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Posts Tagged ‘Ian’s Walk: A Story about Autism’

“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.

Autistic-boy-sleeping

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?

autism

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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