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Autism & Angels By Annette Harkness


Posted by Annette Harkness on January 27, 2011

A story of growing up undiagnosed, and how the diagnosis has change my life completely for the better By Annette Harkness.



Memories and images. Like a movie reel that constantly flows through my mind, the images are as clear as a shining piece of crystal. Every life experience is there, every breathing moment, guiding me, influencing every decision I make each day. Thinking in pictures. Not everyone thinks in pictures. This is something I only found out recently, when I was diagnosed with AS. It is also something that I can’t possibly even begin to comprehend. How can there be any other way to think? The gliding flow of images in my mind, some all the way to back to my infancy, just seem so….natural. Real. The only way to think.
I do realize that there are many people who aren’t on the spectrum who are also visual thinkers. But this post is directed towards the fact that most people on the spectrum are specialized in thinking visually. We are the engineers, the oddball science professors, the inventors, strolling through life under the radar, undiagnosed.
So then, what is it like to think in pictures? What other ways are there to think? Apparently, most people think in words, some think in numbers. These are impossible ways of thought to me. I love thinking in pictures. Because I never forget. I never forget the way a place looks, the way I felt at the time, the smells, or the way others looked. Thinking in pictures is a gift to me. Without it, I wouldn’t have this incredible way of not taking anything for granted. Without it, the emotions that guide me through life wouldn’t be nearly as prominent.
My earliest memories are of my infancy. There are times when I hear flickers of what I think is my actual birth, but those memories are so faint, that I can’t be sure if they are real. The reel in my mind of this particular memory is not actually visual, but it is in audio and touch. I hear my own crying, and I feel many hands around me, touching me.
After that, the memories become more visual, but they aren’t consistent. I have a very profound memory of my mom, gazing down into my crib in the downstairs bedroom, late at night, whispering to me that I was such a beautiful baby. The memory is so clear, so present, that I have tears in my eyes as I write this. Another memory that makes me feel tearful, is that of my grandmother, my Babcia. I guess I was in some sort of baby carrier, babbling, when she leans forward and tells me that babies talk to the angels. I believe she was completely correct in her statement, since she was such an angel to all of us.
Toddlerhood is more consistent in my mind, and so full of innocence and joy. Running with nothing on but a diaper, in my aunt’s beautiful backyard. I loved that yard, with it’s great, stunningly beautiful weeping willow, loved the way the willow branches would brush against my face in the wind, whispering to me. The swing that hung from the willow, the action of swinging and how it felt so soothing, so natural and real. The gorgeous swimming pool…and the sign, “No P in the Pool”. Surrounded by my loving family…I feel so lucky to have these memories so clearly. Blessed would be a better word.
I get a little older and the pictures become even clearer. So clear, actually, that as a teenager I used to talk to my mom about them. Both of us pondered whether I was remembering images from another life at first. But then we figured it out…I was remembering my aunt, babysitting me. The setting is Levittown, Golden Ridge section, I think. I might have to double check on that. But I remember there was a cool cemetery nearby, and I remember my aunt caring for me. Another loving family member, another precious memory.
But thinking in pictures isn’t all fun and goodness. I remember the bad things as well, and when you have an autism spectrum disorder, there are many things to fear. For me, that was anything unknown, anything with bright light, crowds, loud noise, anything that felt like an assailant to my fragile sensory system. I had night terrors. Terrible, terrible nightmares about these things. What I feared the most as a toddler, was bright light, falling, and water. My night terrors consisted of blinding light, and as I mentioned before, one of the sources was the pendant light in my upstairs bedroom. The bright fluorescent light terrified me, and in those dreams it would blind me, burn me, take away all of my vision of everything else. Everything I knew. To me, in those dreams, I was being kidnapped by the light, taken away from my family, the ones who protected me from all that was unknown, and therefore extremely frightening.
When I dreamed of water, I would drown. I could never escape the pull of the water, and would wake up screaming just before my lungs would fill with the dark and sinister water. It was the same with falling. I would wake up just before I would fall into what I pictured as the black hole I guess, a place of infinity, a place of which there was no return.
And every time, my mom would be there, holding me, cradling me, soothing me with her sweet words. Sometimes, she would get out some little books, and read to me until I became calm. Once, one of my night terrors occured on a night that it was snowing. It transformed my terror into something magical, as I gazed out the window at the big fluffy flakes swirling down from the sky, my mom holding me, and reading to me a story about a mouse.
It’s difficult, I think, to really describe how I think and perceive things. But this is a start for me, and I hope it has enabled some of you to understand the mind of a child with AS. The film reel continues to roll, each day recorded and filed away in my mind for perfect recall later. Memories of early childhood are a theme for some children with AS, as are sensory processing disorders, anxiety, and fear. All of which I feel contributed to my night terrors. This is just the beginning. As the reel continues to roll, these words will continue to flow from my fingers, as natural as the silent flow of water over the rocks of my beloved Juniper Hill.