When I was twenty six I was working as a behavior therapist for children diagnosed with Autism. The objective of my job was to correct mal-adaptie behaviors, increase self regulation and help the children learn how to connect with others socially and emotionally. One day when I was waiting for a pick-up order at a restaurant a handsome guy with long blonde dreadlocks asked me if he could sit down. I noticed he either looked down or out of the corners of his eyes when he spoke to me. He was mono toned and stoic and within minutes of meeting him I knew he had Autism. I had never met an adult with Autism before and so I was immediately intrigued by him and how differently he perceived the world we both lived in. Chronologically he was the same age as me, but at a very different place in his life. He was living alone in a studio apartment and didn't have a job. When I asked him what he did for work he told me he made tie-dye shirts. After a couple follow up questions I learned he had made one tie-dye shirt once. A man had requested he make him one and he never did. After getting to know him more I realized that Andrew had apparently slipped through the cracks at school. He was never identified or diagnosed as having Autism and as a result he never received any therapy or intervention for it and never learned how express his emotions in healthy ways. (Hence, his mother paying for him to live in a studio apartment by himself because she became afraid of him when he got angry). Andrew was the adult version of the elementary school and toddler aged children I was proving behavior therapy for, but with a formal education up to 12th grade. I quickly became determined to help him. My ultimate goal was for him to understand that he had a disorder and to start getting therapy so he could begin to live a happy and healthy life. The first time I tried to introduce a bridge between Andrew and the concept of Autism he immediately resonated with the description I gave of what Autism was, or at least the spectrum that he fell within. From then on though, he would fluctuate between believing he had Autism then not, as if struggling to decide whether or not he believed in the existence of Santa Clause. As the weeks flowed into a month Andrew grew to revere me and I grew to adore him. But unfortunately, the glitter was not all gold. The more time we spent together the more he would randomly become paranoid that I was trying to humiliate him and would verbally lash out at me saying the meanest things he could think of. His impulsive behaviors were not new to me because of my experiences at work, so I was usually able to handle it as I would my child clients. I would basically let him tantrum until he calmed down and then as if on cue, he would quiet down on his own and apologize. One day though, his over the phone tantrum was exceptionally bad and I realized it was no longer safe for me to continue spending time with him. After his apology through crying wails, I explained to him that I wouldn't be able to see him anymore unless he finally sought a therapist. He promised he would, but he never did. For my own safety I had to stay true to my ultimatum and I removed myself from his life. In many ways it resembled a break-up, only it felt more like sending away a violent but sweet and loving child that I ultimately knew I was not equipped to care for. It's been years since I last spoke to Andrew. I don't think about him as much these days, but when I do, I feel the small hole that exists in my heart from where he lived that summer. There is so much more to his psyche than a lot of psychology books would care to believe. I may not have been able to solve the puzzle, but I feel privileged to have been given permission to touch the pieces.
Subscribe and stay tuned.