Mimi and George: A Story of Autism – Part 1

The year was 1965 and it was a chaotic time in their lives. 

Mimi was seven months pregnant when she and John moved from their small apartment to a house that would provide the extra space that would be needed after the birth of their second child.  The November move brought with it the necessity of organizing a new home in the midst of the hubbub of Thanksgiving and Christmas, all while keeping up with fifteen- month old George who was walking and talking and busy, as only a child that age can be.  By the time the holidays were over, Mimi was in nesting mode and soon little James was born.  James was a sweet and easy baby compared to George, who had cried frequently between nursing and had not been a good sleeper.         

As Mimi finally began to settle into a new routine with two boys under eighteen months of age, she noticed that George had changed. He was no longer saying words and he was behaving differently. After a time, Mimi was able to interpret some of what he was babbling as she came to realize that his sounds were long. Strings. Of. Words. –  butconnectedtogether.

 When the extended family gathered, George wandered off by himself and no longer related to aunts and uncles.  She also noticed that when he played with toys, he did not play with them like other children did. 

When playing with cars or trucks, he liked to stare at the wheels as he spun them. 

She was fascinated by the way George interacted with books and magazines.  He carefully and precisely turned each page, never tearing one. 

The most frightening thing, though, was George’s self-abusive behavior.  He would beat his head against the sharpest edge of a table or against a wall until blood ran down his face and the wall.  He even stretched his little arms out as far as they would go and then punched himself in the head with all of his might.

Part of Mimi knew deep down that something was wrong but it was difficult to admit to herself.  Meanwhile, John, who had always had a problem with alcohol, began to drink more than ever. Mimi struggled with what to do.

By the time George was four, he could read some things.  George loved music, especially Disney music. This was the era of turntables and long-playing records (LPs).  The boys had many LPs with the Disney label, all of which looked the same.  George would bring a record to Mimi and request a song by name.  When he always brought the correct album, Mimi realized that he was able to read the song titles.

Once, on a shopping trip for new shoes for the boys, George was fascinated with the EXIT sign in the store.  Afterwards, at home, he made the word EXIT with his magnetic letters and was able to repeat this feat even after the letters were mixed up. 

Mimi smiled when she told me that she still has those four magnetic letters almost fifty years later.

The first book that George read was the Yellow Pages.  He knew the name and location of every car dealership and fast food restaurant in the area, and still does. “If he’s been there once, he can tell you how to get there,” Mimi says of her son, still amazed after so many years of watching this happen.  That ability and his proficiency at reading and spelling are still his gifts. 

Throughout her story, Mimi wove in details of her own life struggles. By the time the boys were four and five years old, John’s drinking had again escalated.   At this point, Mimi, who was in her twenties, still did not know how to drive, so had to rely on her husband and friends for even simple things like going to the grocery store. 

John, who was substantially older, was drinking more and more, and Mimi knew that it was becoming increasingly unsafe to ride in the car with him.  She realized that she would need to learn how to drive. 

John hurt and shocked Mimi by telling her that she didn’t love George as much as he did – because she didn’t drink.  To that Mimi replied, “You don’t see me when I’m doing laundry and I cry.  That’s my release. I cry.”

After John lost his job due to his drinking, Mimi worked at a donut shop from midnight to six in the morning, feeling that was the safest time to be gone as John and the boys were all asleep.  John had always been possessive of Mimi, and jealous of time she spent away from him.  His jealous emotional abuse became worse and worse as he accused her, in front of their six and seven-year-old sons, of being out with men and not really working at a donut store at night.  She and the boys were all in tears by the end of his tirade.  

Mimi did not have much help and support from John and dealing with the challenges George presented.  Life was hard for Mimi in the early seventies.

(I interviewed a woman, whom I call Mimi here, in 2017. Her son “George” is now in his fifties. More of their story will follow in future posts. You can also read a little about Mimi here.)

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