This is an email I received. I read it an I felt like she really needed to talk with someone, so I sent her my phone number and told her to call me.

Dear Penelope,

I’m a mom to a two and a half year old. turning forty in April.  My daughter seems to be verbally and emotionally gifted. I’ve been at home with her since her birth. I’m a public school teacher on unpaid leave. My spouse and I struggle financially and are basically being supported by family. He’s in real estate.

I definitely have ADD, lots of trauma from a very very difficult childhood- mother is probably severely autistic, divorced parents, father got custody. Father is a narcissist he was very abusive emotionally (maybe sexually, there was an investigation in the 90’s but they let me live with him for ten years after- i don’t remember details.)

Everyone says I’m a great mother because of how verbal and advanced my daughter seems. But I struggle with socializing with other parents. I start conflict, I have crippling anxiety, i’m awkward and flirt weirdly with people, and have weird hygiene sometimes. Ok I’m autistic I get it!

I’m so scared that as she gets older she’s going to  realize that her mother is a complete loser. I’m also scared that she won’t get the childhood she deserves. she deserves everything all the love, all the experiences, all the nature and community that i  can’t give her. Yesterday she asked a lady in the park if her and her son wanted to play with her and she snubbed her. We know this lady and in the past she was nice and I know it’s because she doesn’t like me because of something I did or said. (She’s winning at life this woman btw this woman. A hot but down to earth pilates instructor with a gorgeous mixed raced son that attends forest school and a husband that builds shit.)

Btw my daughter took the rejection so well and made our time at the playground so much fun! She’s an old, wise, confident, resilient, soul!

The interaction haunted me all night. I take my daughter to the playground and walk around giving people mean looks because I’m dealing with crippling anxiety and fear of rejection. I act weird around the kids. I think i’m autistic although my husband says no. I feel like Im ruining my husbands life too! My daughter is very resilient, strongly attached, funny/ like hysterical, but maybe is already struggling because of us. Maybe she’s autistic too?

Anyway, Im starting a job as an early intervention coordinator so please don’t tell me to do early intervention with her. Can you advise on how to go forward? We need community, nature, and money to be good parents and at the moment I don’t have access to enough of any. We also need happy and confident parents but that’s not us either. I just wanna cry!! BTW I’m  INFJ, my daughter was surprise covid baby after a short time dating my husband (we aren’t really married), I come from traditional Jewish background sort of…so lots of religious trauma. How do I help my daughter not become me and instead win at life? I need her to win at life and is there a chance for me to win also?

Sincerely, [redacted as an act of mercy]

That’s the email. She called me twenty minutes later.

I said, “What do you mean I shouldn’t tell you to do early intervention?”

She said, “I just don’t think my daughter needs it. She’s brilliant. [Blabh blah blah ten sentences about brilliance. Maybe fewer because I probably interrupted her.]

I tol her part of being autistic is being brilliant. She said she’s not brilliant. I said you are gifted. Part of having autism is being gifted. You had a mother who made you feel stupid so you have that playing in your head.

She said her mother is probably autistic but she and her daughter aren’t. Maybe her husband is autistic.

So I’m not telling you any more of the conversation. We just went in circles. She has a brilliant daughter and she thinks she and her daughter should both be shining blah blah.

After fifteen minutes she told me okay she sees that she is trying to live vicariously from her brilliant perfect daughter.

I told her don’t use perfect about a kid. It’s awful pressure and no kid’s perfect.

Why I’m writing this: I’m so tired of this exchange. It’s an every day thing for me. Every day I talk to someone who is unbelievably so clearly autistic and we have to argue about it. Because autistic people know everything. And I’m so so so so so tired of people saying their kids are doing fine when the kids are not fine but it takes 30 minutes for me to get them to say the reason their kid is not fine. I’m just really frustrated.

Just last week I had a dad tell me his kid is doing great in school.

I said, “Well, you’re autistic, so he’s autistic, so he probably has no friends.”

The dad said, “Well, he doesn’t seem to want friends so it’s not a problem.”

