That Autism Memory Loop

Lots of us live in the past. I spend too much time there, in the what if’s and should have’s that only make me feel bad. Regret is that pet you buy but you can’t take care of and never leaves your memory.

I live with the revolving door of my autistic daughter’s memory. She constantly brings back conversations, people, moments from her very early childhood. Sometimes I recognize the memory and sometimes I don’t. It’s a game for her to blurt out occasional random phrases and I have to guess what part of her childhood they are from. I would rather just forget.

Whatever merciful mechanism that our brain has to forget, her’s is broken. Unlike the movie Groundhog’s Day, she isn’t moving through these moments but stuck in them.

I hear lots of snippets of movie dialogue, old tv show theme songs, names of preschool teachers and long, anguishing list of reprimands from family and caregivers. “you stay OUT of that refrigerator…put that DOWN…STOP….Get OUT of that chair….stay AWAY from the garbage…you do NOT hit your sister….you do NOT hit your brother…hands OFF the curtains…”  Always repeated in a grumbling voice like a monster.

She remembers that I once smoked, that I cried at my cousin Kathy’s funeral and of course that my Father died in 1997. “your dad died” She remembers every death and every dead pet and there will be long lists of who is in heaven.

Grandpa Frank is in heaven, Your friend Eric’s mom is in heaven, Aunt Joyce is in heaven, Weedy is in heaven, Saskia is in heaven, Peggy is in heaven, Logan is in heaven, Grandpa Bob is in heaven, Nana is in heaven…..you’re sad.

I get the sweet, playing memories.  The tickles, the motorboat in the pool, the ice cream sprinkles. Things that she still wants. Because she’s five, five forever. Even the sweet memories feel like crushed hope, to a time when I thought she may recover or be cured or treated or whatever I was telling myself.

I hear conflicting things about memory.  Iv’e read that each time a  memory is conjured that particular memory of the event is strengthened.  I’ve also read that when you remember something it is a discreet event and your experience in the meantime changes the memory just slightly.

Many times I have tried to take her to a psychotherapists in an attempt to break through the memory-go-round thinking that maybe she had experienced some particular trauma and she has been trying to tell me about it. Her expressive language is so limited and I just don’t know….Most of the therapists shrug when I ask if maybe she could be reliving a particular trauma. “could be”

We were in a restaurant the other day, a diner, and a overly enthusiastic Grandmother was scolding her grandson every 2.3 seconds. Sit UP…DON’T touch…NO kicking….on and on and on. My daughter was thrilled at this authoritarian voice and repeated everything this woman had been saying under her breath with a huge smile on her face. Usually I am embarrassed when my daughter mocks someone but I was hoping that this woman would hear her.

Do you know how you sound, woman?  Do you realize that your scolding is so much worse than the indignity of watching a small child swing his legs, or flip around his menu? You want to tone it down a bit so we can all enjoy our shitty food, lady? But I know that my daughter is only really smiling because this scolding it reminds her of how we spoke to her when she was so very young.

Most parents pay for their mistakes in one form or another. In small moments of regret when their kid stops talking to them, or when they see another child joyfully playing with a toy that they refused to buy or their own parents have the right words for their child…we all have to admit that we are occasionally wrong.

Maybe the constant playback theater my daughter is providing me is meaningless. She just likes the way her voice sounds when she makes certain words and I am attributing meaning to them that isn’t intended. I’ll probably never know and, at least for today, she isn’t telling me.

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