The assessment

It’s Spring and the city light is squinty bright. We’re driving up winding streets with seascape views so stunning I almost forgive the traffic crush. My stomach is aching with nerves and my hands are shaky.

We find Building 2 after being buzzed in at the boom gate. It’s an industrial complex with a café and a bushblock next door. I can smell the heat on the gums, banskias, natives flowering. Double-storeyed monoliths loom. We take the lift to the second floor.

Inside we say goodbye and I sit in the corner on a black vinyl couch. The magazines are old and domestic. Cakes and clothing and gossip and body size.

I unwrap my half eaten sandwich and crouch over a paper napkin. The first resuming bite slops tomato on my light pink top. I pad at it with the napkin and manage to both squash and spread it further.

The receptionist at the front desk is chatting to another staff member. They’re comparing shoes. They have worn “the same” as each other, though to me they look quite different. There’s detailed talk (so much of it!) of footwear and driving to their work meeting later that day as neither “want to walk in high heels”. I look at my broad sandalled feet.

My name is called and I’m ushered down the corridor and into a windowless room. The walls and carpet are yellowish beige and there are two noisy canvasses hung. Four itchy blue chairs circle a coffee table. “Please take a seat”.

The day begins and on it goes in various forms till the mid afternoon. There’s talking and answering all sorts of questions and discussing such a range of topics that I’m genuinely surprised. My mother is phoned for an interview part way through and I retreat to the café to guzzle peach iced tea and answer more questionnaires. My head is now spinning.

When I return to the room there’s still more discussion. Then, finally, as we limp to the finish line, the assessor delivers her diagnosis, my diagnosis: you have autism spectrum disorder. You have had it since birth, you will always have it and it is not ambiguous. You are not borderline, it is not a maybe, it’s very clear. Here are my findings and here’s my reasoning and here are some recommendations.

Though I know she’s a clinical psychologist specialising in autism, I hear myself nevertheless asking how long she’s been doing these assessments, you know just in case she has no idea. She smiles and says “six years”.

She hands me some paperwork and leads me to the lift. Down I go to the afternoon sun and sit out by the gate waiting for my husband to collect me. He arrives with our daughter and a block of chocolate.

We drive back to the seaside suburb we’re staying in and he heads out to collect the boys from their robotics day. I’m alone in the apartment, an art deco place with terrible acoustics. I make a rattling cup of tea and wait.

Soon there’s a knock on the door and I open it to the four of them. First my oldest son who too has autism. He is beaming. His mouth seems gorgeously huge – his face is all smile and shining eyes. He doesn’t say hello but simply bursts with “so I hear you have autism – that’s awesome!” and wraps his arms around me so tight and for so long that I’m quite sure it’s the longest he’s ever hugged me. Then our second son, who is also autistic. “Hi mum, you’ve got autism. Cool.” And he slides past nodding to himself. Our daughter’s next, tugging at my arm “we bought you flowers mummy!” and then my husband stumbles in carrying bags and hats and water bottles…“Hey bella” and I fall into another embrace that seems to last forever.

 

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