Justin 43 shading and shadow. Just white paint, simple but applied with care and considerable thought. There were no obvious references to outside influences, no narrative. There was no grand expressive artistic gesture, no inflection of affect. He had painted literalness itself. Through simple repetition and a careful process of elimination, he brought to the spectator an acute sense of the physical substrate of the world, a world beneath the layers of language and metaphor. He had managed to see infinite variety in something so simple as the color white. Viewing these paintings, I could see the potential variation inherent within sameness. I could see how one could be perpetually interested in visual detail and not be bored. This was a world of pure sensation, no more profound meaning than the diversity of the simplest things. For a brief moment, I suppose I had come to see the world in the same way as a person with ASD. The pleasure I experienced at seeing these white paintings must be analogous to the pleasure experienced by Justin listening to thunder and by Chris watching the trees sway in the wind. This artist had access to a level of perception that is commonplace among people with autism and AS. I know that Ryman is not autistic. On the contrary, he appears as typical as the rest of us. And I know that most people with autism are not artists. But Ryman has discovered, if not by design then by serendipity, the kind of world people with autism and AS live in. He has opened a door for us and allowed us at least to look in. The crucial difference is that the artist can go back and forth between the world of perception and the social world. He has a choice. People with autism have no such choice; they are locked in that world. A life without metaphors is not without cost. People with autism and AS cannot reflect on their experience; language gives us distance from the perceptual and the freedom that comes with it. Metaphors free us up from the literal. Language even gives us the means to control the world, sometimes at our peril. The ability to see the perceptual world is inherent in us all, not just in Justin and Chris. This perceptual life has been released and probably magnified by the neuropathology of autism. In us, this ability is under constraints, chained to language and metaphor and social convention. But we can see it on occasion and so appreciate the mysterious ways in which human development can go awry.
A Zachary Mind Apart Chapter 4 Zachary An Obsession with Death Not all obsessions have the potential to develop into passionate and intense interests that enrich perception. Some are terrifying in their implications. At age nine, Zachary was obsessed with death. He constantly asked his mother, Angela, “What happens when Grandma dies? Who will replace her?” He then systematically went over all the members of his family, asking the same question: “What happens when Uncle Jim dies? Who will replace him? What about cousin Sally?” Almost his entire conversational repertoire consisted of asking these questions. He could talk of little else. Reassurance had little or no effect, and choosing not to respond only made Zachary more determined and insistent. Naturally, his mother was very upset, worried about what this meant and frustrated by having to travel up and down her family tree over and over again. Zachary’s insistence on asking the same questions led to all sorts of other problems. He could not leave her alone in the small townhouse where they lived or give her any peace while she was making dinner or trying to help him with his homework. He would even wake her up very early in the morning and go through his list of family members. If she did not answer in exactly the same way, Zachary would become even more upset. It was clear that he did not enjoy asking these questions, as he looked tired and worried. But it was as if he could not stop himself. He must have asked the same set of questions hundreds of times in the last few months. Angela was raising Zachary alone while working as a clerk in a bar- 44