A Gen-Xer’s Mystery Solved

I was born on an Air Force Base in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1969. We later moved to the Northwest when I was two years old. Because I was born in 1969, this makes me a part of a generation known as Generation X. I can write a lot about life in our age because of my fascination with human history, but this story will focus on a particular mystery that dogged a certain Gen-Xer throughout her entire life. That Gen-Xer is me.

Diagnosed at an early age with what was called as minimal cerebral dysfunction, minimal brain damage, or slight neurological handicap, the diagnosis of autism, let alone ADHD, never crossed the doctors, or my parents minds. I was potty trained at age four, I started talking at age three, and full sentences when I was older than that. However, I was able to pick the bathroom door with a table knife before that, as well as singing the opening movement to Dvorak’s Symphony Number 9 and Copland’s Hoedown from Rodeo at the age of 2.

Being a student in school was not easy for me, even though my mom had conferences with my teachers at the beginning of each year in elementary school. Due to having terrible coordination, my stimming, attention problems due to sensory issues and being socially awkward, I was often the target of bullies, and I was made fun of. However, I always found solace in listening to music, in which I have decided that I wanted to play the French Horn at age 7. It was also at age 7 that I have learned to read cursive writing, and was able to spell the word “Occupant.” In fifth grade, my adventures as an instrumentalist began when I took up the cornet. I still wanted to play the French Horn, but since I was a small kid and the instrument would be too big for me at the time, they started me out on the cornet as a training instrument. By junior high, I was ready to switch to the French horn and thus began my particular interest in playing it.

Unfortunately, the success with my music did not reflect on my other school work, and I continued to struggle. Despite my accomplishments as a young musician through junior high and senior high school, I still struggled with learning and sensory issues, as well as being the bain to some of my teachers, including my band director my sophomore and junior year in high school.

On top of my difficulties associated with undiagnosed autism, I started having physical issues with asthma diagnosed at age 16, and a severe case of ulcerative colitis at age 17. This was a particularly tough time in my life because my mom stopped going to the teachers once I attended junior high and high school, a lot of the teachers did not have a clue about my autism. Somehow, the information about my “slight neurological handicap” was removed from the school records. I eventually ended up in the hospital with ulcerative colitis at the end of my junior year for 39 days. But, it wasn’t all bad. Because of my interest in music and playing the French Horn, I was successful in all my music classes and won numerous music competitions. The following year, I ended up in the hospital again and went through several surgeries. Due to this, I had to retake my senior year in High School. Still an outcast and struggling with the mystery which is my wiring, I continued to be undiagnosed and continued to mask this issue as I have done for many years. Even though I was still a success musically.

Once I graduated from High School, things became more complicated. I attended college and received my music degrees, however, I struggled even more. Unable to afford medical insurance let alone paying for medical expenses was impossible. So, I did not have the chance to go have a diagnosis of any kind regarding my “slight neurological handicap.” Years went by, I got married and continued to struggle. After several health crises, lifelong miscommunications, meltdowns due to sensory overload, not knowing why I fidget and flap my hands, not being able to get any work, and severe depression, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I finally said to myself, enough is enough. I made an appointment and went to my doctor, and he referred me to a mental health professional who specializes in autism. After being tested, I was finally diagnosed with Level 1 Autism in December of 2017. This diagnosis is a significant relief for me, and I am finally able to understand myself.

I love being the true me.

I currently compose and arrange music, as well as being a professional freelance French Hornist throughout the Spokane, Washington and North Idaho area. I also play 4th Horn in the Coeur d’Alene Symphony in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.

Lisa Sousa

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