02/17/2015 02:55 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Understanding Autism: The Frank Gehry Connection


Photo courtesy of Lens Photography

Personally, I'd rather be walking though an art gallery than pretty much anywhere else on earth. I, admittedly, barely have a foothold on the art world, with my occasional visits to cities that house great art, but I revel in the galleries no matter how sophomoric my knowledge. I'm happy there. Whether it be the primitive sketches of early man or the stark simplicity of modern art (and everything in between) it reminds me that there are so many ways to experience the world; so many ways to communicate intention and feeling.

Recently, during a visit to New York, I was admiring the architecture of Frank Gehry, while jammed into the top of a double-decker tour bus surveying the city. The tower itself gave me chills. The idea of the penthouse that sat atop that tower could make me weep. I realized I was holding my breath as I stared at Gehry's contribution to the New York skyline when I overheard the following from a gentleman behind me: "I just don't get it. It seems wrong somehow. What's the point of making something so bizarre. It's kind of offensive." His seatmate laughed, a vacuous laugh that told me she had little idea what he was talking about and I turned because I needed to see who could have such contempt for a piece of art. I felt annoyed, indignant, even. I realize art is subjective but this man had used the phrase "offensive" to describe someone's attempt to communicate using architecture. I wanted to say that Gehry's building was a masterpiece, a goddamn triumph, but instead I took note of the pair's matching bored expressions as they scrolled their phones rather than take in the New York skyline and instead I turned back around. It was none of my business, right?

I began to think about Kate because looking at the world's most extraordinary art often brings that little spitfire to mind. I thought of my daughter Kate, who has autism, and all the children like her and how interacting with them can be like interacting with the world's most profound works of art. They, too, exhibit various and intricate forms of communication. They can stun you with beauty and uniqueness and they can confound you with devastation and complexity. Some of you will look at them and think "I will work hard to understand because I can see there is undeniable beauty here", and some will look at them and think "I just don't get it. It seems wrong somehow."

While I don't deny there are many dark days in the world of autism, I am slowing learning to appreciate it for its asymmetry. Much like Gehry's work, which has been described as "ill-formed, misshapen and undeveloped," autism is often misrepresented and misunderstood.

It's time we realized that understanding autism is more of an art than a science.