Friday, February 22, 2013

Autism: It's more than it seems....

I do not have an autistic child or an autistic person in my family. But I have known enough people affected by it to want to learn more. I first knew the brother of my best friend when I was in my late teens, early 20s. He didn't talk a lot, but he always remembered my name, which I got the sense was a special thing.

And now, as an adult, he did not register as different to Brady (though he would to an adult) and he makes stunning, beautiful decorative art you would expect to see in a high-end store.

Since then, I have another very good friend with a child who is autistic and there is a boy in Brady's school who is autistic. Because of what I have learned, I tell Brady this boy inside is a boy just like him, smart with lots of thoughts, but because of a difference in the way his brain works, he cannot express himself in words or behave like other kids. My boy considers this boy a friend and likes him a lot.

Autism occasionally pops into social consciousness. First with the movie Rainman. Next with the controversy over vaccinations and autism. Then Asperger's Syndrome - a milder form of autism - was mentioned related to the man who killed all those kids in Connecticut, though it's my opinion he was probably misdiagnosed and had an untreated mental illness. There seems to be no link between violent behavior and Asperger's.

But I wanted to learn more, to understand it as much as I could, and what I have found is that it is probably nothing like what you imagine. I cannot think of a more frustrating life situation than being "normal," maybe even very intelligent, inside but not being able to express it at all. The stories below made me see autism in a very different way, and I hope it will do that for you too.

Here are a few paragraphs from an article about a teenage girl with autism who was able to get enough counseling and therapy to learn how to type:

“You don’t know what it feels like to be me, when you can’t sit still because your legs feel like they are on fire or it feels like a hundred ants are crawling up your arms.”

Something extraordinary happened to Carly Fleischmann, a severely autistic 14-year-old who, unable to speak, was once written off as mentally deficient.

“It is hard to be autistic because no one understands me. People look at me and assume I am dumb because I can’t speak.”
 Her words may never have been found if not for the relentless determination of her family, who never gave up on her. Carly’s story is how one child found her way out of the dense forest that is autism, and how her experience may unlock the mysteries of this baffling disorder.

And here is a story about two men that I first saw on National Geographic's "Strange Behavior," both of whom have autism and learned to type and then formed a friendship. It is a truly amazing story:

"Tracy Thresher and Larry Bissonnette are two men with autism who have limited speech but a whole lot to say. As young people, both faced lives of isolation, unable to convey their inner intelligence. It was not until adulthood when each learned to communicate by typing—giving them a way to express their thoughts, needs and feelings—that their lives changed dramatically. After more than ten years of advocating for people with autism, they felt it was time to take their message global—to help people with autism in other countries around the world break through the isolation they both knew so well."

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