9 months ago



A Justin Mind Apart

A Justin Mind Apart Chapter 3 Justin Listening to the Architecture of the World I often notice Justin pacing back and forth in the hallway while he waits for his appointment. Through the window he flits in and out of view as he goes up and down the corridor. He’s always listening to his portable radio, just like any teenage boy. But Justin is thirty years old, and he lumbers rather than walks, humming a tune from the radio under his breath. I’ve known him for almost twenty years. He was one of the first people with autism I met, and for that reason he will always hold a special place in my heart. I’ve learned a great deal from Justin, and if he has benefited from my interventions, it will have been a fair trade. He has been through a great deal, and his parents, Mark and Vera, have weathered many crises over the years. The nice thing about Justin is that he is always smiling, though this does not mean that he’s always happy. He is a charming mixture of incongruous characteristics. His mouth smiles, but his eyes are often melancholy. He speaks in a flat monotone voice about a number of worries that plague him. But he smiles even when he talks about these terrible fears. He is now slightly balding and putting on a bit of weight. Justin usually wears a heavy coat, even in summer, and always sports the inevitable earphones. Often I have to remind him to take them out so we can have a better conversation. He looks at me quizzically and then reluctantly complies. Jason is very attentive to sound when he comes to visit. As he 27

28 A MIND APART walks through the outer office, he notices all the computers and immediately classifies the CPUs as to the number of megahertz: 500 (too slow), 1.2 gigahertz (better), 2 gigahertz (OK, but still not the best). Apparently, each has its own distinctive sound as it turns on, performs a function, and then turns off. The higher the pitch, the better the sound. Justin loves machines that make a whirring sound—videotape machines, washing machines (especially during the spin cycle), dryers, and vacuum cleaners. He was able to tell his parents well before anybody else noticed that their outboard motor at the cottage was running on only two cylinders and should be repaired. Justin has always wanted to work in a laundry or a dry cleaning establishment. The sounds that the washing and drying machines make are pure joy to him. Some years ago he found work at such an establishment, but he became so absorbed in the sounds that he could not pay attention to the demands of the job and was eventually let go. Justin has always loved sounds. Even when he was first assessed some twenty-five years ago, his medical chart specifically mentions how interested he was in auditory stimulation. If asked today, he’ll confirm that he’s always found noise and sounds interesting—that they give him a sense of general pleasure and enjoyment. Sounds make him feel at home: “Some are securities for me,” he says. He once explained to me that the experience of listening made him feel relaxed and at ease, even “high” at times. He recognizes that this absorption in sound is not a normal inclination, but he doesn’t pay any attention to his differences from other people. He can play the piano reasonably well but not expertly. He has a fine singing voice that is surprisingly free of the unusual intonation of his speech in routine conversation. He is a perfect mimic and can imitate his old high school teacher to perfection, especially the one time he tried to teach the class about how washing machines work. He giggles delightedly when he tells me this story. Justin is especially fascinated with thunderstorms. Every time there is a thunderstorm he takes his tape machine outside and records the sounds. Afterward he plays the tapes to amuse himself and to help him fall asleep. He also likes to buy commercially produced weather tapes and will add them to his collection of homemade tapes. Once, after he bought a couple of tapes, he quickly noticed the same thunderstorm was on both of them. He was not a little put out at the discovery. “How dare they try to pull a fast one on me?” he said indignantly. I once asked him why he recorded thunderstorms. “They all sound the same, don’t they?”