One of the greatest myths about autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is that people on the spectrum lack emotion and empathy. Growing up, I always knew I was different. I wasn’t the best at making friends, but I somehow seemed to manage to develop meaningful relationships along the way.
When I was 18 years old, I met someone who would change my life forever. Ours is a story that defies the myths that autism and love cannot coexist.
In December of 2014, I was officially diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. December is my “autism anniversary,” and Isabella, my wife of 16 years, shares our new journey together in this beautifully written letter that shows autistic people can love and are worth being loved.
I am writing you this letter almost a year from the time that you were first diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. I just wanted to let you know how extremely proud I am of you as your wife.
First, because you were brave enough to recognize you needed to get evaluated and seek a professional diagnosis when you knew certain things weren’t quite adding up. So many are yet to take that step, so I really applaud you!
Secondly, I am inspired by how much work you’re doing to learn about yourself. I heard you say in the interview with on Autism Live that you have to learn who you are again at the age of 37. I can’t even imagine what that must be like. I applaud you for just having the courage to take that big step and embrace who you are — “fearfully and wonderfully made” — and being OK with who God created you to be and using all your God-given gifts and talents to learn more about the world you have became a part of.
Your response is going to help fill some big gaps, and you’re already becoming such a huge voice for a platform that is often times forgotten about and never ever talked about. I see all the work you’re doing and how committed you are to autism spectrum disorder issues. Your work in the autism world is going to make huge footprints and lead the way for so many who are already a part of it or will become a part of it.
One thing I realized once we started this journey is that I am having to learn who you are all over again. I have known you for 18 plus years, and we will have been married for 15 years in January next year. While your diagnosis does mean having to learn a new you, I am still googly-eyed over you!
Some would question me and say, “Wow, aren’t you concerned this isn’t the same man who you married?” And I would say, “No, this is exactly the man I married. We have just arrived at a point in our life where layers are being peeled off and growth is taking place. Our package comes with ASD as part of that growth, and I’m OK with that.”
As a matter of fact, this has helped to answer some questions I used to have and would put it in the “Lamar is so weird” category. Now, with the help of therapy, books and you teaching me more about who you are, I’m able to understand the “weird.” And believe it or not, it’s teaching me so many things about myself as well. Is it a challenge? Yes, but it’s also helping me to grow.
I especially liked how in one of your articles you talked about just seeing or recognizing that a coin has two sides and having the ability to see the other perspective. That was really an eye-opener for me, because I think we say this all the time about so many things. But in reality, living it can be hard because we’re always thinking that only our perspective is the “right” one. I have to confess that I am not always right, and you aren’t “weird.”
We’re just wired differently, and I know we compliment each other well as we continue on the journey. And it can only get better.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think to myself, “Wow, when I was doing this or when I responding like that to Lamar, I had no idea how much I was stretching you beyond your comfort zone.” I want you to know I am really sorry from the bottom of my heart. I read and re-read your articles you’ve written for The Mighty, and I sometimes think about encounters we had. And it makes realize how small I really was in some of those situations. I want you to know my ignorance to you being on the spectrum isn’t an excuse, but your confirmed diagnosis has permanently removed all my ignorance. And it’s teaching me so many ways that I can find the right balance in making your journey and our journey together everything I believe God intended for it to be.
I love you so much, and my life would not be the same if you weren’t a part of it!
#youarestrong #youareawesome #youaregreat
Isabella M. Hardwick
*A version of this post appears on The Mighty