An Adult with Possible Autism Is Grateful for Her Free-Range Childhood


Here’s esnafzrezd
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….

Her Free-Range point?
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.


Lia thanks a Free-Range childhood for vrooming...

Lia Grimanis thanks her Free-Range childhood for kickstarting her amazing journey.



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12 Responses to An Adult with Possible Autism Is Grateful for Her Free-Range Childhood

  1. A. Margaret December 20, 2015 at 12:05 pm #

    Honestly, someone should check into this story other than believe it at face value. I think Lia Grimanis would do — or believe she is — anything to get a story published about her.

  2. Betsy in Michigan December 20, 2015 at 12:23 pm #

    Why is Lia Grimanis objectionable? I’d never heard of her, and I tried to do a search to see if some people think she’s arrogant, or not entirely truthful, or whatever; couldn’t find anything. She certainly sounds like a risk-taking extrovert, which is not at all incompatible with being on the spectrum. You may have heard “If you’ve met one person with autism…… you’ve met one person with autism.” If what she describes about herself is true, she at LEAST has sensory and/or auditory processing issues (which often goes hand in hand with autism/Asperger’s/etc.).

  3. Yocheved December 20, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

    Thank you Betsy in Michigan!

    I have a high functioning spectrum kiddo, and I’ve found that letting her free range and obsess has been the best thing for her. She instinctively knows how to teach herself thing, in the way that she can process the best. The more hands off I am, the more she thrives. She knows she can come to me at any time and I’ll be right there, so she never feels abandoned. Her social skills are improving in leaps and bounds, even though she’s now in the awkward “Terrible Tweens”.

    Kids don’t need micro management, they need confidence. Don’t helicopter, be a safety net!

  4. Scooter December 20, 2015 at 3:08 pm #

    Woot woot, free range auties and aspies unite! Heehee, and cue the obligatory info-dump of a first-timer going through the discovery stage. I hope she stays in the “this explains EVERYTHING!!” phase and never hits the “oh crap, that explains EVERYTHING” phase. ^,^

    Those damn sensory issues and Sensory Processing Disorder are a beast, ain’t they? You meet one person with autism, and you certainly only meet that one with autism, but those blasted sensory issues have a near universal effect no matter if your main diagnosis is autism, schizophrenia, OCD, or something else. I feel noise too, and certain noises can have me snarling like a tiger because of how very uncomfortable they are. I never thought to tell my mom about some of my issues because I assumed everybody was like me and they were just better at ignoring it. I had an unofficial diagnosis of “touch of autism” from a professional that had been taught in the 80s. I may go someday for another evaluation since they understand it better now. And they realize now that boys aren’t the only ones that can have a different wiring scheme. Anywho, I was QUITE free-range. My mother was very strict about us always telling her where we were going to be, but after that I could go blazing through several acres of woods for a few hours until I got bored or hungry. Still worried her half to death I would end up on the wrong end of a rattlesnake or copperhead and she drilled me and my sister heavily how to identify snakes, but we thrived. If my sensory issues had been more severe though, such as full-blown dyspraxia or other impairments, it would have been necessary for my mother to hover a bit more to make up for any vulnerabilities I couldn’t handle myself. Tripping down a hillside full of rocks wouldn’t have been very pleasant. There is a time and place for all parenting styles and the important thing is to find the style that is the healthiest and most efficient for the family.

  5. Barry Lederman December 20, 2015 at 4:26 pm #

    Another example that kids thrive when adults step out of the way!

  6. dancing on thin ice December 20, 2015 at 5:19 pm #

    I could have written much of what she writes about except for being a guy.
    I still stutter due to trying to form an entire sentence before speaking.
    Sounds (and certain smells) are very distracting. (More of an issue now due to deafness in 1 ear and sinuses.)
    Few friends but cherish those where we got each other.
    Memorizing clues helps identify personality types and how to best appeal to that person but not remembering how to adjust the words, tonality, pacing etc. to effectively pull that communication technique off.
    Was not diagnosed until my 40s when other health issues made it too difficult to continue masking the social difficulties.

    Like the Apple computer ad from years ago, I embrace “being different” or as one of the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes … the ones who see things differently.

  7. Vaughan Evans December 20, 2015 at 6:49 pm #

    I have Asperger Syndrome.

    I believe in raising free-range children.

    In 1979, I taught the children in my neighbourhood to play a hide-and-seek game called ‘Run, Sheep, Run!

    -Soon the WHOLE of the local school was playing it.
    For more info, e-mail me at:

  8. That_Susan December 20, 2015 at 8:47 pm #

    This is very encouraging.

  9. Donald December 21, 2015 at 2:44 am #

    I love this! I love the fact that people can do things not just from determination but the fact that they don’t ‘know’ that they are not suppose to be able to do it! I love this attitude! I also HATE the other side of the coin. I hate the way people can become helpless because they buy into it when people tell them that they can’t do it.

    This is why I’m so much against bubble wrapping children. I hate the mantra! “You’re too Physically and Emotionally Frail. You can’t do Anything Without my Help”

    I have worked a lot with anxiety and depression. I have seen and felt the hell that these people go through! That’s why I’m so dumfounded that helicopter parents think that they are doing their children a big favor by forcing this mantra onto them.

    Many people have mental problems. Some are minor and some quite severe. However it’s very easy to make it much worse.

  10. lollipoplover December 21, 2015 at 8:46 am #

    I think so much of this has to do with attitude. She sounds like she had a great mother who embraced her differences and focused on her daughter’s many strengths vs. trying to get her to conform to “normal”. Every child has a different normal.

    I still love this story about the teacher who starts each day complimenting his students. How can you not feel good about yourself when someone compliments you sincerely every day??

  11. Bonni December 21, 2015 at 12:00 pm #

    Same situation here! I didn’t find out I was autistic until I was 34 … largely thanks to a Free-Range childhood that encouraged me to be me and gave me confidence to not even notice the other kids. My parents missed all of the childhood signs of my autism because they just thought I was unique, a little different, taught me to thrive as such, and supported me as me. (Social cues be darned!)

  12. hineata December 21, 2015 at 1:00 pm #

    There are some things that some people shouldn’t do. I found myself for the first time ever telling El Sicko that she was not to apply for a particular job, as she wouldn’t be able to handle it. The job involved extremely early starts, was an outside one and involved heavy lifting. She might have been fine in summer but would have been hopeless in winter. Occasionally you do have to be realistic…