Half-baked ideas: A Meditation on Autism and a Little Bit on Children’s Books


(Image courtesy California Lightworks)

There are books—there is art of all kinds, really—in which it seems that the person creating does not see the limits the rest of us see. The writer will have the child party with the monsters or walk through the back of the metaphorical wardrobe or let the pigeon drive the bus. (Yeah, that's right, they're examples and metaphors, baby.)

For a long time, I have watched someone close to me move through the world bearing with her the clanky burden of her autism, at least that's how I have seen it. It's part of her, and it makes so many things more difficult. What for me is easy—trying on shoes in a store, making small talk with a neighbor (OK, that can be brutal but I can still do it), staying through to the end of dinner. When social cues, and rules, and reality don't register in your vision, it's like missing a spectrum of light: you bump into things you didn't even see were there.

But. Here is the thing. While missing that whole spectrum of light makes things like, say, trying on shoes in a store, difficult, that wavelength, those social constructs, those invisible ties that they rest of us can see and negotiate, are also boundaries. And we see them and instinctively avoid them, duck them, go around them—we don't press against them, because we can see something there.

So: I'm thinking that there is a reason that being on the autism spectrum is so often associated with people who have broken through artistic and scientific walls—because those social constructs the rest of us happily, freely negotiate are those barriers. Social constructs are the box in the "think outside the box." That Edison and Turing and Austen—all rumored to have autism, though who the hell knows—blew the world away is because of their autism, not in spite of it. That the ability to block out social expectations and constructs is a superpower of sorts, not only the clanking burden that it is in shoe stores and restaurants but a turbo-powered engine that can blast people through beyond what anyone expected or envisioned.

I have been thinking about this a long time; I read Neurotribes by Steven Silberman, which I highly recommend. I am thinking about it all still.

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