Today is an anniversary of mine. If you’re reading this, thank you for letting me share it with you.
On January 7th of 2017, my doctor telephoned. My screening, my tests, my questionnaires, and interviews with my family had been reviewed and evaluated. My diagnosis was in the mail. “…Chris demonstrates pattern of behavior and impairment consistent with Autism Spectrum Disorder 299.00 (F84.)…”
I’ll introduce myself again, for the first time.
Hello. My name is Chris Williams, and I’m autistic. Nice to meet you.
It was, it still is, mind boggling to me. Perhaps to those of you who know me. Perhaps not. To have a paradigm shift, at thirty six years old, in self reflection, and in reflection about my personal relationships. My memories now telling me different stories. An awfully familiar stranger resembling me in mirrors. My internal cartography reordering itself, patterns forming across my strengths, my weaknesses, my ways of learning, my ways of thinking, and my ways of communicating. It’s been a cacophony of a change of perspective.
Outside my self, my genetics, looking forward and looking backwards, have been concurrent labyrinths to explore. My almost seven year old daughter Calliope is diagnosed autistic, and has severe impairments. At this time, she’s our only child with a professional diagnosis. In time, I’m confident she won’t be the only one. I’m 95% certain Caspian is; Catherina, perhaps 35%? And casting a wider net onto my mother’s family, and/or onto my father’s, reveals traits, behaviors, and whole individuals in different lights. Even friends start to take on new forms or more fully realized shapes, and once you know the diagnostic criteria and prevalence of the condition, not with an unreasonable eye…
You see, 1 in 68 in the United States are estimated to be on the spectrum; there’s talk this is a low estimate. In his 2015 masterwork on autism, Neurotribes, Steve Silberman writes: “…given current estimates of prevalence, autistic people constitute one of the largest minorities in the world. There are roughly as many people on the spectrum in America as there are Jews.”
That means there’s a lot of us out there. Out there in the open. Hiding within ourselves. Hiding from ourselves. Some of you reading this, maybe there’s some real questions you need to ask, or context you never thought to provide, about yourself to yourself. Or maybe your spouse, your children, your parents, your brother or sister, your friends, your coworkers. People are built in strange ways you wouldn’t expect to be so unifying. It’s a revealing thread of humanity to understand and be attuned to.
It’s funny. Despite Calliope’s limited capacity for language, she has communicated more to me about myself, my family, and how to regard other humans than anyone I’ve known. She inspired me to learn, she inspired me to self realize, she inspired me to seek my diagnosis, and now she’s inspiring me to stand tall and make my own truths plain for others to see. She is my skeleton key, my Rosetta Stone, my North Star in this journey.
It’s been a good year in this regard. With my vision unclouded about the best version of my self I can be, I stride towards the future with greater purpose. I am a proud autistic father of beautiful autistic children. I am a devoted autistic husband. I am Chris Williams, an exquisite, autistic human being, one with his eyes on horizons of advocacy, of leadership, and of making a difference for my family and for others. It’s a good place to be.
So on that note, happy anniversary. Here’s a toast to finding myself and all old friends and new friends alike. Thank you.