‘An Aspie Who Lives With His Grandmother’ by Tom Clements (formerly known as ‘The Autistic Buddha’)

This is a beautiful and heartwarming article written by Tom Clements, who has also been known as The Autistic Buddha.  He asked me if I was interested in publishing one of his essays on this blog, to which I enthusiastically replied that I’d be honored.  Because it is indeed an honor for me to have an amazing soul such as Tom to make such a request.  His writing is truly touching, elegant in its apparent simplicity, and nothing short of perfect in choice of words.  A fascinating read, that includes the right synergy of sentiment, history, and lightheartedness.  Tom has also written at least two articles that I know of for the galactically cool website, The Art Of Autism; I’ve included links below. 🙂  Thank you for this honor, dear Soul-Brother, from the bottom of my heart!  I would love to meet your Nan; after reading this, I feel like I know her! ❤


Whenever I tell people I live with my grandmother, they most likely think I’m a little bit odd.  And I admit, they’d be somewhat right in thinking that.  At 28 years old, I most probably ought to have found a place of my own to live in by now.  Some people I know who are my age are married, have kids and live in nice detached houses with gravel driveways.  I on the other hand inhabit a tiny shoebox-sized room in my nan’s old Victorian cottage.

While my former classmate James chooses from a selection of tailored business suits of a morning, I throw on my goofy supermarket uniform and resentfully pin a degrading name badge to my work shirt.  James drives to work in a saloon car with heated seats while I walk for 3 miles in the pitch black and freezing cold.  Upon arrival, he ensconces himself in his leather office chair ready for a day spent largely in the sitting position staring at a screen.  Meanwhile, I get the loading bay ready in preparation for shifting the daily 6am delivery of refrigerated goods to the cool room.  Basically, James is a successful manager and I am a manual labourer.  We both work for the same company, but he’s at the top of the retail food chain and I’m way down at the bottom.

For various reasons related to my autism and my generally diabolical anxiety issues, I’ve failed to find gainful long-term employment.  Throughout my twenties I’ve mainly drifted between an assortment of crappy jobs, from being a teacher for a dodgy little kindergarten in rural China (a business apparently run by local Triads), cleaning up dog poo in a kennels and cattery, delivering Betterware catalogues, shelling peanuts in a factory, raking leaves and most recently, and perhaps the grimmest of the lot, working in a retail warehouse 12 hours a day for minimum wage.  Due to my tight finances, I was forced to move in with my nan a couple of years back.  It was either that or risk my sanity staying at the local YMCA (a place where ‘guests’ are regularly seen in the doorway injecting themselves with heroin needles).  Life with my grandmother would surely be preferable to life in a doss house I thought.

Besides, Nan’s a lovely person and I actually don’t resent living with her!  She may be a tough Catholic matriarch who rarely minces her words, but she’s lovely all the same.  Despite being 4’10’’ she’s also a formidable presence in our family and is respected about town as well.  As a youngster when I refused to go to school, she was the one who coaxed the truth out of me and got me to confess that I was being bullied.  After hearing this, she promptly marched to the school, grabbed the bully by the ear, slapped him around the back of the head and told him never to touch me again.  From then on, the bully was so scared he never dared give me eye-contact, let alone lay a finger on me.

My nan has a famously fierce temper which has a tendency to flare up wherever she witnesses an injustice, but, like many working-class London-Irish, she’s also got a big and generous heart.  She spoiled me rotten as a kid and continues to do so even now.  When she could walk better, we’d take the train “up London” as she used to say, and lose ourselves in the wonderful chaos and clamour of places like Borough Market, Covent Garden and the Southbank.  Despite not having much formal education, my nan’s a voracious reader and a lover of classical literature, especially Dickens, perhaps the greatest ever chronicler of historic London life.  Her love of London, the city she grew up in and has immense pride in, rubbed off on me as a child and together we’d read Dickens’ evocative descriptions of the ‘Big Smoke’ and its colourful, pungent and often bloody history.

