Autistic Songs

Alan Griswold


Table of Contents Bibliography


Autism has now acquired many enemies, and nearly all have gathered under the protective banner of conventional wisdom. Advocacy groups, cognitive scientists, lawmakers, geneticists, academicians—nearly everywhere one turns, one can find yet another self-assured group relying upon conventional wisdom to ascribe defective characteristics to autistic individuals, and to opine on how autism serves as the obvious counterexample to the traits which define humanity. To cite just one prominent instance, we have Steven Pinker—the famed linguist, cognitive scientist and author of five best-selling books on the nature of language and thought—who in The Blank Slate (Pinker 2002) quickly dismisses autistic individuals with all the pithiness we have come to expect from Steven Pinker: “Together with robots and chimpanzees, people with autism remind us that cultural learning is possible only because neurologically normal people have innate equipment to accomplish it.” When it comes to autism (and cultural learning, for that matter), Steven Pinker is no stranger to conventional wisdom.

The only class of people I have found who do not routinely embrace autism’s conventional wisdom are autistic individuals themselves. Sounding distinctly unlike robots and chimpanzees, autistic individuals will often describe their experiences with a wide range of ability, thought and emotion, descriptions that can be brutally honest about the challenges autistic individuals must face, while at the same time being abundantly enthusiastic about the many possibilities autism has to offer.

Unconventional possibilities.

Autism is a condition that, perhaps more than anything else, embraces the unconventional. Autism transforms the unconventional into an entire mode of being. And lest we dismiss that mode of being too quickly, and with too much pithiness, we should note how highly contagious unconventionality has become. For those conventional thinkers who have convinced themselves autism’s strangeness and abnormality serve as the obvious contrast to the traits which define humanity, might I suggest that, when it comes to humanity, they take a wider look around. Man as a species may be many things upon this planet, but the one thing man most assuredly is not, is conventional.

I have heard the perfect reply being made to Steven Pinker’s particular brand of ignorance. I have it heard it being made by an autistic individual. Michelle Dawson is a woman without the fame, credentials or glib manner of a Steven Pinker, but she is a woman who has nonetheless drawn deeply upon her autistic characteristics to reveal invaluable insights into the nature of autistic intelligence and who has become one of the more influential—if albeit unconventional—researchers in the autism field. Michelle Dawson often encapsulates her hard-earned knowledge with a catchphrase I find more pithy and certainly far more accurate than anything that has ever passed Steven Pinker’s lips: “Autistics deserve better.”

This book is the avowed enemy of conventional wisdom, and in its pages you will hear that autistics do indeed deserve better. Therefore, let us begin to sing their praise.

Copyright © 2011 by Alan Griswold
All rights reserved.