My sixteen-year-old foster daughter is Autistic, and though she understands most of what people say, she has great difficulty getting her interior thoughts out into the exterior world in the form of speech. She struggles to verbally connect with the society around her. She also constantly repeats what people say to her—this is a condition called echolalia.
Her big blue eyes are sharp: she sizes up a newly introduced person within minutes and--drawing quick conclusions about their personalities from looks, mannerisms, and the timbre of their voices--she gives her new acquaintance a shockingly accurate nickname. The names she gives are based on characters from TV shows or cartoons, and while the gender may not match up, the personality traits are always there. And she will seldom, thereafter, use your real name. I will forever be "Betty", from "The Rugrats", an obnoxious but well-meaning woman with twin girls. I prefer to think she calls me "Betty" not so much for being obnoxious, though I admit I can be like that, but because I now have "twin" sixteen-year-old girls, as my biological daughter is the same age.
My foster daughter nicknamed herself "Mowgli", after the orphan boy raised by a variety of animals in "The Jungle Book." This makes me think that perhaps she sees herself as lost in a confusing jungle, raised by creatures very unlike her, while bravely making the best of things no matter how hard life gets.
Mowgli is a very different little bunny. Nevertheless, one way in which she is most unique, to me, has nothing to do with her disabilities. Even nicknaming people is not unheard of for people with Autism, as they like to assign personal meanings to the bewildering world around them.
No, one of the things most unique about Mowgli is she never seems to get lost. She's a two-legged GPS. I, on the other hand, once lost my motorcycle in the ginormous parking lot at the Castleton Square Mall, the biggest shopping mall in Indianapolis, and had to search for about four hours before I found it. And I still get lost in the parking lot at the grocery store.
I ask Mowgli all the time, "Where did we park?" She points and then leads the way to our car as unerringly as a compass needle points to magnetic North.
She also knows where every McDonalds is located in the city of Anchorage. I swear. Ask her.
"Would you point in the direction of the nearest McDonalds?" I ask. She stabs the air with authority. I turn around and drive in that direction, and sure enough, there's the golden arches. Amazing.
"Large caramel frappe, please," she tells me in her crisp, singsong voice.
How about you? What can you do that other people don't seem to do as well, or can't do at all?
Can you multiply factions in your head? Do wild animals come to you for help? Would you please leave a comment and tell me in what way you are unique?