Thursday, December 4, 2008

Autism as a Puzzle Piece

Autism advocacy and charity groups (such as Autism Speaks) like to depict autism as a puzzle piece. Oddly enough, so do I.

When I first learned about autism in detail, I was already forty-five years old and the subject had barely crossed my mind before that time. What had been on my mind over the years were questions regarding humanity and its universe, for you see I am one those poor souls prone to ruminate over such mysteries as language, intelligence, science, psychology and history. Those ruminations had taken me not all that far; it seemed I had barely formed the frame of some gigantic puzzle—one of utmost importance to be sure, but one also quite empty near its middle, a crucial hole right there at its center.

Then without warning, autism knocked at my door.

Like Suzanne Wright, I could have said autism had knocked on the wrong door, for given the way it was being introduced to me—as mental illness, as medical catastrophe, as a burden only autism advocacy and charity groups could offer to remove—viewed like that, autism clearly had no bearing on my unfinished puzzle at all. But at forty-five years of age, I had no preconceived notions, I had no existing stake in autism’s conventional wisdom; so I felt at liberty to examine the subject from all sides, felt audacious enough to dare to flip it over. And lo and behold—now no longer seen as mental illness, no longer viewed as medical catastrophe, no longer taken as the pity fodder for autism advocacy and charity groups—autism snapped cleanly into place, the snuggest puzzle piece I could ever hope to find.

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