My son Jack, a young man with Asperger's, a "disorder" on the autism spectrum, was about 13 when Dr. Wang, a Chinese medicine practitioner he sees for treatment of anxiety and inattentiveness, asked me to -- as we, in our family, quoting author Mark Haddon, like to call it -- "do chatting" with a young father of a young child with autism. This young dad was intelligent, charming and formal in manner. His 4-year old son was boomeranging around the small waiting room. Thus, I deduced quickly that Wang was hoping a few encouraging words from me might help to put the distraught father, who was contending with a fresh diagnosis of autism at ease. The young father had heard that Dr. Wang has had success with helping children on the spectrum, and he wanted to know know whether acupuncture had really helped my son. My answer? An unequivocal "yes." But, I emphasized, "It was not a cure."
The young father continued to talk about about his boy in a tone I found both desperate and loving. The boy was his firstborn son. There were cultural issues; the parents were were from a culture the man characterized as rigid and not so open as he might wish to children with disability. He asked for advice. I recommended some things -- love mostly. I emphasized that the kid would be fine if he obtained all the extra support he needed. I believe the man thought my commentary rather useless, at first.
The beautiful, timid mother of the boomeranging, non-eye-contact-making boy returned from the restroom just as Jack was leaving the treatment room.
We made introductions all around. Jack extended his hand to both parents, nodding deferentially, formally, as he did, saying "Nice to meet you." A mensch. He then scrunched down to greet to the flapping, smiling little guy in an endearing (to me at least) a 4-year old friendly way. The boy noticed the bigger boy and smiled.
Jack then grabbed the bathroom key from the receptionist's counter and headed for the men's.
With Jack's departure the mood changed. In an almost irascible tone, the father of the 4-year-old challenged me. He insisted that his son was "much worse off" than mine. I believe he was offended that I should speak in so cavalier way about his son when my own child was so obviously almost "normal."
I set the young dad straight. I told him that at age 4, Jack flapped, boomeranged, perserverated, obsessed on stairs and doors and time and people's ages, that he ignored my directives and declined more often than not to provide (the much hyper-fixated upon, in my opinion) eye contact. I told young dad that along the way Jack has required therapeutic school, special programs, and paraprofessional support even within special programs.
"My son was just like that at 4," I said tilting my head to the adorable little stimmer.
I could almost see the utterly palpable weight sift off of the young father as I went on about all of Jack's erstwhile oddities. It, I believe, was just what the doctor (Wang) had ordered. Wang wanted to see the father protract -- which is, ironically, something people with autism sometimes find difficult -- to see the kind of improvements that are truly possible.
In order to live fruitfully, safely, independently, humorously, healthfully and lovingly in the world, many people with autism need lots of help. The very good news is that a little help goes a long way.
Enjoy that iPad? Many (a disproportionate number, I suspect) of the engineers responsible for inventing and improving the much-cherished contraptions on which we so depend are people with "Big Bang Theory" (TV reference) autism.
Like Andy Warhol's paintings? He probably had Asperger's.
How about perfectionist Glenn Gould "going ham" on the ivories as he plays The Goldberg Variations? You think that is a wonder? The experts suspect Gould had autism.
Music and nerdy science fields are lousy with these wonderful "autismic" creatures who think our neuro-typical preoccupation with eye-contact and small talk is a crock. Albert Einstein anyone?