Thursday, January 06, 2011

Autism's Paradox

"You've never been in my body. I wish for one day you could be in my body."
--Autistic girl Carly's typed message to her father

A little boy in my family is autistic. I knew this before his parents, grandparents, and even doctors knew it or, at least, were willing to concede it. Perhaps this is because "it takes one to know one." That is, when I was a little boy myself, my mother thought I was autistic because of the weird ways I would withdraw from the world outside and immerse myself in an inner world of my own. And I think it's fair to say that I haven't completely outgrown this condition even to this late day. I have never been "normal," and, at almost 58 years of age, I think it's more than reasonable to say that I never will be.

Yet, at least I was always able to express myself well, perhaps uncommonly so, with spoken and, later, written language. If I've been endowed with any cognitive gifts whatsoever, however modest they may be, it's the gift of my linguistic ability. At least this is true of my English. I don't speak any other languages and have a devil of a time whenever I try to learn them. My greatest fear, at least for this life, is what would happen to me if I lost this gift to some brain-crippling condition and became cognitively impaired in every way instead of in every way but verbally the way I am now.

But what would it be like if I had never grown enough out of my autistic or autistic-like immersion in myself to be able to express myself to others or manage the other demands of everyday life well enough to be able to live with any independence at all? What would my life be like? How happy could I be locked inside myself, and how would I experience the world?

This remarkable video may provide some inkling of how an autistic person experiences the world in that she is able, with stunning eloquence, to communicate that experience, by typing on a computer, in a way that she could never convey by any other means. To look at her hand-flapping, incessant fidgeting, paroxysmic shouting, and other stereotypically autistic behaviors, you'd think there was nothing beyond the most rudimentary, animalistic consciousness going on between her ears.

But when you read her typed words on a computer monitor, you are overwhelmed with the realization that autistic people can be extremely intelligent and incredibly aware of what's going on around and inside them, and they know full well how strangely they're acting, but they just can't stop themselves. As the girl in the video explains, she does the strange things she does "to drown out all the sensory input that overloads us all at once. We create output to block out input."

Isn't it ironic that autistic people sometimes look as though they're almost unaware of the outside world precisely because, in a sense, they're TOO aware of it?


Tom Armstrong said...

Yo, Nagarjuna,

Since I know you in meatspace as the majority of your NR readers do not, I can reveal that, to my adept observation, you don't seem abnormal in any 'negative' sense.

You do have some deficiencies that you mostly just tell me about, but aren't readily apparent, that mostly have to do with spacial relationships [if that's the right term]. That you're not the go-to guy for untying knots or reading maps are the prime things that I know about.

But I do understand -- and very much believe -- that you have insight on the topic of autism, because your early life had aspects that were suggestive of the challenges of that disability.

As you know, I have elements in my way of being that can seem to be Asperger's like, too. But I write all that off to being very timid.

While you and I are very different, we each have the full array of emotions, are logical, but have abundant heart, and are swayed by others' good arguments such that we will change our minds.

Hey, what's not to like? If we're not "normal," then normal people are lesser beings.

It is good to know what autistic people experience and for us to have better insight into their world and more appreciation that they are fully here with us in this Mad Old World.

Coonhound said...

Hey there Nag!!! Just stopped by to see what you were into these days. Hope all is well with you and your family. Happy New Year to you!!!!!

Nagarjuna said...

Nice to hear from you, Coonhound. I hope all is well with you and yours now and always.

Nagarjuna said...

"Shirley," I don't object to commenters psychoanalyzing or constructively criticizing me here, and I've allowed plenty of it on this blog, but I do object to their abusing their commenting privileges the way you have under more than one moniker over the years. When that misbehavior persists after ample entreaties, warnings, and opportunities to stop it, I put my figurative foot down and deny further commenting privileges to that individual no matter how substantive some of their subsequent attempted comments may be.

You blew it. Not that this should really matter if I'm the pathetic loser you've repeatedly said I am.

The only way I'd consider reinstating you is if I receive a sincere apology from you that is not followed by a return to your previous misbehavior here and elsewhere (i.e., a certain blogger in the eastern portion of our great nation). But I'm not anticipating such an event. Care to prove me wrong?

Nagarjuna said...

Shirley, I won't play games with you. Repent immediately or be damned to eternal blocking. ;-)

Nagarjuna said...

No, "Countermag," "Shirley," or whoever you are. You're not "imaginary," and you're decidedly not my friend. And you're permanently banned from posting comments here. How do you like them apples? ;-)