Guest Contributor Michael Ring (@Loricatus_Lupus)
We are pleased and honored to publish this essay, submitted in response to Rebecca de Winter’s recent piece about her autistic son, “Thank You for the Autism.”
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Back in my day, autism was limited to people that didn’t develop language skills, or formed much in the way of emotional bonds, and often had some motor function issues. We hadn’t yet created a spectrum, much less begun to judge cat owners that read books alone on Friday nights that way (DSM-V). But there were people out there to label, and there were people out there to fix.
Oftentimes the labelers and fixers didn’t really care if symptoms matched the new theory. I got the “Dyslexia” label even though I never displayed any traits in ordering letters in words. I got the “ADD” label even though I easily sat through class taking notes. I got the “Aspergers” label even though on tests like Myers–Briggs I placed in the middle of types. I’m neither E nor I, S nor N, T nor F, or J nor P. I’m just me.
Now I can complete agree with Rebecca on Jake:
"While the adults in the room blandly discussed his most recent evaluation, he (wisely, in my estimation) tuned us out, hunched over his place at the table with his ever-present bag of Prismacolor pencils and sketch-pad."
I’m sure I was looking at the jar of tongue depressors, while the adults prattled on, thinking I could make an inverted truss bridge using friction alone.
One of the traits particular to humans is our division of labor and creation of ritual to bond a group. So what is ill today might have been useful in the past.
Agoraphobia – “Guys, while you go hunt wildebeest, I’ll just stay on the home front and patch that leaky thatch roof.”
OCD – “Guys, I know we are being chased by Zulu, but we’re leaving easy to follow tracks everywhere. And did anyone put out the campfire? Hate for the roofer to get hurt.”
Schizophrenia –“You know Bob, it’s likely the rain, but the guy that the rocks talk to says it’s the river deity that brings us our fertile fields each year. And getting the clan together once a year to celebrate our harvest would be nice.”
But back to the present. My problem isn’t so much me, as it is the system I’m told to function in. I do horribly on standardized tests and in standardized education because that’s not how I work. You can take any subject and try to teach it to me an hour a day, three days a week, for 20 weeks, and I’ll do horribly. Pack the same course down to four hours a day, three days a week, for five weeks, and I excel. Also, my memory directs more to long-term bypassing short-term, so I’m never going to test well on current work, but I can recall the sponge painting tips I got back in kindergarten.
Now, of course, there are people who have mental deficiencies that impair their ability to function. That’s a known. The question that often comes up is “are we over-labeling people as deficient.” But a better question is “are we avoiding developing educational systems that address the differing learning abilities of individuals.”
It’s hard to say where Jake will go. I was pretty much written off at his age, and today at 50, I’m semi-retired. You never know how events will play out. But I’ll leave you with this. My Aunt and Uncle adopted an Indian (Indigenous American Native) boy. He wasn’t what one would call “slow,” but needed some help occasionally with learning, in both the educational and social areas. He’s been independently functional for the last 30 years. He had an MRI about 25 years ago, and it was found he was missing a number of parts of his brain (Fetal Alcohol Syndrome). The “experts” attitude did a 180. He went from being someone with “special needs” to “unbelievably gifted” for someone suffering his condition.