We live in a time when limited definitions and restrictive boundaries no longer apply.
For example, autism.
People with autism themselves are changing what it means to be “normal.” The wild artist, the radical theorist, the creative scientist have long been held at arm’s length from the rest of us. So have many others who push the boundaries.
Amanda Baggs, who doesn’t speak aloud but does speak through her keyboard, says that autism is a “constant conversation” with one’s surroundings. Ms. Baggs also actively communicates with a network of people around the world through her articles and forum posts. Videos she’s made have been viewed over a million times. Her voice makes a difference.
It shows the parents of five-year-old Rowan dealing with his tantrums, incontinence and most upsetting to them, their son’s distance. The mother, a psychology professor and the father, a human rights advocate who works with indigenous people around the world, apply diets, therapies, supplements and remarkable patience. Rowan’s screaming outbursts isolate the family. The couple, once world travelers, can barely manage a trip to a nearby park.
Although the father is a life-long equestrian, he keeps his unpredictable son away from horses. But one day Rowan runs to the next door neighbor’s horse. There an old mare reaches her head down and nuzzles the child as if he were her colt. Instinctively the father puts his son on the horse’s back. Rowan relaxes, lies down and talks easily.
A brief experience with a shamanistic healing ceremony that seems to be beneficial stirs Rowan’s parents to wonder where in the world they might find help for their son that pairs horses with shamanism. They end up going all the way to Mongolia.
There they don’t find miracles. But the journey, the horseback riding, the shamanic healing and the wide open landscape precipitates something beyond their understanding. Something happens that has to do with the mystery of autism itself. Although Rowan’s tantrums don’t go away, he also laughs, plays with other children, talks freely and becomes toilet trained. These improvements persist.
Autism is, whatever your perspective, now part of the human experience. According to some studies, the incidence has risen to epidemic proportions of one in every 110 children. That’s a 50% increase from 1994. Other studies say the incidence may be a great deal higher.
This has been linked to heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum exposure, to inflammatory syndrome affecting the gut, to a whole range of interrelated environmental factors which may disproportionately affect people with specific genetic or epigenic factors.
A friend with two sons whose behavior puts them at the low functioning end of the autism spectrum says her boys, with their overt preference for screen-based technology, make her wonder if we’re pushing the envelope of evolution. “This is what more of our next generations will act like,” she tells me. “I’m not saying it’s good or bad. It’s where our choices have led us.”
Rowan’s father said a prayer before a wind-swept shine in Mongolia for all people touched in any way by autism. He asked that it be understood. He asked that the unknown gifts of autism be revealed.
May it be so.
image titled “Autistic” courtesy of Tyora
image titled “People Are Not Puzzles” courtesty of hgmuffin_stuff