Processing Traumatic Memories While Being Autistic

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Sometimes my memories are on repeat in my head. Unfortunately, it is never my positive memories, it is always my trauma. It’s the deepest, saddest, darkest times I can remember. The first memory I have is living through a tornado.

I was almost 3 ½ years old and we lost our home in the tornado. We were in the dead center of the path. I can vividly describe to you the day even though it has been nearly 40 years. I watched Scooby Doo on television in my mom and dad’s room.

It was Memorial Day in the 80’s, so my dad was home and not at work. It was so hot; we had camped out the day in my parents’ bedroom watching cartoons because it was the only room with an air conditioning unit in the window.

I remember my mom coming into the room and struggling to turn off the air conditioner in an effort to hear the scanner in the room. Before she could successfully switch it off, the power went out, we heard the sirens from the firehouse, my dad carried me as he ran downstairs past the first floor then basement.

My dad and I stood at the bottom of the stairs in the basement staring out a small window and I watched the tornado suck the top off of a nearby Catholic church. I remember thinking that if the storm would break the church, a place of God, there was no hope for me. My dad screamed for my mom, as she had stopped at the top of the basement to try to call our older neighbors (her best friend) on the phone to warn her. The lines were already down.

My mom’s feet landed on the floor of the basement and all I remember was the intense sound of it all, almost comparable to a train racing above our heads. Everything shook around us. My parents held me tight between them to shelter me from debris and the wind. I remember hearing the wind, it sounded like it was screaming. Then suddenly, I couldn’t hear well and our house went dark.

My parents climbed the basement stairs and found that we were stuck inside the house. I remember not being able to hear my mom clearly, as she panicked to try to exit the house because they were worried about the house’s electrical connections.

Our house imploded, which means, the floors and the ceilings sucked inwards making the exit through any doors or to go down a hallway impossible. My parents went to a window and my mom held me as my dad broke it outwards and pushed the record table in-front of it so we could climb out. My parents saw a neighbor who immediately came over and they handed me out the window. Then my dad came out the window. My mom was on the shorter side and I remember it taking her additional time to climb out the window. I was so scared she would be stuck inside. I stood where the neighbor had placed me. I looked down and I was standing on top of a small roof.

I looked around me and examined the neighborhood I lived in filled with huge trees. These trees were literally over 100 years old, but they were all gone, there wasn’t one tree to my left or right. Normally when I would go outside, I couldn’t see the sun, because of the trees. Now, feeling the suns bright shine was alarming. Almost all the houses, to my left and right, were gone too. It was as if a bulldozer ran over the whole street and didn’t stop for anything.

As I stood there, I could hear people screaming and crying and I saw my severely bruised neighbors try to find loved ones in the rubble. My parents did not know what to do, so we started to walk down the street towards my grandmother’s because she lived in the trailer park down the road and my dad was very worried.

I complained as we walked quickly towards the trailer park that my ears hurt, my mom then discovered that my ears were full of debris. She did her best to remove it and cleaned them when we got access to a washroom. I did later go to my pediatrician and a hearing specialist to check for damage, luckily, it was not severe.

My grandmother’s trailer was untouched, but everyone was very devastated. My parents left me with my grandmother while they went to help neighbors and friends. I remember my grandmother making me spaghetti-o’s and letting me sleep in bed with her. I would later find out that my best friend (the little neighborhood boy I played with every day, died because a chest fell on him and crushed his body).

I have never shaken the memory of the storm. I have blocked many memories after out, I don’t remember living with my grandmother for the months we did until my dad got a trailer to put it on our property while we wanted for them to rebuild the house. I vaguely remember them building our house, but most of my memories are after we moved into the house. For years, every time there was a storm, I would empty my school bookbag, fill it with my most prized possessions and sit in front of our basement door with my bookbag until the storm would pass. Every storm, every time, for years. My mom did not believe in psychiatric doctors – so I was never taken to one. This went on for the entire time I was a child, it wasn’t until I was about 19 that I was able to control my emotions to not pack a bag when a storm would occur.

Sometimes this memory plays on repeat in my head. I guess because it is my earliest memory and has shaped my perspective of life and storms. I have been told that my memory of the event is impeccable, but I think that is probably because I heard my mother retell the story throughout the years as well. I was also asked about it multiple times by school counselors, I imagine now because of how it shaped my perspective and my peers. At the time, it always confused me as to why adults only want to talk about the saddest memories.

Anne Brown

Anne spent most of her life feeling misunderstood until she was diagnosed with Autism later in life. Everything started to eventually make sense, even more so, when her family was all diagnosed with ASD and they begin this new journey together. She wants to write about all of this because sometimes one’s struggles are silent and only through efforts towards inclusion can we all be more comfortable to communicate our struggles. And as someone who is rejection sensitive, she often fails to communicate her struggles because she anticipates that her struggles will lead to further rejection and the cycle continues. She hopes that sharing her vulnerabilities leads to at least one person better understanding themselves or an Autistic loved one. She is looking forward to sharing more specifics about her struggles as a neurodiverse family residing in Pennsylvania.

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