We get along well and I find it much easier to speak to her than I do with those in my own age group.  She’s experienced everything in life, from living in grinding East-End poverty to being traumatised throughout her childhood by Nazi bombs being dropped over London.  While others in my family will yawn during her frequent nostalgic reminiscences about playing in the rubble of war-torn Walthamstow, I can sit and listen to her for hours.  She’s like opening a window to the past and hearing of her hard life gives me some perspective on just how trivial my problems are in comparison.  In return for her stories, I keep her topped up with lashings of tea and custard tarts from the local bakery.  An afternoon spent sipping Darjeeling and hearing her yap in her brash Cockney accent for hours on end is a joy to me.

That said, my nan and I quite different in our habits.  She’s devoutly religious, prays twice a day and attends mass every week. I’m a humanist with a penchant for Buddhism (an evil form of godless idol worship in the eyes of many old-school Catholics like nan).  We’re both pretty suspicious of each others’ religious habits and generally do best to avoid any discussion concerning God or the afterlife.  We wouldn’t want to fall out now, would we?

Nan also rarely strays from the traditional and dreary English staple of meat and two veg, while I cook with a plethora of spices and ingredients alien to someone who grew up in the era of rationing.  When I’m out cooking perhaps with a bit of garlic or chilli, she’ll complain of the “strange foreign smell” emanating from the kitchen.  Once, I cooked her a korma, perhaps the mildest curry in existence and she complained of a bad stomach for a week. Even a bowl of lentils gives her the collywobbles!

Of an evening, we will sit down together and watch the news, invariably bemoaning the world and how “blimmin’ depressin’” it all is.  Before bed, I feed our neighbourhood fox.  Nan buys him cheap cuts of bacon and value eggs.  We’re both dappy on animals and cannot go a day without completing our feeding rituals.  I usually make her a cocoa and then head upstairs to bed.  She often stays downstairs and reads into the early hours.  Unusually for an elderly person, she’s a real night owl with an Oscar Wilde-like disdain for chirruppy morning people.  I like that, but unfortunately I have to get up for my early start.  Often she’ll be creeping up to bed just as I’m waking up!

While my life may seem mediocre to many, I wouldn’t change it for anything.  My nan and I are both very eccentric characters with a shared love of literature which is why I guess we get on so well together.  Most importantly, living with nan means I can be me, my authentic autistic self.  She has absolutely no qualms about my special interests, rituals and routines.  Nan may be 83, but she’s way cooler than anyone else I know and living with her is an absolute pleasure.


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10 Comments

  1. I want to repost this, but need to collect my thoughts first. The short version of what I want to say is this:

    My grandmother would want me to live with her. It’s important I be as independent as possible through. I’m on disability, but I have my own apartment. I believe my grandmother encouraged dependency in my mother by sending her money so she never learned how to support herself or even to navigate the system to get help. I’ve also had the idea that my grandmother might have actually wanted my mom to be “sick” so she’d have someone to take care of.

    My grandmother and I definitely disagree on politics, but unlike the man whose story you published, we have never been able to agree to disagree and not bring stuff up.

