Welcome to my page on autism! I was diagnosed as being autistic at the age of 48. Everything I thought I understood about autism turned out to be wildly inaccurate. Everything I read focused only on deficits, many of which didn't define me at all. I'm very well aware of my deficiencies, but I'm equally aware of my gifts. I found nothing medical about what is good about my autistic brain. And then I came upon a video by Dr. Jac den Houting and this video set me on a trajectory to learn about a movement by autistic adults to reshape how we are viewed. (Click here to watch the video.) This narrative offers my perspectives on what my life is like as an autistic adult (and what it was like as an undiagnosed autistic girl.)
During the pandemic, when everything shut down, despite the horror of everything, I had never felt such relief in my life that everything was stopping. For the first time in my life, everything became quiet and I had never relaxed so much in my life. I felt guilt about having these feelings and kept them firmly to myself.
At the same time, I started to work on my next opera, ALICE, An Operatic Wonderland. ALICE is a comedic adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Our adaptation highlights Alice's search for her self-identity. She feels lost and alone in a world with rules that make no sense and with characters who seem strange to her. Never had I felt more like Alice than as we created this opera.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was a book I fell in love with at the age of three, the same age I fell irrevocably in love with music. In retrospect, they emerged as places of safety for me. Wonderland - or daydreaming - became my way to navigate through life and give myself breaks from a world that felt far from "normal" to me. Music was also my safe haven. I began creating music at the age of 8. I found out that expressing myself through music was so much easier than trying to formulate words. Many autistics struggle with communicating verbally. I was no different. I was a quiet girl with a universe of thoughts and emotions rolling around in my mind. I often felt that I had no outlet as most people around me spoke in ways that didn’t make sense to me. I felt lonely a lot in childhood. I had friends, but, like most autistic girls, I found myself “masking”, playing roles to fit in. No one really knew me fully. And that is a very lonely place to exist. I am not alone in this. This experience is nearly universal for autistic girls and women.
When the world began to awaken after the pandemic, I was really not doing well at all. I felt incapable of resuming my life as it used to be. I began to break down and I couldn’t understand why.
When I was finally diagnosed as autistic, I felt relief, joy, grief. Relief that I finally understood myself, that my husband could understand me better. That I could understand where I fit in in this world. That I could actively look for others like me. That I could finally be part of a community where I didn’t have to “mask.” Where I could finally explain myself better to friends who are not autistic. The relief led me to a joy I had never before experienced.
And then came the grief. As I began to reprocess every aspect of my life through this new lens, the grief over the many difficulties I have survived threatened to swallow me whole. I am not alone in having survived difficulties. Nine out of ten autistic women have survived sexual violence, as much as 75% of autistic children become the victims of bullies, a low percentage of us are able to maintain consistent work (as low as 16 percent), a too high percentage of us commit suicide. After my diagnosis, I had to look back at everything I had survived through the lens of understanding myself as autistic. I finally understood that I am no less valuable and that my brain just works very differently from most people in the world. Suddenly, the violence, the cruelty, and the bullying felt even more cruel to my younger self. I turned heavily to my husband and to a new community of fellow autistic adults. (what an incredible community). I shed many tears and, as always, found comfort in nature, love, friendship, and mostly through music. ALICE became my greatest creation because so much of who I am went into the music. This opera became my most authentic expression to date. And I am ever grateful for my creative team (my husband, Zane Corriher, and close friend, Kelly Balmaceda) for standing next to me during this time of intense self-discovery.
Being autistic isn’t difficult. I love being autistic. Living in a world that is built for allistics (non-autistic people), however, makes being autistic very difficult. The world, as I often tell friends and family, is too loud, too chaotic, too intense. I feel everything, very deeply, more deeply than most. I hear things with much more sensitive ears. Lights are much brighter for me. Artificial lights are unbearable. I often wear sunglasses inside. I struggle to drive at night. The oncoming lights are painful. Loud noises hurt my ears.
Nature, music, animals, friends, family, my amazing child, my incredible partner: these are my everything. I am beyond grateful to have supportive people in my life. And, I think often about how many autistic children and adults are so misunderstood. And this reality makes me want to speak out about being autistic. So that anyone reading this will understand that autistic people are capable. Some of us might be non-verbal, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have so much to say. Our brains are built differently. And that allows us to understand the world in ways that other people can't. Read here about what makes our brains different.
There’s a symbol next to the title of this page. This symbol represents autistic pride. You will never see a puzzle piece on anything I create or write. There are many organizations that work against our best interests. Most of those organizations use the puzzle piece. We are just as capable as anyone else. We need different tools and we communicate differently. We think differently. We are not something to be figured out. We are not people to be “cured.” We are not our deficits. We have so many gifts and so many strengths. If there’s an autistic person in your life, I promise you that they want to help you understand them. We work so hard to understand the rest of the world. Read here about the Milton’s Double Empathy Problem.
Neurodiversity is a beautiful thing. There's nothing "wrong" with autistic people. I'm not wrong. My brain isn't autistic because of any drug, or any mistake, or something that went wrong in my development. And I wish that the medical community would stop writing about us in these terms. My brain is different and a natural part of the diversity that exists throughout every aspect of our existence.
There's a saying: "If you've met one autistic person, you've met one autistic person." There are many things we share, but each of us is different. My brain just so happens to think in music. It always has and it always will. So, I compose. And I’m grateful to be able to share what I create. My music is my greatest connection to a world that, too often, doesn’t make sense to me. I feel most connected to the world around me through music. The rest of the time, I feel like an alien. But I love my “alien” brain. I see so much beauty in the world. There is so much to see and sense and feel and hear. For instance, there are a thousand meditations in the sky. You need only go outside and look up to receive its gifts.
Thank you for visiting. Thank you for reading. And I hope that my narrative and these carefully selected resources will expand your understanding of what it means to be autistic, even if just a little bit.. 💜