Tag Archives: adolescence

Chronologically Out of Step

When our daughter Jess was little, her dad and I used to take her to see a lot of animated movies. Jess and I really enjoyed them, but The Scientist often dozed off twenty minutes into the film. He slept through Toy Story and Shrek and Monsters Inc. before we all decided that a better plan was to split up when we went to the movies. That way he was free to see the latest action movie while Jess and I watched the newest offering from Pixar or Disney.

The Incredibles, Cars, innumerable sequels in the Monsters, Toy Story and Shrek series. Nightmare Before Christmas. Brave. WALL-E. Coraline. Up. Paranorman . . . Actually, I saw quite a few of those by myself. Jess is all grown up now and The Scientist still isn’t a big fan of kid’s movies. To be fair he stayed awake for the entire Lego Movie and thoroughly enjoyed Big Hero 6, but he wouldn’t have gone to see either if I hadn’t suggested it.

I imagine quite a few adults would consider my interest in animated movies that are mostly marketed to children to be childish. It certainly hasn’t escaped my notice that most of the other adults in the theater are there to chaperone children.

I’m not sure what it is about animated movies that I enjoy so much. Maybe it’s a sense of nostalgia, dating back to the time when I was a young parent and the excitement that we shared as a family going to a new movie. Maybe it’s the sly humor that the writers build in for the adults in the audience alongside the simple feel-good themes that most of the movies have. I’ve even seen it suggested that many of us gravitate toward animation because the exaggerated facial expressions are easy to decipher.

Maybe I just really like animated movies.

Whatever the underlying reason, it’s hard to escape the sense that my enjoyment of the movies is somewhat age inappropriate. I don’t know a lot of other middle-aged women who were as excited as I was about the Lego movie. I do know better than to blurt out “How about that Lego movie?” when talking with most other women my age.

Fortunately not all of my tastes in media run toward children’s programming. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Netflix created a recommendation category for me titled “Dramas with Large Ensemble Casts and Lots of Cursing.” That gives me sufficient fodder for dinner party conversation when the subject turns to movies and TV.


Age Appropriate

The concept of “age appropriate” has been one that’s always haunted me. In elementary school, from about fourth grade, I began to get the sense that most of my peers seemed to somehow older than me. As if they knew something I didn’t.

By the time I got to middle school, that vague sense of being “behind” widened into a very obvious maturity gap. Many of the other girls in my class were developing an interest in dating and fashion and other things that marked a critical right of passage, and in which I had little intrinsic interest. In high school, most of my peers spent the school week looking forward to a weekend of drinking, partying, dating, football games and dances. Again I felt left out, having barely caught up with the concept of dating.

My interests ran more toward listening to music, reading, riding my bike, and shooting baskets in the driveway. At least the ones that I would publicly admit to. I also had a huge fascination with the TV show M*A*S*H and still liked to pull out my collections of baseball cards, stamps, and coins. Occasionally I pulled out my model train set or my Matchbox cars and Barbies were still in my closet. My bed was home to as many stuffed animals as it could hold and I still had a well-worn baseball mitt that I’d gotten in fourth grade.

Instinctively, I knew that there were things that it was “okay” for a teenaged girl to be interested in and interests that were best kept to myself. Sometimes the appropriateness of an interest hinged on gender stereotypes, but just as often it was related to age, either in the sense of something being “too childish” (or sometimes “too adult”) for the age that I currently was.

I spent a lot of years assuming that I would simply catch up with my peers, that I would develop an interest in partying and chasing boys at football games and gossiping on the phone for hours after school each night. When I graduated, without that ever having materialized, I somehow went right on assuming that I would catch up with the adults that I saw around me who invariably seemed much more adult to me than I seemed to myself.

I’m sure this is a typical reaction of many young people as they make the transition into adulthood in their early twenties, however I was still thinking this in my late thirties and early forties. After being diagnosed with Aspergers, I finally realized that there would be no magical catching up with my peers. I was simply different and that was okay.

By Whose Milestones?

The really interesting aspect of this to me, is that while autism is commonly referred to as a developmental delay, no one ever explicitly told me that I was “delayed.” Many years spent comparing myself to my typical peers and seeing the obvious differences had somehow caused me to assume that I was just a few steps behind them.

It’s not surprising to me that many parents look at their autistic children and make the same assumption, often with the encouragement of doctors, teachers, and other professionals in their children’s lives. And in the same way that I passed many years simply assuming that I would catch up, I think many parents spend years operating under the assumption that the goal of their children’s education should be to “catch them up” to their typical peers rather than to equip them in ways that are practical and useful for the child.

