Roughly 3 years ago I moved back into the house my family has lived in since I was 8 years old in the Village of Buderim on the beautiful Sunshine Coast (Queensland, Australia). When I ran away at the age of 22 to go to university I vowed and declared I was never ever ever moving back here to live. Back when I originally left the number of permanent residents of the Sunshine Coast was small and it was an interconnected bunch of small coastal townships with about two degrees of separation not six. Didn’t matter where you went or what you did you were guaranteed to run into someone who you knew or someone who was related to someone you knew.
The Sunshine Coast population has grown dramatically in the 20 years I’d been away so the probability of running into people you know while you’re out doing the groceries is really low but it still happens. Growing up I was friendly with most of the kids I went to primary or high school with but I didn’t have any really close friends so I didn’t bother to keep in contact with anyone when I left. Subsequently I always find it a bit disconcerting when I run into someone I apparently went to school with and they randomly start chatting to me. I never instigate the conversations because I’ll frankly admit I don’t recognise them but apparently they have no trouble recognising me and so the “Excuse me is your name …………?” question is asked and when I confirm it’s my name they tell me who they are and that we went to primary or high school together (occasionally both).
At some point at the beginning or possibly the end I will inevitably hear a version of “It’s so odd you are exactly the same its like you’ve never changed” or “I’d recognise you anywhere you’re exactly the same”. Recently when this happened I was comfortable enough with the couple both of whom I apparently went to primary and high school with to ask what they meant when they said I’d never changed and was intrigued by the answer.
They said it wasn’t just physical it was the total package. Meaning not only did I physically look the same but I also walk the same, talk the same, sound the same, my facial expressions are the same and my body language is even the same. The wife (I’ve totally forgotten her name) made the wistful comment that it must be nice to look in the mirror and see the same person you were as a child looking back at you.
Personally I look in the mirror and see I’m finally getting silver hair, my crows feet are deepening, the dints from years of wearing glasses have finally gone and my eyebrows need waxing.
However reluctant I am to admit this the couple were 100% correct in their assessment that I’m essentially at 43 years old exactly the same as I was at 8 years old. My body shape has always been square built, knock kneed and overweight. I hit my full hight of 167cm (5f 7″) at 11 years old and got my just B cup size boobs at the same time none of which has changed. I’ve always been overweight and had small enough boobs to get way with not wearing a bra and my dress code has always been oversize t-shirt and jean shorts, which is still how I dress. Thanks to a combination of good genetics, avoidance of strong sunlight, being overweight and a limited facial expression range due to autism at 43 years old I have relatively few wrinkles and good skin and muscle tone. It is actually creepy to compare photos of me growing up and photos of me now and to realise about the only difference is the length and colour of my hair.
Since people keep telling me that I haven’t changed I sat down and had a long hard think about it and came to a rather disturbing conclusion:
- How I react and response to the world around me is also almost exactly the same as it was when I was 8 years old and started school here on the Sunshine Coast.
What we didn’t know then was that I am Autistic and that by the age of 8 years old I had learnt and could mimic socially acceptable behaviour for 99% of situations I found myself in. As I grew up I found it increasingly difficult to fit in at school, then university and eventually work. I now realise that a large part of my social difficulties was because whereas my class-mates were emotionally evolving and learning the rules of teenage and adult social interactions I was not. I was still comparing all my interactions with other people to my pre-programmed responses for how you are supposed to behave, which had stopped being updated when I was 8 years old, thus my database didn’t include flirting, dating or sex so I avoided those types of situations.
I subconsciously must have realised that I my database was missing vital information so I did what all good researchers do I studied the subject and I read a plethora of Relationship Advice and Self Help books. The whole flirting, dating and sex thing didn’t become easier but I now to some extent could participate in this area of life as I had in theory added to my knowledge base to include how to behave in those environments.
My new found insight into how I react to the world around me does not bring me joy. I’m now wondering how do I update and de-bug my Response to Human Interaction Knowledge Base from behavioural responses learned by the age of 8 to behavioural responses which should have evolved and matured over time to be applicable to an emotionally multifaceted adult world.