"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?