Posts Tagged ‘Autism’

Do I have your attention?

Good.  The fidget spinners have done their duty, and we can move on.

Do I know you?

Even better.

Are you a past Into the Dance reader?

Better still.

Does it seem to you that I’ve been gone for quite awhile?

That doesn’t surprise me.  It’s because I have. (more…)

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Young red-haired boy facing away from camera, stacking a seventh can atop a column of six food cans on the kitchen floor. An open pantry contains many more cans.

So we’re right in the middle of Autism Awareness Month, and a friend of mine recently shared with me a wonderful video documenting the struggles and triumph of Carly Fleischmann, a nonverbal autistic teenager.

But before we get to the video (and I do encourage you to watch it; it’s less than 10 minutes long), I should spend a moment on how it fits into the overall purpose of Into the Dance — specifically, how I see it in relation to the Catholic worldview I hold dear.

What it comes down to is the inviolable dignity of the human person.  This dignity is much greater than we think — so great that it cannot be expressed in the trappings of fame, power, prestige, accomplishment, or even ability.  On the contrary, it is at its height in hiddenness.

Thomas Howard puts it this way:

[Speaking of a wheelchair-bound child]: Who knows what glory inhabits that enfeebled frame?  What honor is incubating there, quite hidden from worldly eyes?  Or what of the Down’s syndrome child?  What exquisite fruit is adumbrated in the sweetness and vulnerability that gild this child’s limitations?  The answer to such questions lies hidden among the secrets laid up by the Divine Mercy. (pg. 219-20)

Lest we doubt this, let us see how this can become clear in the natural course of things:


  1. The original uploader was Andwhatsnext at English Wikipedia The original uploader was Andwhatsnext at English Wikipedia – Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5118849
  2. Howard, Thomas.  On Being Catholic.  San Francisco: Ignatius, 1997.


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Whew!  Ever wish life didn’t keep you so busy?  I sure do — if only so that I could blog more often.

I intend to get back into the proverbial saddle over the next couple months (especially since next month marks the three-year anniversary of “Into the Dance”), and I thought I’d offer a quick look at some of the post topics I plan to cover (not necessarily in this order):

1. True Detective

TrueDetectiveDVDCoverI recently “binge-watched” the first season of the HBO series True Detective.  While disturbing at times, the show is artistically excellent and very profound.  I have a lot to say about it, especially with regard its treatment of marriage, manhood, family, and existence.

2. The Rosary

RosaryOctober is the Month of the Rosary, one of the most beautiful and powerful treasures of the Catholic Faith.  Before the month is out I’d like to share a few things about this prayer, and hopefully answer questions people might have (feel free to leave some in the comment section here, if you’d like).

3. Drug/Alcohol Awareness

HeroinOctober is also when “Red Ribbon Week,” which is dedicated to drug and alcohol addiction awareness, falls.  I used to work in this field myself (in the prevention department), and I do have some insights I’d like to offer — not only for those addicted to alcohol or illegal drugs, but also for anyone who might be caught in the midst of addictive habits that may seem deceptively harmless in and of themselves.

Last but not least…

4. My New Blog

question mark

I intend to embark on the adventure of starting a for-profit blog in the very near future.  I will post a link and detailed description when the blog is up and running.  Until then, I won’t say too much about it…but here’s a hint: If you have children, relatives, pupils, friends, or other acquaintances on the autism spectrum — or if you yourself are on the spectrum — you may be interested.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for stopping by, and God bless 🙂



1. “TrueDetectiveDVDCover” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:TrueDetectiveDVDCover.jpg#/media/File:TrueDetectiveDVDCover.jpg

2. “An Egyptian Rosary with a Coptic Cross, 2010” by Silar – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:An_Egyptian_Rosary_with_a_Coptic_Cross,_2010.JPG#/media/File:An_Egyptian_Rosary_with_a_Coptic_Cross,_2010.JPG

3. “Anal Heroin” by Psychonaught – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Anal_Heroin.jpg#/media/File:Anal_Heroin.jpg

4. “Question opening-closing” by Vadmium – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Question_opening-closing.svg#/media/File:Question_opening-closing.svg

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“Rain Man” is a great movie, and there are a number of other artistic works — some good, some not so good — that offer insight into autism from both the “normal” perspective and that of the autistic person.

But I feel like I’d be remiss if I didn’t close out Autism Awareness Month (it’s still April 30th as I type this, despite what the heading says) with my own thoughts on the autism phenomenon, having studied it in an academic context as well as having professional and personal experience with it.


One thing I’ve heard people say is that autistic children have no love in them (or some variation of that).  Well, that’s not necessarily true.

We have to keep in mind that such judgments are born of our own perspectives, rather than from the very perspectives that give rise to these apparently “unloving” behaviors.

Imagine you are autistic.  Your senses are all thrown off.  Some are too strong, others not strong enough.  The sound of a door closing lightly is like a bludgeon being rammed right into your eardrums.  Shirts that most people would normally wear feel like porcupine quills against your skin.  A simple hug can make you feel like you are being enveloped by a bed of nails.

