10 months ago



Teddy 101 there’s no

Teddy 101 there’s no use asking myself that question. Is it any less real or genuine than the intimacy I feel with my wife and children? How could I ever compare experiences of intimacy, quantitatively or qualitatively? I can only conclude that the intimacy and thoughtfulness that go into the selection and giving of these presents is as deep and as meaningful as it is for typical people, perhaps even more so since there are no hidden messages in these gifts, as there so often are in typical families and relationships. These are true gifts with no strings attached, since to a large extent the capacity to attach strings to gifts is lacking. I know three of the residents better than the others: Justin (from Chapter 3), Jeremy, and Tom. All three are in their late twenties, early thirties. Jeremy and Tom have AS, and Justin has autism. All three experienced considerable hardship growing up, coping with the academic expectations of teachers and the taunts of other children. Nevertheless, they are all proud of their recent achievements and of living away from home. Justin loves to listen to music, Tom is an avid reader, and Jeremy likes to walk all over town. They are good friends; they like to spend time together, to talk about their mutual interests, to share experiences just like everybody else. However, being with others is not the only thing in their life; they also like to be alone to pursue their own interests. Tom does not take it wrong if Jeremy does not call him every Friday night to go out on the town. With each other, they are without guile, incapable of telling a lie or being deceitful, and they are never violent. Neither are they cruel to each other or in the habit of making fun of each other’s eccentricities and foibles. These acts, typically seen in normal people, require a sophisticated theory of mind and excellent executive function skills, which are deficient in people with ASDs, as seen in earlier chapters. One has to know what the other person will believe to be able to lie to him successfully. One has to carefully plan a certain course of action and anticipate the reaction of others to be deceitful. Justin, Tom, and Jeremy are innocent of many sins except perhaps sloth; no doubt they would prefer to indulge themselves rather than do work or chores around the house. It is true they are not “normal,” if being normal includes the capacity to lie, to deceive, to be cruel to each other, and to humiliate their fellow human beings. Their parents and the staff know that to put them out into the world in an unprotected environment would be like the slaughter of the innocents. Yet they are adults and are definitely part of the community, even though they live on the margins

102 A MIND APART of human relationships and are, by most standards, “antisocial.” “What exactly do ‘normal’ and ‘antisocial’ mean in this context?” I ask myself each Christmas. This disparity of abilities, appearance, and human characteristics presents an incongruous picture. In these adult bodies are hidden childlike qualities, yet it’s not enough to say their development is arrested. Even young children lie and are cruel to each other, and an adult with autism is not like some modern-day Peter Pan who refuses to grow up and who loves to play children’s games instead. It is the incongruity of development that is so very striking. In some ways, the residents of Woodview are typically adult, in others so innocent and child-like, in yet other ways, quite unique and remarkable. To see them is to be aware of the fracture of time, how we are all made of different lines of development that proceed at their own pace, according to their own timetable. For most of us, the disparate parts of ourselves develop synchronously, like a harmonious piece of music. Our abilities keep pace with our interests, our intellect with our appearance. For people with ASD, each developmental line more or less keeps its own company and the disparate parts develop relatively independently. More than that, different people with ASD develop in different ways; there are many developmental trajectories or pathways that ASD children follow as they mature and change over time. Sometimes the music is harmonious, like Brahms, sometimes it is like modern atonal music, all discord and harsh notes, often it is repetitive like Philip Glass, but it is never the silence of John Cage. And each person is his own composition, with his own rhythm and pace, volume and pitch. I remember experiencing this incongruity or asynchrony most vividly when I went to a re-release of Star Wars with my children. In the row behind us, a group of distinguished-looking gentlemen sat, well dressed and composed. Most had silver hair or were balding and were attired casually in golf shirts and well-pressed pants. They were not eating popcorn like the rest of us but were quietly talking to each other. For all the world they looked like a group of men in their fifties and sixties, out to enjoy a kids’ movie. Perhaps they were like Trekkies, adults who had made Star Wars the center of an interest group. Perhaps they were amateur film critics who like to go to the movies, and afterward, over a cappuccino or two, discuss the cultural implications of Star Wars and its derivation from Western civilization’s archetypal myths. Then the movie started. They began whooping and hollering like the rest of us. All of a sudden I realized they were probably residents of

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