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Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Writer/Curator/Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project. Contributing Author to Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood, and Concepts of Normality by Wendy Lawson, and soon to be published Gravity Pulls You In. Writing my own book. Lecturer on autism and the media and parenting. Current graduate student Critical Disability Studies and most importantly, mother of Adam -- a new and emerging writer.

“There is no hope unmingled with fear, and no fear unmingled with hope.” -- Baruch Spinoza

Monday, October 31, 2005

There was an article in The New York Times a couple of weekends ago where a mother discusses the emergent sexuality of her teenage autistic son. She talks about how he is finding girls "hot" and asking even the "hottest" girls out on dates, unaware of the cliques and social niches that may influence other boys. She is concerned he'll have his heart broken, but then she notes that he doesn't seem to mind.

A response to this article that I read yesterday was by an enraged mother with another son with autism -- a child with lower functioning. She was upset how this mother was upset, or representing her son -- noting that not all autistic people are verbal and that all parents of autistic children work hard.

I am, quite frankly, upset by the politics of autism. The politics of which therapy is better, the court cases, whose doing a better job, which child is doing better -- the comparisons of one autistic child to another -- which is probably done by the best of us, but which is unfair to the child.

Has there ever been so much competition in the Deaf, Blind, Downs, Cerebral Palsy and other communities? What does all this dissention serve?

One mother may want to avoid me because Adam is "doing better" than her son. I may then turn around and sigh as I see another autistic child who is doing something that Adam cannot yet do. I know that comparisons that we make, even silently, are inevitable, but they are torture and in the end, are useless.

I see autism as a spectrum. Each child is on a different point on the spectrum. In other words, each child learns differently and has to jump different, and in some cases, more hurdles. But I believe the learning can happen. Does it really matter when it happens. Whose time line are we on anyway? So what if it takes someone until the age of 40 to become independent. I think we should be so glad for it and glad for that person.

Autism, the way I understand it, is a different brain construct. Instead of superhighways (those connections in the brain that make certain things for us a given), are as Dr. Gutstein puts it, "country roads in persons with autism." The processing takes a little longer, but with more and more use and practise, we can mold that maleable brain into making the connections more efficient.

Dr. Sacks talks freqently about the incredible pliability of the brain -- we certainly do know the abilities of stroke victims who are able to reconstruct speech and other areas of functioning using completely different areas of the brain -- different than the areas that those functions were orginially based.

Every person with autism can and will learn. I wish parents would stop the painful comparisons that torture them and begin looking at autism, even at its most challenging, with more hope.


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