  Aspects of my family.

In the dark days of Elizabeth’s identification, when I was looking for a reason for… this whateveritiscalledcuz’autismdoesn’t soundquiterightanddoesn’tcaptureitall; when I was Googling, Googling, Googling, and scaring myself with the dangers of the world around me, I remember realizing some interesting things about genetics.  About myself.  About my husband.  About my family.

One day, when I was heaping guilt upon myself- was it the immunizations?  The tuna I ate?  The water I drank?  The food I warmed up in plastic containers? The  yogurt I didn’t drink that didn’t build up the right bacteria in her gut?- my mother, in her very gentle way, placed her hand on my shoulder, and said, very lovingly- “Honey, she didn’t stand a chance.  Between you and James and your families… this is what happens.  You now get to deal with it.”

I didn’t fully believe her until we had Ray… and Ray’s issues.  Now, I look at sweet, cooing, cuddly babies who go to sleep when they’re supposed to, and who cry for short periods of time and who can play games with you, and I marvel.  The running joke in our family is that I loved being pregnant- loved it.  I was one of those Madonna figures- glowing, full of health and aware of the miracle unfolding inside of me. (What did you do today, dear?  Oh, I grew a pair of ears today.  How about you?) I would probably have been a perfect surrogate mother- pregnancy and even birth were relatively uneventful things- as uneventful as a miracle can be.  But the babies.. oh, the babies.

James and I do not make happy babies together.  He and I made two very unhappy, fussy, sensitive babies who slept in short bursts only to wake up unhappy.  Ray would not allow me to put him down, while Elizabeth- very content with being put down on her back- would have hysterics if she were put down on her stomach.  It was a constant guessing game for their first three years- and one that we still play for chunks of time- are they cold?  Tired? Hungry? Has a cloud moved across the sun? Did someone move too fast? Change in transition? Is the dryer/vacuum cleaner/ radio on?  Pearl Jam is good/ Phish is bad?

Conversely, we also made two intensely curious children.  Even without the language to ask “why”, they have always wanted to know “why”.  I was explaining to Elizabeth at 10 months old that the bubbles she was so afraid of were created by soap lying on top of water- and she could calm down.  I would explain the concept of volume and the Doppler effect to my 3-year old son who was freaking out about the change in song, and he would calm down.  We explain about social interactions being a formula- not with numbers but with words (the answer to “How are you?” + a small smile – real eye contact = is “Good, how are you”, and not how you really feel)- and they understand how math relates to behavior.  We talk about analyzing what others are saying and how the teenagers might not like to hear a 7-year old call them “obstreperous” and to keep that word for other contexts- and they get it.  The intense “why” is as hard-wired as the fear and the emotional dysregulation.

And I can’t blame James- for this is what my mother dealt with when I was a baby.  I had heard stories, but it wasn’t until it was the fourth month in a row of no sleep, and colicky babies for two years in a row… that I understood.  When I was a baby, I rarely slept; I cried hysterically;  I hated having my hair brushed.  When I was a child, I read obsessively, pulled out the tags from my clothes, and cried frequently.  I’m an only child… and I think I can guess why.

According to James’ mother, he was a perfect child (of course he was!).  But I see pictures of a quiet, withdrawn little boy who was very, very thin, rarely ate, and rarely had expression on his face.

I look at our two families, with their laundry lists of labels… and I realize… my children didn’t stand a chance.


This was all triggered today, when Diary of a Mom had a beautifully-written, hysterical, touching post– and it drove me crazy, because there are only 11 items on the list.  That lack of symmetry is something I immediately noticed.  I love her post- but I could never have never written it because I would have stopped at 10- or kept on going to 12.

I recognize that my daughter’s tantrums when things are out of order… comes naturally.

I recognize that my daughter’s lining things up according to her own pattern… comes naturally.

I recognize that my son’s intense hatred of getting his picture taken… comes naturally (When I’m prepared, I’m a bit of a ham, but I hate the surprise element- and there is that same brooding look in my husband’s childhood photos).

I recognize that my son’s intense relationship with music… comes naturally.

I realize that my children’s desperate need to know what comes next and to plan for it… comes naturally.


I’m not saying that my husband and I have autism.  We’re  both bright people… with quirks.  Quirks that might have needed attention 40-45 years ago, but by the grace of God, a couple of amazing mothers, and the right contexts, became… manageable.  Quirks that we’ve learned to work with; to work around; to ignore.  Quirks that got strengthened when our genetic material got combined.  Quirks that got focused.  Some quirks that are just… us, and some quirks that became a problem.