    I haven’t talked to my grandmother in at least two years. She’s now 97. I feel pressure to reconcile with her before she passes away. At the same time I feel like I’m just starting to find myself, and finally break out of unhealthy codependence.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you so much for sharing this, dear friend 💐💐. I would love to read your thoughts on this; your writing is so beautiful! Once you do write that post (you’re wise for giving yourself time to collect your thoughts; I don’t always do that 😊), please feel free to post the link here in the comments, or if you’re on Twitter, just mention me @TheSilentWave and I’ll get the notification. I get the feeling that you have an incredible story/post in the works! 😘❤️❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on crzywise and commented:
    This Spectrum Gal Won’t Live with Grandma
    This Field Was Intentionally Left Blank posted a piece on their blog the silent wave about a man on the autism spectrum who lives with his grandmother. This piece is in response:
    My grandmother is 97 and I haven’t spoken to her in more than two years. One reason for this is that she would want me to live with her, the same way I believe she fostered dependence in my mother. I live in a different state from her. I get disability benefits, but have my own apartment. I know it is important that I remain as independent as possible. I also know how family dynamics work, and how a parent with a dominant personality can overcome that of a child, especially one who is vulnerable, different in some way.
    For example, I recently read The Secret Life of the Lonely Doll: The Search for Dare Wright, about a woman who was never able to escape from her domineering mother to become her own person. She never developed into a fully functioning adult. She and her mother had an almost incestuous relationship in that they shared a bed and that her mother would photograph her in various stages of undress.
    There is also a condition known as Munchhausen by proxy, in which a parent causes a child to be ill in order to call attention to themselves or to have someone to take care of.
    After my parents’ divorce, when I was nine, my brother was five, and my mother was about the age that I am now, my grandmother said that my mother would just lie on the floor and cry. My grandmother would tell me that story when I would say that I was glad that my mom and dad had finally divorced, because there was finally peace and quiet, no more fighting. I would feel guilty as though I was the one who made my mother cry by not being there.
    My mother suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of my younger brother. She was hospitalized many times afterwards, continuing into our adulthoods. My grandmother blamed my father for her illness. She was diagnosed with many things during the rest of her life, but only one I heard straight from a mental health professional was schizoaffective disorder. She had worked as a high school math teacher prior to when I was born, then became a stay-at-home mom. After the divorce, she was unable to return to teaching, however, because of her mental health issues.
    My grandmother sent her money every month to pay for food, rent, and other expenses. She bought her a car. My mother continued to live in a different city and state than my grandmother, but was attached through this tie of financial obligation. Because of my grandmother’s “help,” my mother never again learned to support herself or to navigate the system in order to get help.
    This is why I feel the need to break away.
    When I was still working, when I seemed unhappy while talking to my grandmother on the phone, she would say, “If I sent you $100, would that help?” To which I’d angrily reply “No.” She would also say, “You’re always welcome here, honey.”
    Maybe these are normal, grandmotherly things to do. I could be completely off in pathologizing the intergenerational relationships. It could be a matter of degree rather than kind. Parents want to help their children out when they are in need. Grandparents like to be generous. There is a time, though, when they need to use tough love, and teach their children to help themselves, to survive on their own.
    When my mother was in hospice for cancer, I was back on disability. My grandmother said, “Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise,” and said she’d pay me to live with my mother and “drive her around.” That would take me away from what supports I’d managed to find in the city where I live.
    In the article, the man describes how he and his grandmother disagree on religion, but agree not to bring it up. This is not the case with my grandmother and me. I have tried over the years not to bring up politics because I can’t seem to have a discussion with someone who disagrees with me without becoming angry. Or it could just be that my grandmother never gave me credit for my beliefs or respected them. Instead, she acted as though I was brainwashed saying, “You’ve been listening to people who hate America.”
    I was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum a few weeks ago. I’m also diagnosed with OCD and bipolar disorder. I am not saying that any of these conditions are my grandmother’s fault. I am simply saying that they perhaps make me more vulnerable to the influences of someone who doesn’t believe in my abilities or respect my boundaries, unless I cut off all contact.
    As I write this, it is the night before Christmas Eve, and the holidays are difficult for those of us who are estranged from our families. A family friend, a woman my age who I grew up with, who my grandmother helped raise, who I used to think of as a sister before we grew apart during adolescence, has said to make sure I won’t regret it if I don’t reconcile with my grandmother before her death. I am running out of time to deal with my anger towards my grandmother, and to see if I can get to the place where I can forgive.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging! Your opening lines are beautiful, and I can totally relate. (I was diagnosed with OCD, ADHD, and Bipolar Type II, which were all replaced with my Asperger’s/autism diagnosis almost 2 months ago; for me, the previous 3 diagnoses were simply outward manifestations of the ASD/AS, and not co-existing conditions, but I know it’s possible for people to have these conditions in addition to the ASD). Thank you so much for sharing your story; it’s not only fascinating, but it grips the heart, too ❤️

      Wishing you and yours all the best! 💞💞

      Liked by 1 person

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