Ponderings Autism

Definition of Autism – (psychiatry) an abnormal absorption with the self; marked by communication disorders and short attention span and inability to treat others as people.

I suspect the sentiments expressed below are echoed by many. Thanks to Jade for sharing her thoughts. Much appreciated.

Monday 30 March 2009

Dear Rev. Master Mugo,

Am sending this to your personal email address rather than posting it as a comment on your blog because blog comments ought to be brief, and I sometimes tend to ramble a bit. Of course if any of this you think might be of interest to other readers of your blog, and you want to use it there, please feel free.

Thank you for your blog entry about Amanda Baggs. I was especially taken with her saying that her (perhaps to others) puzzling behavior is her way of interacting with her world, and that it is just as valid a language, a means of communication, as is our way of speaking and interacting. The thought occurred to me that each and every one of us has our own unique way of perceiving and interacting with our world. The differences between our perceptions and natural interactions and those of our peers may be infinitesimal, but they are there. From birth on, we are taught, trained, forced, (the word “herded” comes to mind) to see the “real world,” and interact with it, in the same way as other members of our group. And, indeed, we strive to comply, and usually attain in our striving. But I wonder. Unquestionably, we benefit from learning to function productively and acceptably within our group, but for every benefit there is a cost. As we grow up and learn to perceive, behave, and communicate in the ways prescribed for us, does our ability to perceive and respond to true reality wither in inverse ratio? I think it does. I guess that’s why training on the Buddha’s Way is so hard sometimes. The autistic person unquestionably deserves our compassion, patience, and help, but also I think they have invaluable lessons to teach us if we will only be open enough to learn.

Rev. Master Mugo, are you familiar with Temple Grandin and her work? Dr. Grandin is a Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado, an author, and lecturer. She is also, and has been all her life, an autistic. Granted she is what is referred to as a high-functioning autistic, but an autistic all the same. In addition to her work in her professional field of Animal Science, she also writes and lectures about autism, and has even invented a device to help autistic children find a place of calm in the conflict between their strong desire for, and overwhelming fear of, physical contact. Her being able to work and contribute to society isn’t unique. Many high-functioning autistics have successful careers, usually in mathematics or computer science or some field that requires minimal human interaction. What is unique about her is that she was the first autistic person who found a way to explain to the rest of us what autism is like from the inside. Her first book, “THINKING IN PICTURES,” is a frank and thorough account of what it was like growing up as an autistic person and coming to terms with her autism and building a useful and satisfying life for herself as a respected professional person in society. If anyone wants to begin to understand autism, this book is a good place to start.

Thanks to computers and patient, devoted caregivers who are willing and able to act as the interface between the autistic and the keyboard, more autistic persons are finding a way to reach across the communication divide and share their world with us. Several months ago, there was a documentary on TV about a young autistic woman, unable to speak, unable to sit completely still, insists on always having two plastic spoons to hold onto, etc. One of her caregivers found a way to understand which key on a keyboard, the young woman wanted pressed, and discovered that inside this “severely disabled” individual is a very intelligent and thoughtful person. With helpful caregiver and keyboard in tow, the young woman is attending regular classes and preparing to graduate from college. And yes, she still insists on holding her two spoons.

I wonder. Between those we impatiently designate as “disabled,” and we who arrogantly believe that we are competent to judge, which of us is really handicapped?

Rev. Master Mugo, thanks for letting me ramble. I hope this finds you in good health and enjoying life. When are you coming back to visit us again?

Take care.
In gassho,

For your interest – Chapter 1: Autism and Visual Thought, Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin.

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2 thoughts on “Ponderings Autism”

  1. Interesting read. When I was in college I took psychology. I was 16 and just and starting to discover that I could think for myself rather than be part of the herd. I took psychology as I thought it was something that would give answers to humans behavior, but it didn’t. All I learned was that it was a load of old cobblers. I feel that a lot of psychologists probably have disorders themselves – the disorder of putting people in tiny boxes. As you probably know many claim that all human behavior is due to physiology. However, I always thought that it could be that the changes in body chemistry could just the physical manifestation of something that is not physical. Which would explain why giving people drugs to fix chemical imbalances doesn’t actually cure them.

  2. ‘Human beings are not really individuals; they’re communities of organisms,’
    See this rather interesting article: http://tinyurl.com/ddbbtx posted on Slashdot.

    If you are the David I think you are. Hope all goes well with you and the marmalade was great!

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