Autistic Wisdom: ‘The Animals Are Having Sex’

And more wise words from my autistic son

Young man in restaurant
As always, published with Diego’s permission

Diego, my 27-year-old son, has posture issues. He tends to look down, which compounds the problem. So on our long hike in Grand Teton National Park, my husband (Cesar) kept trying to find ways to motivate him to keep his head up.

“What’s that over there?” he’d say, pointing at something in the distance. Other times, he’d remind Diego to be on the lookout for wild animals, which our son loves to “summon,” just like Aquaman, his favorite Superhero, summons sea creatures. Cesar would wonder out loud: “Where are all the animals?” “Are the beavers out yet?” “Where did the animals go?”

“The animals are having sex,” was Diego’s recurring answer.

Only God almighty knows where that one came from. When I asked Diego how he knew the animals were having sex, he said, “Because they were.”

“And how do they have sex?” I asked. Well, Diego explained, the animals kiss and roll down the hill and fall in love “like Simba and Nala.” (From Disney’s The Lion King for those who don’t get the reference.)

And this, dear readers, is but one of the anecdotes I collected during our week-long trip to Wyoming.

As always, Diego can’t resist initiating interactions with strangers. Usually, he starts by giving a compliment, as he did in this case:

Diego to man and son: “Nice skis. We’re from Connecticut. Where you from?”

Man: “We’re from North Carolina.”

Diego, excitedly: “Oh, we went to North Carolina last year!”

Son: “We’re from Charlotte.”

Diego: “I love Charlotte [We’ve never been there]. We went to plantations in North Carolina… Happy Easter!”

The man and son parted with smiles on their faces, unlike the following woman, with whom the interaction went instantly sour:

Diego: “Arigato.”

Woman: “I’m not from Japan.”

Yeah, Diego profiles, yet I maintain there’s no malice or “ism” whatsoever in his profiling. It’s actually an attempt to connect. We’ve certainly tried hard to make him understand it’s not OK to say “Arigato” and “Ni hao” to folks who look Asian to him, or “Hola” to those he assumes are Hispanic. I think he finally got it on this trip.

Being with Diego 24/7, it’s impossible not to ponder what it must be like to have a mind like his and to marvel at how he has gone from a child who would turn into the Tasmanian Devil when disappointed to an adult able to handle curveballs better than many “normal” humans.

Take the fact that Yellowstone was closed. Yeah, we came to Wyoming excited to visit Yellowstone not knowing the park is accessible only from its Montana entrance this time of year.

To our defense, we didn’t really “plan” this vacation. Three years ago, we bid on a trip to South Africa at a fundraiser for Abilis, the agency that assists our son. (Diego was actually the one who had us place our name on the bid sheet.) Since the deadline to use the trip voucher was about to expire and South Africa was no longer on the table (you know, COVID), the travel company offered us various trips in the US and we selected this one.

In any event, Diego didn’t flip. Not about not going to South Africa to see the African animals he so loves. Not about not getting to visit Yellowstone.

Guess what though? Our travel package did include a tour of the “Yellowstone ecosystem,” during which Diego got to summon thousands of elk, tens of bighorn sheep, a handful of moose, two beavers, a blue heron, a bison, a muskrat, and a red-tailed hawk.

To be fair, I must admit all the animal spotting credit belongs to our friendly guide Michael G (from Grizzly Country Wildlife Adventures, totally worth it btw), who magically drove (safely), imparted fascinating facts about the ecosystem, and spotted camouflaged animals all at the same time.

I hope Diego didn’t annoy Trish (the other tourist in our van) with his constant talking. Though she was lovely and didn’t seem to mind, I reckon she’ll mention the peculiar (or hilarious, annoying, sweet?) young man on the tour. 

I’m also grateful neither Trish nor Michael even blinked when Diego twice commented that, “The animals are having sex.” 

Another important travel duty in Diego’s book is sending postcards. I help with those since Diego’s writing’s illegible. As always, he just wants to remind people of stuff he likes to do with them, such as “Let’s go out to eat at Mc Duffs,” and “Let’s watch Brother Bear.” This time, I convinced him to focus on vacation information. Perhaps this trip’s postcard recipients might notice the content change, things like, “I saw elk. I saw moose. I skied. I hiked.”

This travel duty ended with the postcards duly deposited in a mailbox. “Who’s gonna get out of the car and put them in?” Cesar asked. Looking at me, Diego suggested, “I think you should do it because I just ate a cookie.” Yep, Diego sure has infinite ways of saying no without saying no outright.

Teton Village being at the foot of the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, we also devoted a couple of days to skiing. Diego can ski, but only with his skis in pizza pie position and down the easy slopes. He actually worries mightily that we’ll go on a wrong slope, meaning anything beyond green. He does have some measure of fun, yet he’s always glad when the skiing’s over. 

When it was over this time around, Cesar asked Diego if he wanted to continue to get better at it. Diego said: 

“I want to get better at everything.”

Diego may be high-maintenance and have a low IQ, but he says the wisest things. 

That comment was one of two I had to write down because they moved and enlightened me. The other happened when we went shopping for a new ski jacket for him. It being the end of the season, the discounts were phenomenal. Plus Diego’s jacket’s the same one he’s had since he stopped growing over 12 years ago. Though he didn’t complain as he tried on various jackets, he was obviously doing it to humor us, not because he wanted one. Then, while Cesar and I debated whether to buy this or that jacket, Diego looked at me and said,

“I don’t want any of these jackets. I just want my old one.”

Diego sure understands “wants vs needs” better than most, including this parent, who bought herself a new ski jacket she didn’t really need.


📺 Have a look: Short video of Diego skiing, Diego-style.

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Autism and Valentine’s Day: An Exhausting Love Ritual

It’s an act of love on Diego’s part -and mine

I need to clear my schedule and find zen to help Diego with his yearly Valentine making ritual. It takes forever and, unlike Diego, I don’t have forever. Our perceptions of time don’t match up and I must move things along if I want to get to anything else at some point.

Each Valentine is a four-page booklet. On pages 1 and 2, I drew small boxes for Diego to form legible letters spelling H-a-p-p-y V-a-l-e-n-t-i-n-e-s d-a-y, like so:

Happy Valentine's Day

Heart colored in

As soon as Diego mentioned anything he wanted me to write, his associative thinking kicked in.

Valentine's card

Every chance he gets, Diego tells people to come for a visit and what he’d like to do with them. He always mentions things he knows the other person enjoys.

It’s only a slight exaggeration to say that happiness is the experience of spending time with people you love and who love you.”

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