Ariane Zurcher recently wrote a blog post about how focusing on the belief that her daughter Emma was developmentally delayed caused her to pursue therapies that in the end she felt were not helpful to Emma. Here’s a quote from that post (emphasis is mine):

“for us it meant constantly comparing our daughter to her non autistic peers (using their development, and not hers, as the ideal).  It meant pursuing all kinds of therapies that never questioned the push for spoken language.  It meant not considering AAC devices, because she “had language.”  It meant encouraging my daughter to “use your words.”  It meant asking her to focus on things that made it impossible for her to concentrate on what was being taught.  It meant looking at her through the lens of deficits, so much so that they became blinders shutting out everything else.”

Ariane’s words hint at the danger that lurks in the idea that autistic kids need more than anything to catch up to their nonautistic peers. The emphasis, when working from that assumption, is on getting the child to do things in a way that may not be the best possible way–or even possible at all–for them.

A straightforward and common example is speech. Here are some standard developmental milestones for speech and language:

  • by 3 months: makes eye contact
  • by 6 months: imitates sounds and facial expressions
  • by 12 months: says 1 or 2 words
  • by 21 months: uses at least 50 words, names objects
  • by 24 months: begins to use 2 word phrases, uses simple pronouns
  • by 36 months: asks simple questions

If an autistic child isn’t making eye contact, smiling when smiled at, or saying a couple of words by 18 months, it’s very natural for their parents to look at the other toddlers who are doing all of these things and assume that their child needs professional intervention to help them catch up with their peers.

However, autistic language development varies greatly from the developmental norms. Some autistic people speak early, some at a typical age, others at a later-than-average age and some not at all. Some of us use speech for simple interactions and text or other means for more complex interactions, while others use AAC for all communication. Some of us never reach typical milestones and other leap over milestones at an atypical age.

We are each literally our own developmental milestone chart and to compare an autistic person’s language development to their peers–autistic or not–is both unfair and counterproductive.

The typical developmental milestones are useful as a diagnostic aid, but beyond that they are simply a distraction. Rather than focusing on meeting a set of speech milestones, the emphasis should be on finding communication methods that work reliably for the individual autistic person.

The Fallacy of Mental Age

Another potential pitfall of the developmental delay paradigm is that it leads to the assumption of “mental age” in those individuals who don’t meet developmental milestones on the expected schedule.

If a child is mostly nonspeaking until the age of 5, echolalic for several years after that, and begins to use short phrases at 12, some people will make the assumption that the child not only has the language abilities “of a 2-year-old” but also the thought processes and cognitive abilities of a 2-year-old. As many parents of children who began speaking at a later age can tell you, that’s far from true.

A person who is echolalic at 7-years-old, speaks in short phrases at 12 and uses some sentences at 22 isn’t simply delayed. They have a completely different communication ability than their peers. It’s entirely possible that they’ve been capable of typing in full sentences for a decade or more before they used any sentences verbally. Perhaps not, but unless they’re given the chance to learn to use a variety of communication tools other than speech, no one will know for sure.

Chronologically Out of Step

The inspiration for this post was in part a Facebook discussion that Ariane initiated prior to the post I linked to above and in part some comments on the Intersection of Gender and Autism posts here.

I was struck by how many of us had a sense that we were somehow lagging behind our peers when we were younger or how we still had interests that might be considered age inappropriate by people given to making such judgments. In each of these comments, there was a hint (or more) of embarrassment around these interests.


That got me thinking about all of the ways that I’ve felt chronologically out of step over the years and, more importantly, why. As always, the what of it is fairly easy to quantify, but the why is trickier.

Sometimes the sense that I was lagging behind was tied to not wanting to give up a special interest or to returning to a “childish” special interest for comfort. My love of animated movies and the giant stuffed dog that resides on my couch are a couple of innocuous present-day examples.

Other times, particularly around adolescence, I think missing out on big chunks of social cues and being mostly oblivious to certain types of peer pressure contributed to my sense that I was socially and emotionally younger than my peers. I suspect most kids didn’t necessarily want to start dating in middle school, but they knew that socially it was important to show that they did. It made them seem mature or cool or whatever it was that meant fitting in. Which, incidentally, was exactly the thing I could never seem to intuit and obviously still can’t quite pin down.

Most likely, there were girls who made fun of me in middle school and high school for being so out of step with what was expected but I was mostly too clueless to notice if anyone was whispering about me behind my back. And really, when you have people who will outright tell you that you’re a dork to your face, there isn’t much point in searching for more bad news.

