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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

Friday, January 20, 2006


I Know What I Want and Want What I Know

To know what we want, or think we know what we want is largely based on what we know. It isn't any different for someone with autism.

Adam asked for eggs for breakfast. "Eggs!" he blurted, checking out the kitchen counter. All by himself. He didn't see an egg, he asked for one. I made him one (he is into them sunny side up). He devoured it. He saw it a few times before and asked for it.

I am lucky that at the first sign of Adam's fussiness over food, I offered different types of food. He got used to various textures early on because I didn't give him any choice but to try different things. I admit it wasn't always easy. Today, Adam sometimes grows curious at what I am eating. A couple of months ago, he saw me eating an egg sunny-side up and he wanted a try....he ended up eating the whole egg! Pretty awesome for a guy who cringed at jiggly, slimy things.

Jonathan Lerman began to draw suddenly at the age of ten -- completely non-verbal at that time, no one understood or even realized that Jonathan had a rich "inner life." At an afterschool program, he had a serendipidous date with a piece of charcoal and paper and he began to draw -- not crude backgrounds and stick figures, but sophisticated renditions of faces. One major message his parents give to others is "expose your [autistic] child to everything because you never know what's going to happen."

There is a fundamental message here -- do not coop Adam up in special schools, do not isolate him because it might be hard [on me], and expose him to every opportunity because I MUST ASSUME THAT HE IS COMPETENT. Further, it is known that "learning by doing" as opposed to ONLY sitting at a table is really the most efficient and successful way to learn for many people labeled autistic (their account, not mine -- read Sue Rubin on kinesthetic learning). As a mom, I can see that Adam definitely benefits by generalizing skills as a first option to teaching, not after spending hours at a table. I know that every person must learn differently, but if we stand by the belief that our children are competent, then we must approach teaching this way. Constantly practising skills makes Adam's learning more successful in a setting and yes, sometimes they have to be taught "in isolation" if a particular skill requires extra attention.

I don't think I know very much -- like most of us, I haven't experienced, yet, everything I've wanted to. In fact, I cringe at how little I know -- how there is so much more to read and so much more to learn from others. I am a product of my upbrining, my standard of living, and what I expose myself to daily. I went to a salsa lesson yesterday and saw a whole new world of people taking the night to enjoy a couple of hours of merengue with each other -- wow -- what am I missing?! There is a whole other subculture here. Anyway, my simple point is this: we are the sum of our experiences and it is imperative to provide our children with as many as we can offer.

Paul Collins in his book Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism (another great one I highly recommend), is where I first learned of "The Wild Boy," later named Peter. He begins his book with this story and as an historian mirrors his studies against the development of his own son with autism. He notes that Peter was first found as a creature in the Black Forest lurking on the riverbank in 1725. Among the forest "was the rarest of wild animals: a human." It is a story of this young boy, with autistic traits who had run away -- left to his own devices in the wilderness. When he was found, he was summoned to London, dressed to meet aristocracy. He was brought to civilzation although he spent years learning to adapt like other animals, was taught new skills which he learned to a certain extent: "The wild boy who had been living in the trees just months before was to receive the finest education in the land... Many years later, Peter had run away and was picked up in Norwich:

"Who are you?"
"Wild man."
"Where are you found?"
"Who is your father?"
"King George."
"What is your name?"
A dog was pointed at.
"What is that?"
"Bow wow."
He was then asked to name the family horse.

He understand everything he hears, the mistress assured...And he could sing too: he loved songs and would rattle his collar tag in joy when music was played...when the song was over and the cathechism of simple questions exhausted, the [now] old man would fall silent and would not say anything more. (Paul Collins pp. 44-45).

The wild boy couldn't be entirely taken out of Peter, but it is obvious that he was "tamed," or civilized to a certain extent that as an old man, he could answer these questions.

P.S. Tabula Rasa: A phrase (meaning blank writing tablet) from the Latin translation of Aristotle's De anima. It does not occur in Locke's Essay (1690), though it is present in Pierre Coste's French translation (1700). The Essay, in its statement of the empiricist these that there is nothing in the mind that was not previously in the senses, speaks rather of the mind at birth as `white paper' awaiting ideas from experience. (from Oxford Companion to Philosophy edited by Ted Honderich)

P.S.S. Thanks to everyone's intelligent and inquisitive comments and posts. It gets us all thinking!!


Blogger Kristina Chew said...

Mea anima est tamquam tabula rasa.Paul of Venice, ca. 1369-1429, theologian and philosopher; Aristotle, De Anima 430a only mentions something "not actually written upon." Locke continues the metaphor; rasa has the meaning of "scraped, shaved."

Very nice about asking for the egg, especialyl as he could not see it.

12:41 PM  
Blogger Kristina Chew said...

ps. Thanks to you for your sharing your provocative thoughts.

8:51 PM  

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