Quirks, that when combined with language problems and blood chemistry issues and triggered by whatever is in our modern world, became autism and Tourette’s and giftedness and twice-exceptionality and all of those wonderful labels that define what services and doctors our children see, but do not quite define them.  Genetics plus environmental triggers- pretty much explains most of human development. The apples do not fall far from the trees, but they do form their own shapes.

I asked her, and Elizabeth can’t make a list of 11 things either….


  1. Terribly and wonderfully insightful.

    “Genetics plus environmental triggers- pretty much explains most of human development.” True dat.

    Comment by Barbara — January 5, 2011 @ 11:05 pm | Reply

    • It’s what I keep trying to tell my students… More challenging when you turn the spotlight back on yourself 🙂

      Comment by profmother — January 6, 2011 @ 10:30 am | Reply

  2. Of course, this post IS your number eleven — one more not-so-random fact about you — the fact that you can’t make a list of eleven things! 🙂

    I agree with Barbara. Astonishing insight.

    Comment by JoyMama — January 6, 2011 @ 7:05 am | Reply

    • FWIW, I’m ok with this! 🙂 The original number of “sharings” was 7- which is one of “those” numbers- 7 deadly sins, 7 For All Mankind, 7 Dwarves, etc. It’s an iconic number… I’m good with 7. And adding one more- well, that makes 8, which is nice and round and doubly symmetrical.

      The only association I can make with 11 is Kentucky Fried Chicken’s 11 secret herbs and spices. But nothing else… 11 is not a happy number.

      And now that I’ve shared just how completely mental I am… I don’t think that’s a new sharing- but a deepening of #8… I am laughing at myself, at least.

      Oh yes, Elizabeth comes by this honestly…

      Comment by profmother — January 6, 2011 @ 10:28 am | Reply

  3. Wow. This particular post really resonated with me today. I could easily summon up the memories of playing “who’s got autism” on both sides of our family tree after my oldest was diagnosed, simply for something frivolous with which to engage my mind when I couldn’t stand reading those depressing websites anymore. I thought this was incredibly honest, and makes me want to discuss my own childhood with my mom again!

    Comment by kim mccafferty — January 6, 2011 @ 8:48 am | Reply

    • Kindof a “Where’s Waldo?” game with autism as the Waldo… And yes, you start to see uncles and grandparents and family gatherings in completely different ways.

      Comment by profmother — January 6, 2011 @ 10:29 am | Reply

  4. When I visited the therapist who already knows my son well, was beginning to know me and to whom I was about to introduce to my daughter — I could think of only one reason to explain why she was like she was and it was “the gene.” Through the gifts of genetics I know my family has an unusual genetic marker. That, mixed with the fact that I’m a twin and have an Aunt with Down’s syndrome, well very early on in the mapping of the genome, our family was one that got geneticists oh so excited. They had a field day pouring over this interesting family.

    And so, I’ve decided this must be it, This must explain all of us. The gene. And our stubborn insistence to exist despite all sorts of genetic duplications, transmutations, flips and twists.

    And so right before I was to leave for the appt, I decided to compile a family album as a means of introduction to the whole family. (so like me to do it at the last minute, I was late for the appt.

    But it was amazing how many photos I collected and how illustrative they were of this legacy I just knew I had delivered to my daughter. The women sitting with hardly any expression on the outer edge of the group. The “I hate to have my photo taken” face the barely submits to a smile. And then most frightening of them all, my mother who smiled, too too big, who engaged in an incredibly self-conscious, self-absorbed frighteningly outgoing way.

    My two didn’t have a chance either. So. What do we do now?

    Comment by Elizabeth — January 6, 2011 @ 5:50 pm | Reply

    • I know that Simons Research Center (http://sfari.org/) is in the process of identifying a combination of genetic markers- it doesn’t appear that it’s any one gene, but the right “recipe” of genetic issues… Sounds like your family, as mine, probably has a good combination of those markers! 🙂

      And that’s why I wrote my book- Children with High Functioning Autism- because that path of “now what?” is quite something, isn’t it? Hopefully, other mothers can learn from my story- just as I read so many other’s stories… 🙂 Thanks for Susan Senator and Patricia Stacey for keeping me sane (ish!)

      Comment by profmother — January 6, 2011 @ 6:23 pm | Reply

      • I wrote a post inspired by your post … and this one has a picture. I hope you’ll go take a look. Oh and of course now I’m sure to check out your book as well as Susan Senator and Patricia Stacey.

        Comment by Elizabeth — January 9, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

  5. standing at a (very awkward) social gathering of autism parents, a fellow mom standing next to me looked over at the crowd with a heavy sigh and said, ‘dogs don’t have cats, do they?’

    Comment by jess — January 8, 2011 @ 7:13 am | Reply

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