By Judy Endow, MSW
It is no secret: Early diagnosis leads to early intervention for children on the autism spectrum, AND early intervention translates to much better outcomes for kids in terms of fitting in and leading as near “normal” a life as possible as they grow up. But what if you are an adult and have missed out on the early intervention? I am here to tell you that you are never too old too learn and grow, and no matter what your age or circumstance, you can have a better life tomorrow than you have today. Besides that, you can have lots of fun in the process!
I have learned so many things after I turned 50. I love looking at different kinds of art, and it never occurred to me before 50 to visit art museums. I met a new friend a few years back who also likes art. When I visited her, we went to an art museum. This was so helpful to me because after having gone to one art museum, I had the picture of visiting art museums stored in my head. I was then able to visit other art museums – even places in my own city that I had never gone to! It is important to me as a person with autism to keep having new experiences because I need to see what something looks like in order to put it into my repertoire of things I can do.
It’s great to visit art museums! And besides, if you want to get therapeutic about it, one could say that having new experiences in the community allows an autistic person to practice social skills – and heaven knows they surely need practice! I can say this because I am autistic, and if you hung out with me, it would not take you long at all to figure out that I still need practice.
My social skills, like those of many autistics, are not always so great. I have had to directly teach social skills to kids I’ve worked with, and as an adult I have had to intentionally learn social skills. But there is a funny thing about social skills – a great social skill pulled out in the wrong context can turn out badly! So, just learning social skills isn’t enough. I find that the more opportunities I have in social arenas, the more comfortable I become in venturing out and in embracing novel experiences. Of course, it is best to do this in the company of good friends.
Being over 50 has some advantages. One advantage is that I no longer feel the need to inhibit my natural reactions when with good friends. It is quite liberating to be old enough to feel I no longer need to do this. It has greatly decreased my anxiety. Besides, I know when I am with my friends they will tell me when I am going too far. Brenda will say, “Judy, you need to inhibit,” at which point I do and we go on enjoying our time together.
One time I visited Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, with my friends Brenda and Ruth. There was a lovely Chihuly exhibit of blown glass and Chiculy paintings. We stopped at the gift shop on our way out. Ruth especially liked a particular Chihuly painting and was trying to take a picture of it. She commented that she didn’t know if the picture would turn out because of the glare of the sun on the painting. I did what I could to help. I moved the painting (!!) so she could get a better picture.
This is a great example of pulling up a good behavior (being helpful to a friend) in the wrong context only to find it doesn’t really work so well. I discovered that in art museums patrons are not permitted to rearrange the works of art even if the intent is to help your friend get a better picture. In fact, most of the time picture-taking is not permitted, but since this was a gift shop, picture taking was allowed.
Walking down the staircase to the exit allowed us one last glimpse of a beautiful hanging Chihuly sculpture made of numerous round balls that reminded me of Christmas ornaments. I exclaimed, “Those are the best balls I have ever seen!”
As we continued down the stairs, one of my friends responded, “I’ve seen better!”
And that is how it came to pass that I can say that going to art museums with friends, even with autism in the mix, can conclude with the words” … and a good time was had by all.”
Pictures from Chihuly web site with these direct urls: