My husband is autistic.
I kind of struggled with how to say that. Some would say, “My husband has autism.” That sounds less daunting and more like it’s something that can be changed…but would I ever say, “I have extroversion”? Of course not, I would just say that I’m extroverted. So, let’s just be real…my husband is incredible, wonderful, awesome, and autistic.
Chris doesn’t consider autism something to “cure” or “recover from;” it’s who he is. He was born with, in my mind, incredible capabilities and is able to do things that a neuro-typical person often cannot. He sees life as a chess board and is able to see plays and moves down the road better than anyone else I know.
I can imagine our longtime friends are reading this and thinking there’s no way. Chris, the same guy who does hilarious things with his kids or seems completely socially “normal”??
If you aren’t married to him, you wouldn’t see his little quirks because he’s spent his life learning how to be a part of society while not changing who he is as a person. You wouldn’t know that he has never sat on a public toilet seat in his entire life or that he has a phobia of certain textures on clothing touching his skin (you probably thought his shorts obsession was just a personal preference when in fact, when he has to wear pants it’s literally like he has spiders swarming over his legs and he’s suffocating). He has a certain routine every morning and doesn’t deviate from it. He doesn’t listen to music because it’s all just noise to him.
If you know him well, you probably know he abhors public swimming pools and will not get anywhere near one. You probably also know that when we met, the first thing he said to me was, “I’m looking for a wife to cook and clean for me.” Most people would be offended; I was intrigued. If we are out of town and his routine is messed up, it throws him off for the rest of the day. He’s scared of talking on the phone. If an issue arises, he becomes so fixated on that issue that he cannot do anything else until that issue is resolved.
Chris and I were married at a young age; he was still 19. Even though we never really thought about it, over the years I helped teach him how to engage and interact with people. I would tell him when he was being too blunt or offer him insight into someone else’s perspective. I shared with him that when someone asks how you’re doing, the polite thing to do is to reciprocate with the same question instead of just saying, “good.” Without even realizing it, I was Chris’ social therapist. I truly believe God put us together because we balance each other perfectly. He is logical, cut and dry and not emotional at all. I am more fluid, not literal, and feel other people in a very raw way. He’s made me more logical, I’ve made him more empathetic.
We’ve known for a very long time that Chris was on the “spectrum.” He wasn’t officially diagnosed at Kaiser until more recently though because we just never saw a reason to have him evaluated. Chris has offended people with his bluntness and candor, he’s lost family and friends because of his opinions. Many people see him as unfeeling or uncaring, when in fact he cares deeply. The sad thing is that those people have never really had a deep conversation with Chris to understand who he is as a person, and thus only went by their perception of him. As sad as it sounds, our hope was that a “label” would give people the permission to look beyond the surface to understand better why Chris does and says the things he does.
Chris is obviously high-functioning and capable of living a rich, full life. We do wonder…if we hadn’t met so young and he had been single for his early adulthood, whether he would be as far along today socially as he is. I’m just thankful I was the one God chose to put by his side to play on his team.
I guess my reason for finally posting this is that Chris has never felt fully understood by anyone but me. My hope is that this post might help people understand that he is a complex, intriguing person and his bluntness is not something to take personally; it’s something that comes with the territory of being his friend. If you’re willing to look beyond the perceived, you will see it’s actually an admirable character trait…because sometimes you just want someone you know you can trust to tell you the truth no matter what. He’ll never tell you you look good in a dress if you don’t. =)
As the saying goes, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” Chris has pushed and fought and clawed his way out of his own mind many times over the years. You would probably never know it by looking at him, but I can tell you firsthand that it’s the God-honest truth. So the next time you come across someone who is “too blunt” or “unfeeling” or says things that seem insensitive, please pause for a moment to consider what the context may be…because you may not know the whole story, and that person may just need a bit of compassion and understanding. And you never know…they may end up being your hero just like my husband is to me.