During the years when Kiki is growing up, Ira is working on her college degree. It seems to take forever. Rather than rush to get through it, Ira gets into it. This is my life now, she decides, and she directs all of her perfectionist tendencies into her work. It pays off in terms of grades and that dopamine satisfaction of goals met and jobs well done, but it has costs in terms of stress, overall well-being, and life balance.
Ira doesn’t care. She figures that she can achieve balance later, once her good grades are established.
At one point, one of her mentors at college gently suggests that she might want to get an evaluation from a neurological psychologist.
“You seem to have a different neurological profile,” her mentor says. Ira, having lived with Case for 15 years, knows she’s not autistic, but she also suspects she’s not neurotypical. “Maybe ADHD?” the mentor suggests. “OCD? It might be useful to find out more about that. Or maybe not.”
Ira decides not. She knows she’s neurodivergent and that her urges to steal things, her “twisted up mind,” as she calls it, her hyper focus, her drive to always be doing something, and her perfectionism stem from this. She also decides that it’s OK. It’s part of who she is, she’s managing fine, and she’s not going to bother unpacking a diagnosis–or misdiagnosis. Everything is OK.
And whether it actually is or not, she’s got so much support from Case and Kiki, a harmonious home life, and even from their family friend Aadhya that she feels she doesn’t need official “support.”
During Kiki’s second year in junior high, a school counselor makes a similar recommendation to Case regarding Kiki’s neurological and sensory profile, and he, having witnessed Kiki’s approach to making friends her own age, which, in its continuously missing the target, reminds him so much of his own social style, agrees. He and Kiki are too similar in too many ways for him not to already suspect that she’s on the spectrum herself.
And she is. He’s glad she got diagnosed before reaching adulthood, since so many girls and women fly by faking it. Perhaps since she grew up in a home with Case and Ira, Kiki never really formed a convincing mask, and the flimsy masks she did bother to create, she seldom bothers to wear.
Case and Ira are both thrilled to have an autistic kid in their neurodivergent home.
And to Kiki, who continues to look up to Case and Ira as being the best examples of the best of humanity, being autistic like Case makes her think that she, too, might be an awesome person who can do amazing things.
By the time she enters high school, she’s embraced her social identity as a geek and she’s chopped off all her hair.
She didn’t like the way other people, boys, girls, adults, kids–everyone–were always grabbing her long red locks. Having her hair short, most people don’t even look at her twice, anymore, and she can disappear into the background when she wants to. She can also wrap her head in a bandana or other head-covering, like Case does, when the air pressure is doing that changy thing and stave off the barometric headaches.
Aadhya remains a close friend, dropping by often after school, even when Kiki’s too old to actually need a babysitter.
Every time, Aadhya asks, “So what did you learn in school today?”
Most times, Kiki doesn’t answer. She knows that once she starts talking about French pronouns or Shakespeare sonnets or the pigments that make up cerulean blue, she’ll forget to stop and Aadhya will get bored from too many details.
It’s easier to smile to herself and answer on the inside, rather than talking out loud.
Aadhya will fill in the spaces, anyway.
“You look good in a bandana,” she says. “I wish I’d been brave enough, as a teenager, to wear whatever I wanted.”
Kiki imagines Aadhya in high school, with her curly hair, smiling and joking. She was probably popular.
“As it was,” Aadhya continues, “I just wore what all the other girls wore, as if we had a uniform. We might as well have! Tight jeans and French-cut T-shirts. We all looked the same!”
Kiki suddenly imagined a line of French kittens, wearing tiny black berets, mewing in chorus.
“Are the other kids ever, you know, rude to you? When you stand out?” Aadhya asks.
“Sometimes?” Kiki answers. “I’m sort of used to it. It doesn’t really matter. People will be people.”
Kiki has learned that generalities work really well in a) keeping her from answering in too many details and b) satisfying the other person that a conversation is actually happening. She’s got a whole stock of them she pulls out when needed: “Time will tell”; “All things pass”; “There’s nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
They’re all true and also not-true, as most generalities are, and they serve as little envelopes that she can insert real meaning into, in case she ever meets anyone besides Case and Ira who want to have a real conversation.
One evening, when Case is running late, Ira gets a call from his secretary. “I just wanted to let you know that he just now left the office, but it’s so late he’s missed his usual bus, so don’t worry that he doesn’t come home at the regular time. You know Case! Always the workaholic!”
Case running late and missing his bus isn’t a big deal–it doesn’t happen often, but it happens often enough not to cause anyone to worry. But what is a big deal is that someone would call, and that that someone would be Case’s secretary.
“You have a secretary?” Ira asks him when he makes it home shortly after dark.
“Oh, yeah,” he replies. “That just happened. Part of the promotion.”
“Promotion?” This is the first Ira has heard of it.
“Yeah,” he says. “I guess I’m like the boss now, one of them. At least I can’t really be promoted anymore. Top of the field.”
“That’s fantastic!” Ira says.
It is fantastic. With his promotion to Master Inventor, Case achieved his lifetime aspiration of Eco Innovator. Completing the aspiration doesn’t seem to mean that much to Case (he immediately switches all his passion to his new special interest of achieving the Botanist aspiration), but it means a lot to me. I’m kind of thrilled that our founder reached this success, and that he did it his way, without really having to change or give up any of his own characteristics and inclinations.
And I’m even happier when I see this pop up:
He is a positive influence, and I’m happy the game can see it. I especially love the second point: “Friends will be more forgiving if he commits any social miscues, and they won’t be quick to judge him.” What autistic person wouldn’t love this? Having experienced lifetimes of slice judgments, the freedom of not being judged for missing social cues feels… well, it feels like an environment in which we can thrive. I’ve experienced this at work a time or two. Once, I had a manager who always gave everything I did the best interpretation! A few times, I had to admit, “No, I really did mess up on that one!” But even then, she’d find a way to discover the best in what I’d done. “Oh, I’m sure the instructions could have been more clear,” she’d say, or, “Well, if this is the first mistake you’ve made on this weekly project in over five years, I think we can live with it!”
Isn’t that what we all need to thrive, others who are willing to overlook our miscues, and who consider all we do with the best interpretation?