These things, combined with the ever-present sense that I was different from most other kids left, me always feeling the need to catch up but never quite knowing how to do that.

Which brings me to an interesting point that Anna raised in the comments: there is a difference between throwing out the concept of a delay and throwing out all hope of a person learning new skills. She specifically mentioned that as a child, she was left to her own devices a lot and not really pushed to learn organizational or social skills or to further her interests in new ways. She pointed out the value of a “golden middle way” in respecting differences while helping children develop the sort of executive function skills and understanding of the social world that will smooth the road for them a bit as adults.

When Frogs Fly

Finally, it’s important for parents and others who work with autistic kids to understand the difference between, for example, understanding the social world and having neurotypical social skills. The former is achievable to some degree for many of us on the spectrum; the latter not so much.

For example, my social skills are not and never will be those of a typical adult. I don’t have the social skills of a 14-year-old or a 20-year-old or a 30-year-old. It’s not as if I’m simply behind some imaginary developmental curve. My ability to read facial expressions and body language has been “stuck” at the basic level for decades. And I’m fine with that. I have coping mechanisms to make up for some of what I lack and the rest I’ve learned to live with. In the past, I’ve tried to learn how to read more subtle nonverbal communication and finally concluded that it’s not going to happen.

In fact, as I was talking about some preliminary ideas for this post with The Scientist, I told him that teaching me to make consistently natural-looking eye contact would be like teaching a frog to fly. No matter how many times you take the frog up on the roof and toss it off, it’s never going to sprout wings. And it doesn’t need to.


A/N: While looking for photos to illustrated this post, I saw the gingerbread people photos and thought “ooh, cute!” and decided to use whimsical gingerbread people family portraits to illustrated my Very Serious Post because it felt delightfully age inappropriate. 

At the Intersection of Gender and Autism – Part I

Note: This is my contribution to the Ultraviolet Voices anthology. It’s nearly 5000 words long, so I’m going to serialize it here over the next 3 weeks.  

At five, I wanted to be a boy. I don’t know what I thought being a boy meant. Maybe I thought it meant playing outside in the summer, shirtless and barefoot. Maybe I thought it meant not wearing dresses.

Dresses were all scratchy lace trim and tight elastic sleeves. Stiff patent leather shoes pinched my sensitive feet. Perfume tickled my nose. Tights made my legs itch and had maddening seams at the toes.

Too young to understand sensory sensitivities, I followed my instincts. While other girls favored frilly clothes, I gravitated toward the soft comfort of cotton shirts and worn corduroys.

Somehow, comfort got mixed up with gender in my head. For decades, “dressing like a girl” meant being uncomfortable. And so began a lifelong tension between being female and being autistic.


For a lengthy stretch of adulthood, I had an entire section of my closet that could best be described as aspirational. Pants suits. Dressy blouses. Pumps and sandals. Skirts, bought and worn once for a special occasion. Dresses, bought and worn never, before being spirited off to the thrift store.

I preferred ripped jeans and running shoes, hoodies and baggy t-shirts. Comfortable and comforting, just as they had been in childhood.

Continue reading At the Intersection of Gender and Autism – Part I

Beyond The Talk: What Else Autistic Girls Need to Know About Puberty

This was originally posted at a group blog that I’m part of: We Are Like Your Child. It primarily addresses parents of young autistics, but I’m reposting here because I thought other autistic adults might have helpful tips to add or their own wishlist of things they’d known about puberty.

One request: if you talk about anything traumatic, please reference it obliquely. There are some younger readers here now and I could see others finding this post in a search for autism and puberty or adolescence.


When it came to puberty, my parents did what many parents in the seventies did: they gave me a book about puberty written especially for girls. It was a slim cranberry hardback with an ambiguous title like “Everything is Changing.”

I was a voracious reader, so I would curl up in my beanbag and scour the pages for clues to the mysterious changes that were on the horizon. I think I had many of the same fears, anxieties and curiosities about puberty as my friends had. Certainly my body went through the same changes that other girls experienced. However, I think there are some areas where girls on the spectrum would benefit from additional information or guidance. That’s what I’m going to focus on in this post.

Many of the issues I want to touch on also apply to boys. I’m specifically addressing the issue of puberty in girls because I was once a girl and I raised a daughter. Girls are my wheelhouse. If you’re looking for information about boys, I hope you can adapt some of the ideas below but, honestly, boys are a mystery to me.


