When I was a kid, I had pet lizards named Lizzy and Dizzy. I carried them around in my t-shirt pocket, made them Christmas stockings out of old socks, and hand-fed them crickets even though I hated bugs. One day, I sat down on the couch to watch a movie and accidentally fell asleep. I woke up frantic, because my lizards had been in my t-shirt pocket. I could feel one of them still inside the pocket, but the other was gone. Fortunately, Lizzy hadn’t gone far; she was perched on the top of the couch staring at me. Unfortunately, Dizzy was dead in my pocket. I must have rolled onto her in my sleep. I cried for days, had a lizard funeral complete with a tiny cardboard lizard casket, and refused to eat for several days. If Dizzy couldn’t eat anymore, I told my mom, then I wasn’t going to either. My mom didn’t understand and still doesn’t. But Dizzy was dead. This was important to me. I was only six years old at the time, but I still cry every time I think about it. I loved that lizard.
Most people expect kids to be “quirky” or even overly emotional, especially if the kid has apsergers/autism. But kids grow up. As an adult, I’m still the same way I was when I was a kid.
I’ve always grown overly attached to things and then felt broken when those things go away. While many people would be understandably heartbroken over a pet’s death, most neurotypical adults probably wouldn’t grieve the loss of a ten cent pencil or feel like their life was over because a pumpkin rotted (seriously, real-life examples from not long ago).
I have a friend whose autistic son collects tiny fruit; his mother saves the fruit for him long after the tiny fruit is shriveled and moldy. I have another friend whose autistic daughter recently lost her favorite yellow shoe; she went to every store and internet website she could to try to find a duplicate shoe but couldn’t find one. They had a memorial service for the shoe, complete with “happy photographs” of the shoe as it went for walks and swung in the park. These kids will grow up, and maybe they’ll “grow out of this” getting attached to things thing. But I can’t help but think that many autistic kids will grow up to be like me. I’m just a bigger version of my child-self when it comes to attachment and grieving.
Today, as I continue to grieve what feels like the death of my favorite tv show, I keep thinking about all the things I’ve felt similarly attached to over the years and how I survived those losses. Remembering that I survived a previous loss helps me to survive the current one, and the next one after that. It doesn’t matter whether it was a loss of a family member, a pet, or a pumpkin. Every loss feels equally painful to me, because I become obsessively attached to anything that I love.
This morning, I saw a post on Facebook written by a parent who stated that she couldn’t understand why her autistic son couldn’t just “play normal” and not interrupt everyone’s pool time by crying over a lost toy. To that parent, and to anyone else who doesn’t understand, I would like to say that for many of us a lost toy is no smaller of a loss than how you would feel if your son died. It might not make sense to you, but please try to accept that we don’t always understand ourselves any better than you understand us. Sometimes things just are the way they are.
To all the parents out there who hold memorial services for lost shoes and let their kids keep rotten fruit collections, I would like to say thank you. You have given your kids the greatest gift of all, and you have given me hope.
And to the autistic adults who are like me when it comes to attachment and grieving, I would like you to know that you’re not alone.