The Top 5 Reasons I’m Thankful To Be the Mom of an Aspie

By Jill Wilbur Smith

People sometimes ask me if I wish there were a cure for Asperger’s. It’s a tough question, and, for me, not one that has a yes or no answer.* Do I wish that I could magically eliminate Emily’s challenges? Of course. But I have the same wish for her neurotypical sister.  In some ways, wishing I could cure Emily’s autism is like wishing I could “cure” her blue eyes.

Emily has many gifts that I believe she wouldn’t possess if she weren’t on the autism spectrum. If she didn’t have Asperger’s, she wouldn’t be the uniquely talented person she is. If I weren’t her mom, I wouldn’t be the woman I am, either.

This season of Thanksgiving reminds me to take time to reflect on the wonderful things I’ve experienced as Emily’s mom. Here are five things that make me thankful for my beautiful Aspie.

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1. I’m thankful for the unique lens through which I get to view the world. Living with Emily, I’m often reminded that the way I experience life isn’t the same as the way others do. I’m grateful for the moments of clarity that illuminate those differences. Emily challenges me to expand my way of thinking. Some of the most rewarding experiences as a her parent have been those times when, instead of me pushing her to conform to social norms, she’s forced me to let go of my conventional way of thinking.

2. I’m thankful that Emily possesses a staggering intellect.

When Emily was 5, she told my sister, “Did you know that an elephant’s trunk can hold 10 quarts of water.”

“How do you know that, Emily?” her aunt asked.

Emily sighed and said, “Oh, Aunt Terri, I have a lot of knowledge.”

She, indeed, has a lot of knowledge. She fascinates me with the things she remembers and the insightful way she connects disparate facts. I truly believe that it positions her to be able to change the world.

3. I’m thankful for every moment of frustration I’ve experienced as Emily’s mom. Every time I’ve been exasperated that she couldn’t tie her shoes/ride a bike/pick up her toys/trick-or-treat/drive a car/join in a conversation, has helped me grow as a mother—and as a human being. I’ve come to understand that my frustration during these times pales in comparison to how frustrating life can be for her.

My co-workers often marvel at how calmly I manage office drama and challenging situations. “You’re so patient,” they say. I want to answer that I’m not patient, I’m accepting. Patience implies to me that I’m willing to wait for the other person to “come around,” to see things my way. What I hope Emily has taught me instead is to be empathetic.

4. I’m thankful for Emily’s amazing creative talent. At 9, Emily decided to play the piano. Within two years, she’d outgrown her piano teacher. She plays the euphonium with an unexpected tone and quality and more emotion than you would think possible from a large brass instrument. She has perfect pitch and a pure singing voice that often brings me to tears. She’s a great cook. And, at 22, she writes with a voice and in a style that I’m not sure I’ve achieved at more than twice her age.
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5. I’m thankful for how often I’m surprised by my quirky, nerdy, talented, beautiful girl. Life is always interesting with Emily. We sometimes face challenges that others might never encounter. But we also have many moments of great wonder and joy. I wouldn’t trade my life with Emily for anything in the world.

(*I know we’re lucky. Emily’s place on the spectrum is far from the most challenging. I’m grateful for that and I know that our experience isn’t that of others.)

 

Each Day Thereafter

by Emily Smith

It’s Tuesday, like lots of other Tuesdays, and my old-lady pillbox needs filling again. You know the kind. Garish translucent plastic you can’t misplace, white large-print letters you won’t misread. Days of the week, pills of the day. I feel like I’m far too young to have one. Still, I have one. And today is Tuesday, like lots of other Tuesdays, which means it needs filling.

Seems simple, really. Take the bottles out of their plastic bin, cart them five feet to the bathroom, and pour out twenty-one tablets and capsules— seven of the former, fourteen of the latter. But at twenty-two, I balk at the idea that foreign agents serve as my body’s stopgap measures. I’m no bedridden invalid. Not to put too fine a point on it, but taking pills sucks. It means you’re old.

The pink progestin tabs, dressed to kill in their slim teal pack, soothe my singed pride a little. After all, they’re as tiny and rosy and round as the babies I’d rather not have. Every twenty-something’s best friend. Young people’s medicine. The pack suits them just fine. My other pills, the ones I think of as old-people pills, are not like that. They remedy more serious ailments.

The grainy beige wafers are Singulair, seven of them. The label says take it at bedtime, but I prefer morning. They’re for asthma; they provide a small but consistent baseline of control. My inhaler’s effect is more dramatic than it is lasting, and in truly senescent fashion, I often forget to use it. Hence, beige pills.

The capsules are smooth, green glass with miniscule black lettering: E 88. They might as well read “fulfillment,” “optimism,” or even “discipline.” They’re fluoxetene, generic Prozac. The label instructs me to take one for the first seven days, and two each day thereafter. A week into the full dosage, I feel like myself again. For the first time since last February, the me in the bathroom mirror looks happy by default. Given the last three fiascoes, I’d started to wonder.

I still have some half-empty bottles, and whenever I refill my pillbox I end up looking at them. I should probably throw them out. They’re half-expired and it’s bad form to keep random drugs around. Regardless, there they sit in the bin by my dresser, bull’s-eyes gathering dust, still ringed with the childish green plastic that marks them as mine for eternity.

Citalopram resembles nothing so strongly as Tic-Tacs, and I give the bottle a shake out of habit. It really did flat-line my depression, for a while. Too bad it also flat-lined my other feelings. The first week I took it, I suspected it might do nothing. By week three, I couldn’t stand all the nothing it did.

Sertraline is next in the Target Pharmacy bin of shame. I stayed with this one long enough to refill the pillbox a handful of times; I even took it on vacation once. I loved the look of those smooth, blue bullets. Over the weeks, though, unlikely but plausible self-harm situations began parading through my head at all hours. What if I slipped on a steak knife? Walked into traffic? Pulped my whole arm in the garbage disposal, jammed my house key in an electrical socket, and then poisoned myself with an obscene amount of anti-cavity toothpaste?! The list grew increasingly frantic, deadly, and absurd. Soon every household object in sight wanted to kill me. Bullets, indeed.

Terrified of my morbid imagination and convinced that no drug would help, I feigned happiness. The bottle stayed in its bin; the same fourteen bullets kept rattling around. You can tell that I stopped from the early date on the label.

There’s no third bottle.

I lied about sertraline for a long time— for much longer than I actually took it, in fact— and that is by far my worst failure. During all those months, I could’ve been feeling the way I do now. Instead, I withdrew from my social circle, spurned my family, took my crappy job too much to heart, and acted pissed off 24/7. It seemed easier than telling loved ones about macabre side effects. Looking back now, it absolutely wasn’t.

Let me be clear. New meds haven’t made me more sociable, even-tempered, or resilient. They do, however, help me stop worrying so much about my pillbox. It’s useful; it’s not the mark of a pariah. It’s a goddamn pillbox. So what.

Today is Tuesday, like Wednesday, Thursday, and each day thereafter.