My husband, CJ and I recently celebrated 10 years since we first met. We actually have three anniversaries but this one is the most important: it marks the date that life as I knew it tipped upside-down.
My husband is the yang to my ying. The light to my dark. The pull to my push. The stop to my go. He's the most incredible father who's ever-present for his tribe of girls. He has this cheeky grin and a great sense of humor. He's also fantastic at pulling me up when I've taken something too far and he'll be the first person to say, "Why must you always insist on learning things the hard way?" (Because that's me, baby -- a bull in your china shop.)
My husband is 33. And he's also autistic.
We were together seven years before we realized he had autism. It wasn't until after my eldest daughter was diagnosed after a few years of back-and-forth deliberation that we finally got her assessed and diagnosed. And then it occurred to us that CJ was, too.
I knew my eldest daughter, Sno, wasn't "neurotypical" from about age four. Back then I didn't drive, so we walked everywhere. If I dared walk a different route to kindergarten, she fell apart. If I didn't give warning when I planned to change her usual breakfast food, she didn't handle it well. She never liked to be touched by other kids in school.
She didn't cope well with the singing songs. She would cry and cover her ears when someone sang "Happy Birthday" louder than a hush tone. She didn't give good eye contact. She didn't cope with meeting new people very well. She was rigid in her routine --and there were plenty of routines.
I mentioned these quirks of hers to my husband. He dismissed them as normal and said he didn't see the issue. Know why? Because it was his normal, too.
He saw no issue with the way she behaved because he behaved the same way, too. He understood her triggers because they triggered him, too. And he had many of the exact same struggles when he was young. But nobody made any connection.
After another very tough year, I decided enough was enough. I needed help. Sno's screaming would go on for hours and hours. I'd tried everything, even things that didn't feel good to me and nothing was working.
At age 6, Sno was assessed and diagnosed with autism. It took a pediatrician an hour to explain the ongoing issues we'd been experiencing as a family for almost two years. I felt relief and direction. When I told my husband, he was in shock.
Ever heard the phrase "Can't see the forest for the trees"? It means that sometimes the most obvious answers are directly in front of you, but you can't see them because you're not paying proper attention.
A few evenings after Sno was diagnosed, my husband and I sat down on the couch together and went through her diagnostic criteria. And it was then we discovered so many of her quirks were also his quirks.
We had been together for seven years by that point. Seven years of being in love, parenting together and living together. We'd only ever had three nights away from each other. But suddenly, all the pieces began to fall into place: his social anxiety and disinterest in meeting new people, the specific way he liked to organize the pantry.
We chuckled over just how many things were there that we had automatically adapted to without even noticing.
A few months later, my husband had formal assessments done and received his official autism diagnosis at age 30. He greeted it with grief, but also relief.
When I said "yes" to marrying my husband, I said yes to him along with his quirks. I loved him for the way he saw the world and how he worked within it. I loved him for the way he could fix anything that was broken, the way he seamlessly adapted to different social situations, and his impeccable attention to detail.
Autism didn't change my husband. He's never not been autistic. Autism makes him who he is.
But maybe his earlier formative years would have been a lot less stressful and hard for him had his autism been recognized. He could have gained the appropriate support and learned strategies at a young age, rather than having to wing it for over 25 years.
There's a lot more knowledge about autism now, definitely more than when my husband was a child. That's probably why we're both passionate about early diagnosis and intervention now. Because when you love someone, you love them fully and wholly, and you want to support them to be the best they can be.
And we both realize labels don't define or limit a person's abilities, but they can offer great insight into an individual's personality and enable them to be supported to reach their full potential.
I know this first-hand.
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