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“The moment when an individual is unwilling to subordinate himself to the established order or indeed even questions its being true, yes, charges it with being untruth, whereas he declares that he himself is in the truth and of the truth, declares that the truth lies specifically in inwardness—then there is the collision.” (Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity)
The autism industry is both popular and large. From autism scientists (all too happy to promote their latest breakthrough, treatment or cure) to autism charity groups (all too happy to raise the next dollar for their “non-profit” coffers) to government officials (all too happy to sponsor namesake legislation credited with easing autismís burden)—every direction one turns, one can find yet another crowd jumping onto the autism-as-blight bandwagon. And who would dare blame them? Because if anything stands as an affront to normalcy, it would have to be autism—that paragon of abnormality. If anything stands as an outrage against the status quo, it would have to be autism—that epitome of deviation. If anything stands as an insult to the bandwagon-jumping crowd, it would have to be autism—that apex of going it alone. Thus we hear the mantra being repeated incessantly throughout the land: autism is a disease, autism is a disorder, autism is a tragedy, autism must be stopped. Many reputations and livelihoods now depend upon that mantra and upon its incessant repetition.
But should an autistic individual defy this established order, confront this multitude, set himself apart as one against the many, shout loudly enough to be heard against authorityís command, “No, you are all wrong, completely wrong. I am not diseased, not disordered, not a tragedy, I will not be stopped. Autismís truth is to be discovered by listening to those like me, because autismís truth is within me, from me, of me. Let me show you what this condition can be, let me demonstrate what autism can do.” Should this individual be so defiant as to draw attention to himself, he will be met by the bandwagon-jumping crowd with derision, with intervention, with demands he be treated and cured. He will damn near be crucified.
Autism is a rebellious god, and thus continues to offend.
“He wants to save all, but in order to be saved they must go through the possibility of offense—ah, it is as if he, the savior who wants to save all, came to stand almost alone because everyone is offended at him.”
Not that long ago humanity lived as little more than animal, a cognitive and behavioral slave to survival and procreation alone, and left to the typical forms of species-driven perception, man would still be living as little more than animal to this day. But come hither, my friend. Come hither and hear the good news, for autism has brought forth a miraculous transformation. With their perceptions not dominated by species-specific focus, with their perceptions now liberated to recognize the pattern, structure and form of the surrounding, non-biological world, autistic individuals have brought forth the power of atypicality, have brought forth the splendor of paradigm-shifting vision, have brought forth the majesty of rebellious upheaval, have brought forth the miracle of continuous human surprise. In a mere sliver of time—a sliver of time so short it must have left evolutionary history gasping with awe—man has ridden the strength of these strange new perceptions straight in off the hunter-gathererís grassy plain, straight forwards in search of an entire universe.
But should an autistic individual make proud note of these achievements, appeal to these autistic merits, herald these autistic strengths, announce pressingly the good news to a disbelieving, rejecting public, “But donít you see, it has always been the atypical vision that has advanced human understanding, forwarded the human condition. Just look at all the great innovators—Archimedes, Michelangelo, Newton, Beethoven, Turing—not a typical individual among them, only those who have lived far outside the human norm. Do not look to your commonest neighbor, look instead to the unusual one standing apart—there you will find the key to humanityís unprecedented turn.” Should this individual be so pressing as to draw attention to himself, he will be met by the disbelieving, rejecting public with strong words of their own: “Foolish lout! Deluded bastard! Arrogant lunatic!” They will practically spit the words right into his face.
Autism is an accomplished god, and thus continues to offend.
“That a human being falls into the power of his enemies and does nothing, that is human. But that the one whose almighty hand had done signs and wonders, that he now stands there powerless and paralyzed—precisely this is what brings him to be denied.”
Autism presents grave challenges. Because autistic individuals do not readily perceive and attach to other humans, because they cannot easily organize their experiences around the species itself and around what other people do, autistic individuals find themselves detached from the human population, right from a very early age. Deprived of the typical means of development, autistic individuals of necessity mature slowly and awkwardly. Deprived of the typical means of sensory organization, autistic individuals must struggle through an assortment of sensory difficulties. The non-autistic population—so easily in tune with one another, so naturally aware of what other people do, so effortlessly imitative of nearly everyone around them—judges autistic detachment to be a sign of sickness, evidence of a tragic defect. Stubbornly unconvinced that autistic individuals can organize their perceptions in an entirely different manner (a manner which has created profound benefit for the entire human population), the non-autistic population demands of autistic individuals that they learn to perceive and behave exactly as everyone else, and when this effort ultimately fails (as fail it must), autistic individuals are written off as broken, written off as a burden, written off as completely without hope.
But should an autistic individual request a modicum of understanding, ask that his progress be measured by his own standard, seek permission to mature at his own pace, beseech desperately for an ounce of approval from the disapproving throng, “But please, be charitable—my atypicality is not just my strength, it is my weakness as well. Allow me more time, offer me some patience, give me the opportunity to raise myself by my own unusual means.” Should this individual be so beseeching as to draw attention to himself, he will be met by the disapproving throng with a shake of its collective head, with the back of its collective hand: “Your unusual means are the evidence of your sickness, they are what prevents you from being competent just like us. If not so, then prove yourself, heal yourself, support yourself—make your so-called grandeur evident at this very moment, make your powerful abilities apparent so that all can plainly see.” In the silence that immediately follows, both the disappointment and the mockery are ready made.
Autism is a humbled god, and thus continues to offend.
Copyright © 2011 by Alan Griswold
All rights reserved.