This did not even surprise me. It’s so frequent. I am just crushed. That’s it, really. I’m crushed. I don’t really understand why all my readers are autistic and all of them don’t realize they are. I don’t understand why people don’t see autism as a family disorder. There is not one autistic person in a family. It’s fucking genetic.

The whole problem starts with people thinking autism is a problem. It’s not a problem. There’s nothing inherently bad about it except that not understanding that the family has autism means people do messed up things to cope with autism. Like sex abuse, or yelling, or parentification. It’s so easy to see. It’s patterns. I’m so frustrated. I don’t want to be the person always arguing that yes, it’s autism. I want to be the person collaboratively learning about life with autism.

It’s so fun to talk with people who know they have autism and we can learn together. I always think the phone call will be that. I always hope for that. Okay.  Thank you for reading.

How can you find out what you’re good at? Especially if you don’t want to ask anyone and might be autistic?



I wanted to move to San Francisco with my boyfriend, but we came to Boulder and lived with his parents instead so that I was not carrying the entire financial load while he rebuilt a career in SF, but I still want to spend time in SF and probably will spend some time back and forth. I like having time to be myself.  I don’t know a lot of people here, so I’m trying to focus on the positives here of having a partner.

But I keep wanting to quit my job in marketing because it’s such an obedience culture and I can’t survive in it. What do you think? Any ideas?

I just got my dream job at a prestigious law firm. Everyone says I should negotiate but I don’t know what to ask for. I know women are not as good at negotiating as men are, so I don’t want to underperform on my first try.

I’m surprised to see that you’re living in Boston! maybe I’m just being cynical, but it seems like everyone in Boston is optimizing their life for prestige at every turn, at the expense of everything else, which results in a very un-interesting monoculture. I’m excited to be leaving Boston soon (we moved here for my boyfriend’s residency which is ending in July) but I’m curious what your take is, having lived a few places across the country.

I need him to be working on independence. He can live with me and go to school or move out. One is 21, and the other is 17.

I had a few other health issues for the past few years.  My ex is remarried and spends very little time with him. I have succeeded at raising my kids without violence and humiliation, which was my goal as a divorced mom. I will get triggered if you start with the autistic moms are bad moms thing. I am fully aware of my failings and successes as a parent, and I do not want to process that with you.

Right now, I asked him to pay me rent as an incentive to get him to go to school. But it’s not working, he’s smart but non-materialistic.

I want him to plan for what he wants to do for a career. He wants more money than a sandwich maker but is not motivated by money. He is extremely internally motivated. The brothers aren’t close. I need to figure out a plan for the younger son too.

My husband and I both identify as autistic. My issue is that no one will think my daughter is autistic because she’s ahead in every regard, and I’ve never been formally diagnosed.

My husband is the primary caregiver because he’s better at it. I married him because his pets were much happier and better behaved than any other pets, which foreshadowed his parenting skills, and I wasn’t wrong.

I’m worried about my sister. She’s a 21-year-old INTP. She’s a genius yet she decided to give up academics in favor of being a professional cellist. Currently she lives off playing blackjack and manipulates older men into giving her money because she’s hot.

Two things worry me:

  1. She’s completely irresponsible when it comes to money. She splurges all her winnings, has absolutely no savings and often can’t pay rent.
  2. I can’t imagine her feeling fulfilled in the cellist job. This seems like such an out of character choice for an INTP. I can’t figure for the life of me why she is drawn to it.

She’s an adult and can make her own choices, but I can’t help being worried she will end up broke and unhappy, having wasted years pursuing a career that’s not the right one. Should I say something? Maybe suggest another career choice?

My company is fairly small (~100 people) and only does outsourcing. Finding another job is certainly an option. However, I work with my boss on a daily basis and he’s actually very open to hearing ideas on what his employees want to do with their careers. I think he’s an ENFJ. Still, it seems crazy to just ask him to give me a project to manage completely out of the blue.

I’d greatly appreciate any advice you could give me. My job is so full of excruciatingly boring details, tedious and unchallenging that even thinking about it makes me want to slit my wrists.

©2023 Penelope Trunk