Friday, May 2, 2008

The Joy of The Joy of Autism

Let me take a quick moment to wish Ms. Klar-Wolfond well, and to talk briefly about the value of her words.

I knew almost nothing about autism in the months leading up to my son’s third birthday. What I did know was what everyone else had told me—that autism was a terrible disorder, a tragedy for both parent and child. When during those months it was suggested to me that Brian himself could be autistic, I laughed quite hysterically, because in my mind’s eye the juxtaposition of autism’s image against the bright, unique boy standing before me was something I could only describe as ludicrous. But I did begin to observe him more carefully, and also the other children his age—who much to my surprise were already shaking hands and saying hello goodbye, and never showing a minute’s interest in any nearby ceiling fan, let alone several hour’s. So I began to realize the label of autism could indeed apply, and I began to do some homework.

That is when the real dilemma began.

In the literature, in the research, in all the damning anecdotes—in fact everywhere one looks—autism’s prevailing wisdom spreads out like a monstrous wilderness. Built on top of assumption after assumption and repeated again and again as though mimicry were a virtue, its landscape is drawn in only the most devastating, hopeless and shameful of colors. And what’s more, its crafters are loud and authoritative—they stand ready to mock the slightest challenge. Come to that desert already believing deeply in your child, I warn you, for against its oppressive onslaught, one boy’s smile is going to appear immeasurably fragile and small.

One oasis I stumbled upon quite early was Ms. Klar-Wolfond’s incredible journal, The Joy of Autism. That title alone would have been enough to slake me—a delicate fist against the giant’s chin—but also there was Adam, nearly exactly the same age as my own son, and an echo through and through. The descriptions, the photos, the persistent love, a defiance against the crowd—over the years they have refreshed like cool water, and I too have tasted blessing in autism’s bubbling joy. Perhaps I am just one reader versus the hundreds—I know many insist her stand is wrong. But me, I will remain forever grateful; for although I know the prevailing wisdom will never be in need of any comfort, Brian and I most certainly were.

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