In addition to talking to your autistic daughter about all of the things parents normally cover when talking about puberty, consider discussing the following when you feel the timing and circumstances are right:  Continue reading Beyond The Talk: What Else Autistic Girls Need to Know About Puberty

Asperger’s and Motherhood (Part 5)

This is the fifth in a series of posts about being a mom with Asperger’s.

As adolescence drags on–yes, some days it feels like it will never end–you may run into some serious challenges. The child who thought you were the coolest mom on Earth suddenly thinks you’re a moron. She doesn’t miss a chance to remind you that you can’t do anything right. That you know nothing. That you’re uncool and out of touch.

These words–and worse, the way they’re carelessly hurled at you–may hurt, but don’t panic. Teenagers all over town are saying the exact same thing to their NT moms and dads. Congratulate yourself on being a perfectly normal parent.

But the wild mood swings, sarcasm, unpredictability and sometimes downright meanness of teeangers can be especially hard on aspie moms. You may not be the most confident mom. Sarcasm, irony and biting humor might go right over your head, making you feel dumber than a box of rocks as your teen patiently explains the joke. And if you’ve shared your diagnosis, don’t be surprised if your teen decides at some point to use that against you. Teenagers are masters of dirty fighting. If it wasn’t your AS, it would be some other vulnerability, so again, you’re no different from the other moms.

Just like when you had that squalling little newborn, this is the time to call in reinforcements. At times you may need to turn over a challenging aspect of parenting to your child’s father, a grandparent or another safe supportive adult in your child’s life.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you feel like you’re in over your head. Teenagers can find themselves with adult-sized problems and because of our issues with executive function, we aspies may not always be the best source of guidance when a major crisis occurs. As a parent, you want the best possible outcome for your child, but as an aspie, you may not always be able to work out how to help him get there.

And for everything–big and small–that AS causes you to struggle with as a parent, I guarantee there’s something else that AS will make you amazing at. Your teenager will scoff at your poor fashion sense, but you may be the only one in the family cool-headed enough to teach her to drive without getting into a shouting match at every rolling stop and crooked parking job. And those research skills you’ve developed pursuing your special interests will come handy when it’s time to find the right college (or a good defense attorney).

My daughter’s friends found it amusing that I would spend hours trying to master the Playstation skateboarding tricks that they taught me or that I didn’t care if they wrote all over the wallpaper in her bedroom. More than once I heard the words “your mom is cool” whispered as I left the room.

Still, it wasn’t always easy having kids, and later teenagers, in the house, especially if the visits were unplanned or didn’t have a defined end to them. Even if you’re okay with the noise and mess that teenagers bring into your home, you may find the uncertain nature of their visits hard to handle. I spent a lot of evenings on edge because of the general anxiety caused by having extra people in the house, but I learned to put up with as much as I could, because I knew it was important for Jess to be able to invite friends over and have a relatively normal social life.

If your teen is sympathetic, it may help to sit down with him and discuss why certain ground rules are important to you. For example, if you need a quiet, safe place to escape to, it may be important for you to not have anyone upstairs where you can hear them when you retreat to the sanctuary of your bedroom. Perhaps you need the kids to clean up their messes or not cook foods with strong smells. Visits may be more tolerable if your teen limits her guests to just a couple and respects your need for the visit to end by a specified time.

As the parent, you still have a lot of control over what happens in your own house, even as your children approach adulthood. While asking your teen to make accommodations for your AS might mean that the rules at your house are stricter or stranger than those at her friends’ houses, those rules might be the difference between you being able to enjoy having your teen’s friends in the house or dreading it.

Next in the series: Am I contagious?

Asperger’s and Motherhood (Part 4)

This is the fourth in a series of posts about being a mom with Asperger’s.

If your middle school years were anything like mine, you may find yourself dreading them on behalf of your child. Middle school is an awkward time, at best. For many adult aspies, it was the time when our differences started to become very obvious to ourselves and worse, to our peers.

If your child isn’t an aspie (or even if she is), she might have a much easier time of middle school than you did. Try to be neutral about what she can expect as she prepares to make that transition and don’t be surprised if your neurotypical kid is more successful than you were.

Even if your son or daughter suffers only the usual trials of puberty and adolescence, you should be prepared for how the milestones during these years might affect you. It’s possible that your child’s first day of middle school might go great for him but end up triggering an anxiety-induced meltdown for you. Your daughter’s first school dance, big game or sleepover party may bring up memories of your own early adolescence that you’d rather forget.