Or, think of the social aspects of autism.  By way of introduction, let’s state the obvious: A construction worker would not be comfortable if one day he were suddenly forced to work in an accounting firm; a preschool teacher would be thrown off if she found herself working in a maximum security prison; a surgeon going into the kitchen at an upscale restaurant would find himself similarly baffled.

You might have the same feeling as an autistic person in a standard social situation.  Your brain is wired a little differently, so you are coming into these situations from a completely different vantage point.  Social situations are therefore scary, their rules and nuances strange and unfamiliar.

All human beings have an innate desire for closeness, for interaction…and the autistic child is no exception.  But keep in mind that social interaction — to say nothing of love — always involves a certain degree of risk.  It requires us to go out of ourselves in order to meet the other, and at the same time it demands that we have sufficient confidence in ourselves to make that leap.

Autistic children don’t know how to form that kind of relationship, and I think that has much to do with the fact that they have all they can do just to feel safe and make sense of their day-to-day world.

So what do we do?


Above all, I think we need to approach autism in a spirit of openness.  We should pay attention to autistic people and get to know them.  What makes them tick?  What do they respond well to?  What makes them anxious, afraid, angry, or otherwise agitated?  What do they seem to want?

The same holds true for autistic people as for any other human being: If we can find a way to connect with them on their level, we can make progress (though we have to keep in mind that “progress” might mean something different from what we expect — and that’s not necessarily a bad thing).

Ian's WalkIf you are looking for some illustration of how this might play out, I would highly recommend “Ian’s Walk: A Story about Autism,” a picture book by Laurie Lears.  This is a great story about a young girl who draws closer to her autistic brother by learning to see the world as he does.

I hope these reflections are helpful.  I am by no means an expert on autism, but hopefully my $0.02 have meant something to somebody.

Photos from Wikipedia

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I am a firm believer that we become more human through dialogue with the “Other” — whether that means people with disabilities, the poor, societal outcasts, people from different cultures, or otherwise.

autistic childThat said, I believe that autism is definitely a phenomenon that “normals” can learn from — I’ve even written a book on the subject (hopefully, one that has been read by dozens of people on this planet).

But before I say anything about it, let’s see if anyone else has commented on this mysterious “other.”


Barry Levinson’s great 1988 film “Rain Man” is a fantastic example, even if it presents only one of the many faces of autism (how could the complexity of the autism spectrum ever be encapsulated into one movie?).

For those of you who haven’t seen the movie, it follows newly orphaned yuppie Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) as he gets to know Raymond (Dustin Hoffman), the institutionalized autistic savant brother he never knew existed.

Charlie discovers Raymond’s existence after the death of his estranged father, Sanford Babbitt.  In his will, Sanford left Charlie a car and some rose bushes, while leaving $3 million to a mental institution that is home to — you guessed it — Raymond Babbitt.


Charlie then kidnaps Raymond on a cross-country trip back to his home in Los Angeles, where he intends to start a custody hearing in order to obtain his share of his father’s estate.

Don’t worry, I have no intention of rehashing film’s plot, thereby spoiling it for those who have yet to see it, boring those who have seen it already, and wasting the time of those who have no interest in seeing it.


What I want to talk about is the change we see in Charlie as the film progresses.  At first, he is a classic self-absorbed, spoiled twenty-something yuppie.  He is very rude to Raymond, whom he is only using to get his father’s money.

As for the money, he exhibits the typical possessiveness of sinful humanity with regard to the goods of this world by repeatedly asserting: “I deserve this.”

Rain ManBy the end of the film, after spending a great deal of time with Raymond, he is a changed man.  He becomes much more sensitive and caring, and he develops a protective instinct toward his brother.  Folks will recall the famous scene at the end pictured above (“I like having you for my big brother”).

In fact, though he continues to pursue the custody hearing, his motivation changes.  He is no longer interested in “getting his share” of his father’s estate.  What he wants now is to take Raymond out of the institution so that he can care for him personally, as a brother.

Granted, any opportunity to spend a great deal of time getting to know a fellow human being has the potential to change our hearts.  Man is made for fellowship, and fellowship both affirms our individuality and enhances our humanity.

But is there anything in Raymond’s autism that could have captured Charlie’s heart?

rainman diner

One thing we can point to is Raymond’s remarkable simplicity.  In a world where competition and competitiveness seem to complicate everything, where people are all too willing to hurt one another to get what they want, we have a man whose wants are very simple.

If he can watch “The People’s Court” at the same time every day, if whoever is with him can be bothered to make sure he has his favorite pair of underwear, if he can maintain a stable routine to get him through the day, then he is well-satisfied.

And as far as wanting to hurt anyone, he seems totally unfamiliar with the concept.

Personally, I would like to think that what Charlie learns from being with Raymond — and what most of us could learn from autistic individuals — is a sense of humility, which above all else involves a realistic understanding of oneself.  And though this is going to sound clichéd, it also leads to the freedom of appreciating the things that really matter.

All that said, I do intend to offer my own thoughts on the autism phenomenon in the coming days.  In the meantime, if you haven’t already, see “Rain Man.”

Top two photos from Wikipedia; remaining photos obtained through a Google image search

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