A video of a father battling with insensitive airport authorities refusing to allow an autistic child, Ahed, on a flight ravaged me. I am shocked…Really, in 21st century?? But I am not surprised as there are various myths associated with autism. I am not presenting the Procrustean Bed approach but simply sharing my experience and understanding of them.
(Disclaimer: I am not a doctor) Autism is a medical disease – a symptom of a treatable neurological disease that attacks the brain’s immune system. The subject of autism always intrigued me after knowing someone in my extended family.
Having volunteered in an Autistic daycare school for couple of years, at first, it it was very hard for me to relate with autistic individuals but eventually it allowed me to experience a world that I knew very little about. I think, initially, people often misjudge their actions as being rude or cold just because the way they act is different from what “society” is used to. However, that is not fair. If I had judged them in the daycare school, I would have missed knowing extremely intelligent, interesting, and inspiring individuals than I could have ever imagined.
As I learnt more about autism, being Autistic doesn’t mean one is mentally retarded nor does one needs to wear a helmet to keep them from banging your head against the wall. It brings challenges but on its best days, it is a true gift. Understanding them has made me view the world I would be so much poorer without. They color the world differently than we do.
I am familiar with a lot of their idiosyncrasies: the social difficulties, the sensory sensitivities, the unique way they have of seeing the world as ‘outsiders’. It was a wonderful way to walk in the shoes of autistic individuals and experience, if only for a little while, their life – order, quiet, routine, predictability and an internal logic assume incredible importance – essentially how their mind organizes their thoughts. Some fear the people with “differences”. We all adapt to our environments in whatever way is comfortable to us but I learnt how being “normal” is nothing extraordinary. They often amaze us with their feats of memory, typically they lack the communication and people skills to be able to share their stories with others.
While many of us might know someone with autism, we feel alienated, different, unusual and sometimes misunderstand the behavior of autistic individuals, which can seem anti-social or even offensive to them, even if they really wants to be friends. The result of this confusion is often painful for them. They have an extraordinary gift for one or two talents, but are otherwise lacking in customary traits like understanding the feelings of others or being able to perform basic tasks like making change.
Autistic individuals can be blessings of their own, but few (including parents) truly understand this at first. IT IS different and challenging, very much, for the individuals and those who love them. The autistic individuals “hear” and “see” (or not see) things differently. They allow us to see something that we use and think about everyday in such an interesting and unique light.
Imagine being able to learn a new language fluently, from scratch, in a week . . . or what it must be like to memorize and then recite more than 22,000 digits of pi (setting a world record in doing so). Well, Daniel Tammet is such a “super brain”. Through a series of real world challenges and complex number problems, Daniel’s amazing abilities are demonstrated. As the subject of a documentary entitled The Boy With The Incredible Brain (also broadcast under the title Brain Man).
I get lost in thought sometimes, wondering about our brains and how so much is unused and how great it would be to utilize those portions… or I think how great it would be if my memory was able to remember everything… but then I think that would be too much, too difficult… there is perhaps a defense mechanism within most brains that allows us to only see what we need or want to see, so we don’t become totally over stimulated and shut down. It’s people like Temple Grandin and Daniel Tammet who are finally allowing us to see, however brief and unique, a glimpse into the inner workings of their beutiful mind. And what a fascinating journey it is!!
The awareness of autism is spreading across the country and our world like wildfire. Some statistic released few months back said that one of our every 150 births results in an autistic child. The murky origins of this baffling condition are under study.
We should try to understand this as-yet-not-fully understood condition better. We should change the way we look at the disease and create hope that autism–and the 1 in 110 children who have been diagnosed with it–can still be understood. We need to inspire autistic children to cherish the gift they may not know they have, a gift we don’t understand. Such gifts comes with limitations – the limitations often found in the lives of autistic kids. Their life is filled with God’s miracle. It’s time to break the invisible wall which still stand between autistic individuals and the rest of the world.
We should not forget that we too have many abilities that we take for granted, such as our ability to communicate clearly (most autistics don’t have this ability); understand each other; cope with our surroundings etc. We will learn so much from them. We should help them when we can, but let’s not give in to them because of it.
The Autism Spectrum is so diverse and difficult to understand. However, we need to try to get a grasp on how autistic individuals perceives the world around them. Just like we are all unique, one should not expect that autism is a one-dimensional human condition. Autistic individuals are like you and me. They don’t want to be “cured”. They want acceptance.
You might not be personally knowing an autistic individual however if you happen to want to know, pick up The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time from any bookstore. I would love to dissect every last bit of that book, but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who would want to read it. This compact book is dense and rich with detail while still being readable in one sitting. The book, as written by Christopher, has chapters numbered in prime numbers, rather than the normal 1-2-3 order. What a clever way to express how “differently ordered” the Autistic view can be, yet completely logical and neatly ordered within its own rules. Read this book – your world will be richer if you get to know Christopher!! The only time you’ll be disappointed is when you come to the end – that it’s over.