When I felt this happening, I tried to remember that my daughter was a very different child than I had been. She had her own adolescent anxieties and the last thing she needed was for me to impose my own issues on her. When a crisis arose, I did my best to listen and try to understand what she was facing. This is a big challenge for aspie moms. First of all, we tend to assume that everyone thinks like we do. Empathy is one of the hardest NT qualities to “fake.” We also have a tendency to want to fix stuff when often what our kids needs in a crisis is compassion, understanding and reassurance. And love.

If you find that empathizing is a challenge, practice listening quietly. Then ask “how can I help?” or “is there something I can do that would make you feel better?”

If you have the benefit of a diagnosis, consider sharing that with your adolescent child. Disclosure is a complicated subject and each family handles it differently.

Most experts agree that a middle school age child is old enough to understand the basics of what AS is and how it makes you different from the average mom. Middle schoolers are also old enough to be asked to make simple accommodations, like telling you as concretely as possible what they need or want from you if you’re having trouble figuring it out. Of course this isn’t ideal–at times your child may protest that you’re the mom and you just know this stuff.

There are nuances to social interaction that are lost on aspies and one of them is the idea that knowing what someone is feeling suggests a higher level of caring than having to be told. This is a good opportunity to remind your child that you do care about him and that’s why you’re asking for some extra help in understanding what he needs or wants from you. Also, try to remember that all parents struggle when it comes to figuring out their adolescent children.

The middle school years also bring intense peer pressure. Being raised by an aspie mom seemed to inoculate my daughter against peer pressure to some degree. I’ve always been obliviously, even proudly, different from my peers. Peer pressure doesn’t have a lot of effect when you’re used to being on the outside looking in at your peer group. While this wasn’t something we ever talked about, I think my attitude rubbed off on Jess in positive ways. She’s always been very individualistic and even today she takes the view that if people don’t like her for who she is then it’s their loss.

Next in the series: Lurching Toward Adulthood

When All You Can Draw is a Blank

Right before starting my freshman year in high school, I spent a week visiting my college-age cousin in Brooklyn. It all felt very grown-up, with her living in the studio apartment she shared with a roommate and me on my first extended trip away from home.

She was my favorite cousin–someone I thought was smart and cool and funny–and I assumed she’d have all sorts of exciting things planned for us. Once I got settled in, she asked me, “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.” I had no idea. The city seemed impossibly big and, being from the suburbs of Connecticut, I couldn’t imagine what city people did.

She looked disappointed at my answer and that made me a little annoyed. She lived here. Shouldn’t she have a plan? What kind of person invites someone for a week-long visit with no plan?

“What kind of things are there to do?”

She looked at me like what kind of person doesn’t know what there is to do in New York?

We went for a walk around her neighborhood, then we went to paint a room in the brownstone owned by her boyfriend’s medical school professor. The professor was on vacation so we got to cook out in his miniature garden after we’d finished painting.

Throughout the day, the what do you want to do conversation came up a few more times, and each time I could tell she was growing more frustrated, while I grew more panicked.

I truly had no idea what I wanted to do. She couldn’t believe this was possible.

I couldn’t even come up with the simplest suggestion like ‘I want a cheeseburger’ or ‘I want to see the Empire State Building.’ Every time she asked what I wanted to do, my mind went completely blank and then flooded with panicked variations of what’s wrong with me?

Because she–and now her boyfriend and roommate–obviously expected me to know what I wanted to do.

Finally, as we were finishing up dinner at the professor’s brownstone, my cousin handed me the current edition of The New Yorker. “Here,” she said, “look through the events in the front and find something you want to do this week.”

“Like what?” I asked, still not getting it.

“Anything,” she replied.

I flipped through the pages, reading the listings for movies and art shows. Choosing still seemed impossible, even now that I had a finite list to pick from. Comparing each option with all the others was overwhelming, and what if I picked the wrong thing and they thought I was weird? I’d learned by then that I had weird interests for my age and gender.

I eventually put the magazine down and the three of them looked at me expectantly. “What do you guys want to do?” I asked.

“Do you like comedy?” my cousin’s roommate asked.

“Yes!” Yes, I did. I loved sitcoms and stand-up comics. In fact, before my cousin moved away, we used to spend hours in her room listening to her Steve Martin albums.

“Why didn’t you say so?” the roommate asked.

Because even though I like comedy and it was a favorite way to spend time with my cousin, it just didn’t occur to me. For an aspie, this is a familiar occurrence. It happens when someone asks me what I want to eat or what my favorite color is or where I want to go on vacation. In my head, these questions have an infinite number of possible answers and I don’t know how to begin narrowing the possibilities down.

