For some teens and young adults with autism, communicating their thoughts and feelings to their parents can be a challenge. One of those young adults is Isabell Quinn. In an article this month for yahoo.com’s lifestyle section, titled “What I Wish My Mother Knew About Autism,” Quinn shared the frustration she sometimes feels due to her mother’s lack of understanding about the way autism affects her behavior and the way her mind works.
“My mom was told I might have autism when I was 16, but did not tell me till I was 17,” Quinn writes. “I assume she put “Autism” into Google, found harmful material from Autism Speaks, decided it was a bad condition and wanted to keep it from me.”
Quinn expressed hope that her mother would understand that behaviors common to people with autism, such as “stimming,” are actually a soothing coping mechanism that she depends on, rather than an eccentricity or abnormality to be suppressed. “Stimming” refers to “self-stimulating behavior,” such as humming or flapping one’s hands.
Quinn also rejected the view that people with autism lack empathy or emotions. “I have empathy and valid feelings,” she writes. “I might not care to tell the white lies everyone expects, but I care when my friend feels bad or when someone needs help. I care more than many others about things that count. So don’t tell me I don’t have empathy.” Like many people with autism, Quinn is also very selective when it comes to her diet, partly due to sensory sensitivities, as well as executive dysfunction, meaning the ability to start and complete a task.
“Being hungry, getting up, finding, fixing and eating food are all tasks, and doing that three times a day is extremely difficult, especially when it’s not the only task of the day or when it interferes with another task like schoolwork,” Quinn explains. “This struggle is something my mom never came across in her attempt at research, so she takes it as laziness and procrastination. This is a difficult situation to navigate and needs a structured schedule laid out by a therapist to solve, instead of ignorance. This struggle she does not see dissolves away my energy and erodes my physical health.”
Another source of frustration for Quinn is that she has been taking a full load of college courses since the summer before 11th grade, but has been denied accommodations by her mother, who doesn’t want her to use them as a “crutch.”
“My brain works differently than how some of my classes are played out, and it is hard for me to compensate for the readings and analogies I don’t understand,” Quinn explains. “I can’t work ahead or start assignments early. I can barely begin assignments before they are due because starting a task is hard even if I understand and excel in the subject.”
Quinn expressed hope that sharing her views will be beneficial to both teens with autism and their parents.
“I hope this helps other teens with autism learn something they did not know about themselves and the community,” she writes.
“And I hope this helps parents to learn about something they may have missed.”