• Jess Elkins

How I Learned I Have Autism

This picture is beautiful, haunting, yet faerie like

A note from the author- As with all things, this story must be read with context. When I showed this piece to someone for their thoughts, I was told the tone of it was detached and apathetic, and thus it would be hard for readers to relate me in the story.

This lack of emotion is intentional. This story was written by a teenager who’s learned how to feel again, but when this story takes place was a time when I felt hardly anything at all. The me described in this story was an emotionally repressed, medically depressed, very very lonely kid - thus the apathy. I hope this explanation helps give context for the seeming detachment in this piece. Happy reading.

Living Outdoors

When my parents first brought up the concept of wilderness therapy with me, I was 13. We were sitting in my therapist’s office, with my therapist overseeing the conversation. My sessions were normally only me and my therapist, so in the back of my mind I had known there was some sort of big something to be talked about. But what, I didn’t know.

“Jessica, we know that for a while you’ve been struggling depression and making friends for a long time now, and your mother and I have talked to your therapist, and we think there’s an outdoor program in Utah that could really help you.” I had been struggling for a long time, years in fact, and going someplace outdoorsy sounded pretty fun. So I agreed.

The Wilderness I ended up at was in fact in Utah, the same one my parents had had in mind. As I live in Miami, Florida, my dad and I flew out, and spent the night in a Hilton Hotel. The next morning brought a large white van with two in-their-20’s waiting for me in the valet area found in front of all hotels. I kissed and hugged my dad tightly goodbye, grabbed my royal blue suitcase, and got into the van.

I spent ten weeks and two days in Wilderness. While there, I saw and talked with a therapist named Jamie once a week, and it was through my parents talking to her my mom and dad became sure enough of my diagnosis to tell me. However, seeing as our only communication during my time there was through letters, they evidently thought it would be better to tell me about my autism in person.

Even without them telling me, I still had big news: I would not be returning home after Wilderness, which I had assumed I would be. Instead, I would be going to a therapeutic boarding school, where I would continue to work on my social skills, depression, and emotional repression. But that's another story. (Fun fact- My parents told me about the boarding school over Jamie's phone, which was the only phone I had interacted with for two months.)

The Reveal

I learned I was autistic on the first of the two days intermediate my being picked up from Wilderness and being dropped off at a therapeutic boarding school. I remember that moment well. We were sitting in a large white mall in the food court area, my parents across from me. I was scarfing down Panda Express’s’ famous orange chicken, and it was during the scarfing my parents told me.

“Jess, you’re going to be going to a boarding school. The reason you’re going to this specific boarding school is it specializes in girls who have autism, which we found out you have.”

“Now,” my dad said, clearly wanting me to understand this, “this doesn't mean you have the same issues these girls will have, or that you’re the same. But you will have some stuff in common with them, which is why we think this place will help you.”

“That makes a lot of sense actually,” I said sagely, and continued scarfing. My parents shuffled in their white plastic seats worriedly, and also a bit confusedly.

“Are you,” my mom paused, “mad that we didn’t tell you sooner? About your autism?”

I paused, impaled orange chicken in hand.

“A little, I guess,” I said, biting half the chicken off my fork, "But not really. I mean, yes, I’m kinda a little sorta miffed, but I get it. It’s fine. I get it.” I swallowed the bite.

A somewhat pained expression crossed my mom’s face.

“We would have told you sooner, but we just wanted to make sure this diagnosis was right. Think about it, thinking you have something but it turns out to be wrong.”

“No, of course,” I said. “That would’ve been awful.”

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