The same is true if someone hands me a piece of paper and says “draw something.” My immediate reaction is “but what?” I’m an avid writer, but I never sit down at the computer unless I have a firm idea of what I want to write. To open a blank document with no idea of where I plan to start writing is unthinkable. It terrifies me and would be completely unproductive. I’d be better off taking a nap because at least then I wouldn’t be beating myself up over how bad I am at coming up with spontaneously creative ideas.

“Just think” is a common phrase of encouragement when someone draws a blank. But for aspies, the harder we try, the more elusive the answer becomes. The biggest problem is that when I “just think” in those situations, I’m devoting 90% of my thoughts and energy to the fact that I can’t think of an answer and how stupid that must be making me look.

I there’s a relatively straightforward explanation for why aspies have difficulty with things like deciding what to order off a menu at a new restaurant. The thought process involved in these types of decisions requires us to apply emotional discrimination to arrive at a choice.

For example, in choosing what I want from a menu, I’ll first eliminate the things I don’t like. Then I have to decide what I’m in the mood for. Pasta or soup? A burger or a salad? This usually involves considering what I’ve had for other meals that day or even in recent days, because I like to balance my meals.

It also takes into consideration what the other people at the table are having. I don’t like to order the same thing as anyone else. If possible I’d like my entree to be complementary to my husband’s so we can share. If he gets steak, I’ll get a vegetarian dish or seafood. Finally, I’ll factor in what the restaurant specializes in, giving those dishes more weight based on the reasoning that a steakhouse isn’t going to have good fish (which is probably faulty logic in many cases).

This process of elimination usually leaves me with a few choices, any of which I’d be perfectly happy eating. I could ask the waitress to bring any one of my “finalists” and whichever showed up, I’d be content with it. But restaurants don’t work like that, so I often end up choosing at random. The waitress is standing by the table and everyone else has ordered and I’ll simply pick the choice I was thinking about last or the one my eyes happen to fall on when I look back at the menu.

At restaurants that I’ve visited more than a few times, I don’t have this problem. I order the same thing every time. Olive Garden? Spaghetti and meatballs. Cleopatra’s? The al meriam plate. Rooftop Pizza? The number 6 pizza with artichoke hearts, goat cheese and sundried tomatoes.

A lot of aspies have food sensitivities, which lead to eating a limited range of foods. But for others–those of us with few or no issues about with what type of foods we can eat– the tendency to eat the same thing over and over may have something to do with how hard it is to choose, how much work we have to put into identifying what we like and want at any given moment.

As an adult I’ve learned some strategies that make me look less clueless. If I’m visiting someone’s house and they ask me what I want to drink, I’ve learned to ask, “What do you have?” This has the dual benefit of narrowing down my choices and giving me a few extra seconds to process the choice I’m going to have to make. Same thing with “what do you want to do?” The easiest reply is “what are you in the mood for?” or “what’s fun to do on a Saturday night around here?” NTs have lots of preferences, often strong ones, and are generally happy to lead.

I’m not suggesting that aspies need to be wishy-washy followers, but when you have trouble making choices, a little help from NT friends or relatives helps shorten the list of possibilities and take away those long terrifying moments of your brain chanting I don’t know over and over again.

How did the rest of that vacation go? My cousin and her friends took me to an improv show in a dark little basement comedy club the next night and I loved it. We went to the Museum of Natural History (I fantasized about living in a museum a kid), a street market, an old art film, and an erotic bakery. Her roommate let me help her conduct a phone survey for her sociology class, counting to every tenth name in a random section of the phonebook and dialing the numbers for her. My cousin’s boyfriend took me to spend a day at the psychiatric facility at Bellevue Hospital where he was studying as part of his medical school work at NYU. His professor (whose house we had painted) showed me the film “Everybody Rides the Carousel” about Erik Erikson’s eight stages of life.

Then I got a tour of the massive medical library and the human dissection lab which had actual corpses in various stages of dissection. There was even a cross-section of a penis in a jar, which was morbidly fascinating for a teenage girl. For an entire week, nobody looked at me like I was a weirdo for enjoying picking names out of a phone book or staring into the chest cavity of a corpse or being fascinated by Erik Erikson. It was one of the best weeks of my teenage years.

And a post-postscript: When I searched for “Everybody Rides the Carousel” I found this clip and was reminded about why I was so fascinated by the film. It has a certain nonlinear, demented quality to it that I still find hard to unravel.