“You’ll Grow Out of It”

While putting together some of my thoughts about a “cure” for autism (which will appear in a later post), I ran across this article TIME Magazine published in 2013: New Study Suggests Autism Can Be “Outgrown.”

And…oh.  I remember why I skipped this the first time I saw it.  Merciful heavens.

Since the moment I began understanding spoken language (something else I shall write about in another post), I have wanted, desperately, to outgrow my autism.  We didn’t know it was autism then, or for my entire childhood; I wasn’t diagnosed until my late 20s.  But I did know, from before I was two years old, that something was different about me.  Something was “wrong.”

And my parents knew it too.  The list of things I’ve been striving to “outgrow” exists because, over and over again during my childhood, my mother reassured (“reassured”) me that I would outgrow them.  I’d eventually outgrow the meltdowns, the sensory sensitivities, the not understanding what people said to me or knowing how to respond to it, the inability to transfer skills learned in one setting to another setting.  The moments when I’d utterly forget how to tie my shoes, or spell my own name.  The embarrassing and constant moments when I’d run into somebody I was supposed to know from somewhere…else.  (I have run into my own family members in the grocery store without recognizing their faces.)  The exhaustion after just an hour or two of activities and events I was supposed to love, because all the other kids did.

I never did outgrow it.  Any of it.  And the attempt came closer to killing me than the resultant PTSD will let me admit.

I’m pretty sure the study described in the TIME article is rubbish, of course.  I’m reasonably certain that, while some autistic people can learn to “pass” exceptionally well (I did), nobody can actually outgrow autism.  And I’m absolutely certain that no autistic person’s human worth ought to be in any way measured by their ability to pass.   But my bullshit meter dings in particular at this passage from the TIME article:

[The information gathered on the “recovered” autistic subjects] were then reviewed by several experts who had to be in agreement about whether the participants no longer met criteria for the disorder, including factors such as their ability to attend regular classes without one-on-one assistance in school, no longer requiring social skills training classes, and having at least one typically developing friend.

…I never met any of those factors as a kid, unless you count (b) needing social skills training classes but never getting them and (c) having no friends at all.  Still autistic.

But it’s not, ultimately, the veracity of the study or the language of the article that interests me here.  It’s that “outgrow autism” thing that’s the kick to my gut.

I tried that.  I tried that until it almost killed me.

And the thought that there could be – hell, that there almost certainly are – people like me out there, people who have been told their whole lives that they’re fundamentally wrong but it’s okay, they’ll grow out of it if only they try hard enough….

I can’t even.

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One thought on ““You’ll Grow Out of It”

  1. “Concerns about happiness and ability to cope are more important than questions about whether someone does or does not retain a diagnostic label.” At least the article ends well, but she’s definitely discussing the medical model of autism (condition with symptoms).

    Study says autistic kids and teens can learn to be indistinguishable from their peers via behavior therapy, but that doesn’t mean they’re not autistic. Hopefully they’ll still be comfortable stimming or pursuing their interests without shame.

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