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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

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Einstein Dreamed About Riding on a Beam of Light

This picture was taken when Adam was fourteen months old:

His little legs barely steady, he walks over to a toy truck, turns it over resolutely, and begins to spin the wheels with his index finger.

“He’s checking out the properties of things,” I imagine. “What a smart little guy.”

He plunks his diapered bottom to the ground and continues spinning one wheel religiously. “Vroom,” I say, scuttling to him on my knees. “The car goes vroom, like this.” Just when I take it to show him how to drive the car on the floor, he leans his hands to the floor before standing. He moves away from me to the corner of the L-shaped couch.

“Come play, Adam. Come play with the car,” I plead, holding it out and returning to my demonstration. Adam stares beyond me and resumes running back and forth, crashing into the couch.

“What about these Adam, look!” He continues to ignore me, running back and forth. “Oooo, look at this, so cool!” I try emphatically holding up blocks to invite him to build a tower. “Look how high it is.” It seems to grab his attention now so he comes over and bangs it down.

“Come build a T-O-W-E-R!” I model and begin again, stacking one block over the other slowly.

End of picture show.

Will Adam will be able to do something special with his life? I believe this is a secret wish of all parents. As he peers out the window with his transparent-coloured blocks, observing intensely at the age of 3 how the outside can be red, yellow or blue, or as he flips through the pages of his book of planets and reads Mars, Jupiter and Pluto, I begin to wonder what autism is, how Adam sees the world wrapped in autism-speculated legends of Mozart, Einstein, Wittgenstein, Mozart, Jefferson or even contemporary artists like Jonathan Lerman, who, with autism, began drawing suddenly at the age of ten. Just what do these stories have to lend to the average Joe with autism? What light might this shed on the autistic mind, and are the gifted just different from the rest of us, with autism or not?

I know that many are skeptical about diagnosing the dead. Michael Fitzgerald, Ph.D., Deidre Loveky, Ph.D., and others insist there is enough (reams, in fact) of biographical data to make reasonable assessments about historic figure and AS and HFA (Autism and High Functioning Autism – terms used commonly in this context so I will keep using them here for the sake of this argument). I have to speculate that diagnosing the dead is as perilous as diagnosing children today – we have the guidelines – but as the landscape of autism is constantly evolving for our kids as the years pass, as people grow and change, as standardized tests and assessments serve to label and perhaps create more conditions, well, I think, speaking from an art-historian’s point of view, we can make fair judgments based on historical data, albeit never conclusive. We can fairly determine the nature of a person and frame their image as good as any portraitist in a particular point in time, as well as any DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders)-- whatever edition. We know about Van Gogh’s life from his letters to Theo and Paul Gaugin and others. We can appreciate his art as much as for his way of making it as for his psychosis’ – now thought of to also be autism.

Fitzgerald argues that giftedness is anyone who changes the way we previously view things, who offers a change from the way we’ve studied, perceived something in the past. He believes that giftedness can only exist for AS or HFA people, and not LFA (low-funcntioning autism), and excludes precocious skills from giftedness – such as musical ability, for example. Simply put, an exceptional piano player wouldn’t fit the bill for giftedness in Fitzgerald’s definition. To fit it, this person would have to be an exceptional composer. To him, there is a difference between ability and changing the world, or at least the way we view the world. He has set the standards high, and perhaps that’s a good thing.

Einstein developed the theory of relativity at the tender age of sixteen but how long was he thinking about it before then? Did he spend his days watching the air move and dust particles dancing in the air at the tender ages of two and three? We know that his speech was profoundly delayed. We learn in his later childhood years of his lack of affect and socialability, intense focus, awkwardness, his poor performance on tests. But we can never see his earliest years, the years of toddlerhood, when we, at this point in time, place our children under the autism microscope.


Blogger SquareGirl said...

So true Estee...these are the things people forget to think about.

6:11 PM  

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