a fascinating note from fascinating Lia Grimanis, a feisty Canadian who makes things happen. She has been homeless, she is listed as one of Canada’s 100 Most Powerful Women, and she founded an organization called Up With Women, helping homeless women and children rebuild their lives. As if that isn’t enough, she also describes herself as a “flat-footed asthmatic gym class flunkie turned Guinness World Record holding truck and jet puller.”
Lia writes that, “My mom was one of the most amazing Free-Range moms around. Because I was precocious, she let me go off and do what I wanted (usually digging for fossils, climbing trees and building models of the human body). She celebrated our uniqueness and wasn’t at all concerned when my nerdy self couldn’t make friends.”
And she particularly is grateful for this support, as she has recently determined that she may be on the autism spectrum:
Dear Lenore: Remember when you were doing an article on strange phobias and I told you that I could swim with sharks but popping balloons terrified me? It turns out I may be on the spectrum of autism. We have several children in the next generation of our family who have been diagnosed as autistic… My sister suggested I get assessed.
I’ve been through the first round and have now been graduated to round two of in-depth evaluation for high-functioning autism. The discoveries have been so surprising, and I feel like my entire concept of my childhood has dramatically altered before my eyes. The signs were there, but we never knew it:
· I was born developmentally delayed, having not spoken a word until age three, and speaking only half words until 6 or 7. Mom thought I had a hearing issue.
· Though my hearing was quite acute, I could never understand my teacher or anyone in noisy atmospheres….
· Popping balloons not only terrified me, the sound felt like napalm on my skin. It was excruciating. Clothing tags were distracting beyond comprehension.
· When I meet someone for the first time, even today, I will rub my hands repeatedly on my thighs, or wiggle my feet. It made me feel more at ease, and improved my ability to process what was being said. Apparently this is my form of “stimming.”
· I had few friends, other than those who were as obsessed with horses as I was. I also maniacally obsessed over the human body; I brought a bisected lamb’s heart in a miracle whip jar for grade 3 show and tell, or dissected roadkill in the play room at school in grade six.
· When I have a conversation, I don’t have an instinctive understanding of social cues. Instead, I am watching for a series of memorized changes in microexpressions or body language. If I see you furrow your brow, I will take that as a cue that I might have insulted you, and should probably change the subject.
High-functioning autistic girls are often missed or misdiagnosed because of the male bias in the current standards of diagnosis. Assumed ratios of boy to girl autism prevalence has been as high as 16:1, but some are now trying to bring it down from the current 4:1 assumption to 2:1 or even 1:1. Due to social pressure, girls have been found to be better at masking their social disabilities; they mimic and memorize….
The more a parent [encourages] diversity of expression and uniqueness of character…the happier and more well-adjusted a kid is, and the more likely she is to normalize her social experience. For me, my mom was so awesome and supportive, that I didn’t think anything to notify her of my problems; we easily chalked it up to the unpopularity of “being different.”Hope this is helpful!
It is, Lia — a good reminder that what kids need most are parents who believe in them and demonstrate this by giving them the freedom they need to explore, experience, and discover what they love to do. Which may or may not include dissecting hearts and pulling jets.- L.