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Let’s kick off Season 2 of #AutisticAF Out Loud podcast… by taking a risk.
There’s not much research on sexual abuse of autistic children… much less adults.
Maybe funding sources aren’t ready… yet… to stop trying to cure us. And study our lives.
So here’s my story. Someone’s gotta start talking…
I’ve gotta warn you it’s rough.
Some was too hard for me to read. So I used an assistive voice synthesizer… Weirdly enough, it’s robotic voice moves me.
If you’re autistic, love one, or especially parent one…
You need to hear this story.
But sexual assault is traumatic. If you experienced it… or love someone who has… this graphic episode could disturb you. In the US, the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline offers support at 1-800-656-4673. Day or night. You’ll find a link in the transcript. Also further reading.
“You’re not hearing me!”
Quietly… I hate it when she pauses then goes all quiet…
“I think I am.”
She looks me straight in the eye. I know it’s supposed to calm me… assure me she’s quite serious….
Not good timing. Eye contact makes me uneasy. I try my usual focus-on-the-eyebrow fake. But I can feel myself building…
Maybe she notices my anxiety. Maybe not. But she continues. “Please… tell me again what happened.”
Therapy feels like an elaborate mind fuck. An expensive elaborate mind fuck.
I’m 29. I’m smart. I know it…
It’s fucking Dungeons & Dragons. A role-playing mind game for two. With an all-powerful dungeon master making up rules as she goes. In secret…
And then… there’s you.
You’re not allowed to win. This is my third try with a new therapist. I don’t get this process…
I sigh. “Look. Nothing really happened. I didn’t get raped. It was just… weird.”
I slump back in the stuffed chair. I grunt, “Now I’m sorry I told you.”
She leans into her desk. “It was weird.” That freaking compassionate mask. Like a funeral director. “Please… try me again. From the beginning. I want to understand.”
I glare at some imaginary audience up in the left corner of her office ceiling. Then roll my eyes and shrug for their amusement.
“He was sitting in the recliner. In his underwear. Sipping scotch. With a book in his lap…”
Physical memories… the light… the quiet in the house. In my mind, I’m there in that moment….
She clears her throat, “And then…”
She startles me. I had lost her office for a moment, forgotten where I was. I focus. Then snap, “That’s when it got weird. Like I said.”
Her eyes widen. “I want you to know that I want very much to hear you.”
Then, restrained, “But I want you to be aware of your volume. You may not realize you’re getting louder.”
“I suspect people might hear you through these thin walls.”
“Why not imagine we’re talking in your living room… with other people in the house. We want to hear each other. But no one else needs to hear our private chat.”
“And, please, when you can, tell me… What happened next.”
“Okay… Okay.” I rub my eyes. Over and over. I see stars… Stim.
Clear my throat.
Then fast as I can…
“He said I didn’t know how beautiful I was. How I could probably sleep in a different bed every night for the rest of my life. But that would be wrong. And that I knew that would be wrong. He and my mother had raised me to know that would be wrong. He asked me if I was still a virgin. I said, “yeah.” But, I lied… sort of. He said, good. He said he wanted to tell me something before I went off to college…”
“Then he got up.”
Her whisper… “What next.”
A dark rush of words… a vomit of my words…
“He got up…. got close. I could smell the scotch on his breath… he said not just women would want me… some men too… I would have to make a choice… like he made a choice… then he pinned me and kissed me and rammed his tongue down my throat and groaned and began rubbing his dick against me I could feel it through his briefs… it was wet…
“And I went numb and I didn’t move and I was silent inside and there was a flash of light…
“He looked at me. That’s all. Looked at me. And it was like he wasn’t there… again. Like the other times. This weird absent look in his eye and he said that I was the only one. The only one he ever felt that with….”
I’m fighting to keep my eyes open.
I guess I snap at her… again. “We went over this before. Okay?…
“I don’t remember. I don’t remember. I was upstairs in my bedroom in this weird silence. In the dark. Still in my work uniform. Just sitting. All I could think over and over was I stank and I needed a shower….
“It was weird. That’s all. Weird as fuck maybe. But it wasn’t rape. I READ Deliverance. THAT’s rape. I dunno what this was….
“But I can’t get over how weird it was. I keep thinking about it….
“And then. The freaking nightmares. Him in that chair. Back. Not dead. In total control again. Drunk. And rotting. Rotting in that chair. Flesh just rotting off his bones….
