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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

Thursday, February 09, 2006


Unfathomable Mind

I got my first pair of reading glasses. I call it the perils of turning 40. I went to the ophthalmologist and got two doses of eye drops – the yellow one that burns and then the ones that dilate the pupils.

I have always thought of myself extremely eye-sensitive. I remember as a toddler, my eyes were at the same height of the hooks that held various tools at the hardware store and I use to squirm and squint – the thought of me falling into them and poking out my eyes all too consuming.

Then came friends with contact lenses. I would watch their first trials of putting them in and being unable to take them out of their eyes, or worse, getting them stuck in their lids. Ugh. Just the thought makes my skin crawl. Needless to say, I will never be a candidate for contact lenses. I’ve had wonderful vision all of my life until about a month ago, I picked up a medicine bottle and couldn’t read the fine print like I used to. In desperation, I picked up those drug-store glasses, the magnifying ones, and I could read the fine print much better. One morning, I woke and couldn’t see the TV screen. Thankfully, this was short-lived. Soon after, I noticed that when I read, the words were jiggling on the page.

So I went to the eye doctor.

When she put those drops in, I couldn’t read a thing – not my watch, not my phone. My eyesight was so profoundly affected I couldn’t even dial the phone by myself. This alone, sent me into chaos – an unmanageable oblivion. I couldn’t see the contents of my handbag to pay, I couldn’t find my keys, I was dropping all my receipts from the day all over the floor and I couldn’t find my prescription for the glasses the doc just handed to me. Losing some of my sight for a short time put me into a tailspin. I had a headache from straining to see. I felt sick. I couldn’t work or even watch TV. I had to lie down for the remainder of the afternoon.

My dependence on my sense of sight is all too profound. By losing part of my sight for this short period of three hours, I became disoriented, unable to coordinate the rest of my body, even. I realized how underutilized my other senses are, and this lead me to think about how we under-appreciate the use of other sensing mechanisms that people with ASD may use to compensate for the sensing on which I have come to over-rely. Dr. Oliver Sacks talks a lot about compensatory abilities in the deaf and the blind. So too, I feel that Adam intuits, senses people and his environment in order to manage. I am sight-centric as well as audio-centric. I process primarily through these avenues while avoiding or ignoring and underutilizing my other capacities. In a conversation I’ve been having with Donna Williams about my son, I have come to realize that he may be about 50% meaning deaf and he intuits the rest of meaning through pattern, theme and feel. Donna says regarding Adam: “BUT he’ll likely become such a master at this compensation he’ll do it better than most non-auties ever could…that’s enough to `get by’ receptively, but it’ll be a challenge when people expect their dialogue to be responded to more specifically, more precisely, their instructions followed more accurately.”

The mind of man is the world’s true dimension
And knowledge is the measure of the mind;
As the mind in her vast comprehension
Contains more worlds than all the world can find,
So knowledge doth itself far more extend
Than all the minds of men can comprehend. ---- from A Treaty of Human Learning by Fulke Grenville (1554-1628)


Blogger ballastexistenz said...

I've read some stuff that suggests that for autistic people it's actually the other way around: It's not the perceptual abilities that are compensation for lacking something, but the lacks that come from the particular way the perceptual abilities play out.

3:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "Eugenics Archive Site" might be interesting for a quick background on this topic.

11:22 PM  

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