“And I’m frozen in place. I can’t move…”
I hear my voice. A hurt child’s voice….
She sat, quiet. Looking out the window. Kind of awkward pause. I’m thinking she’s tired of my shit. Trying to figure out the “professional” way to say, Get the fuck over it…
“John.” AGAIN with that fucking pause.
I want to HIT something. ANYTHING. Stop with these fucking pauses.
“John, What if he had done that… to your sister?”
Like a thunderclap. Then someone is SCREAMING in the room…
“I WOULD’VE FUCKING KILLED HIM.ARE YOU KIDDING…? I WOULD’VE FUCKING KILLED HIM…”
“John. Stop. Sit down. You’ve got to stop. Please… Sit.” Is she reaching for the phone?
I snap to. I’m standing. I’m not in my chair. My arms are waving.
I sit down…
I finally hear me. I don’t need her answer. I know.
I’m stunned. I start to fall asleep…
Back then? I always felt the urge to sleep in emotional distress. Who knows. I might’ve lost consciousness a moment or two… I had with other therapists.
So I start apologizing. There are reassurances back and forth. She gets me water. I sip. My throat hurts.
“Are you feeling better?” I nod.
“Good. I want you to listen to me for a moment.” I nod.
Having trouble following what she’s saying. I say, “I’m having trouble staying awake.”
“I see that. You’ve got a lot to process….” She looks down, thinking. Then speaks… slow, even…
“You came to me with several areas that concerned you. Your career… your relationship… your isolation. But when I asked you to pick the first, top one that you wanted to work with… You chose this memory.”
Silence. Heavy. Like a duty I’ve got to fill…
“Yeah.” Hoarse whisper.
“You want me to tell you what I think. You want to know, is this event in your life important…? Or should you… move on.” Glancing at her admission notes on me. Tiniest of smug smiles… she got it right…
“Honestly, I think you know.” Then says, “I’d like to ask you something… Hard…. May I?”
Awkward silence. “Um. Okay.”
“Let’s say we were talking about a girl. A young woman. You understand how difficult, how destructive that could be. If her father touched her… sexually.
“Even something that some might call, ‘minor.’ Let’s say, intentionally brushed her breast.” She waited for myb nod. “Especially, if it happened over and over…? Different people might call it different harsh things… but you understand. Am I right?”
“You were his son. You were 19. Beginning to explore adult, male sexuality.”
“So… Do you think… that fairly explicit sexual activity you just described… with your father… That would be easier for you because he didn’t actually penetrate you…? Do you think it would be less… less destructive for you… because you were a male?”
And then… things got real, real clear.
And even more confusing…
Because what she DIDN’T know to say… what NO ONE knew to say to me back in 1983…
I was his autistic son.
And of course, this was one incident. One individual. One act…
And there were other acts. Other individuals. From age 3 on…
Everyone’s seen autistic children’s agony, what annoyed adults casually label “meltdowns.” In social situations. In stores. When senses get maxed out by noises or smells or atmospheric stress…
Imagine an autistic child attacked. By a friend, a schoolmate, a parent. The searing betrayal of trust… incomprehensible to our naive, autistic neurologies.
Now… Understand that raging, fear-filled child still lived in me. Even as I sat, now adult, before a rather gifted therapist. Even as I doused her with the brusque sarcasm and fragile arrogance of a former “gifted” child…
Truth to tell, he still remains in me. Mere moments… and one too many stressors… away…
As I near 70.
We as a community don’t talk about how common sexual assault of autists is. Children. Teens. Adults.
Guilt. Shame. Fear.
⬆⬆⬆These⬆⬆⬆ are the reasons. I believe. The community of autists… their families… their caretakers. We don’t discuss this.
Sometimes, it seems to me that every autist I know experienced sexual abuse or assault. My story? At best average.
But even, what can we call it… average sexual abuse destroys a childhood… an adulthood… a life… many lives…
And through us… sometimes other lives.
Let’s talk about that….
Please share in the comments. If it’s your time to do so… You may do so anonymously on my blog… and abusive comments are filtered.
More about our community in Part 2, “The Cavalry Never Comes” Stories from one autistic life, with abuse symptoms to look for and suggestions for protecting your loved ones.
National Sexual Assault Hotline (free, confidential)