Thoughts on Autism
If all else fails consult the manual, or, if you’re on the web, and at a loss for answers, consult Wikipedia, here on Autism. What stands out to me immediately are key phrases such as: “how this occurs is not understood.” Priceless. Meanwhile, they know it’s a brain disorder, even though they don’t understand how it happens, and nobody knows how meat thinks. So if you don’t know how it happens, how can you know it’s a brain disorder? Ah, the mysteries of modern medicine…
To clarify my sentiments a bit further, I’m the son of a psychiatrist, oldest brother, of a youngest sister, who has symptoms “somewhat like autism,” while however reams of psychiatrists, child- and otherwise, could never agree on what the exact classification of her symptoms was. My father raised me with a healthy dose of skepticism about the tenets of Western medicine. His own inability to deal with this issue in his own family undoubtedly was a living concern for him, and focused his mind on the limits of the would-be science of medicine.
What I remember is that my little sister was the center of all that happened in the family. Also, that there were many years when communication seemed to take place, even though she never learned to speak, but she had a terrific sense of humor and would laugh at the right times. She also had a great sense for people, and when my very bitter grandmother on my father’s side would visit, she was guaranteed to cry all day until the woman left. One way or another she was the center of family life, and actually a joy to be around, though her needs of course had a tendency to impose a certain structure on those around her. In all it was always manageable to care for her at home, in particular since my father had his practice at home, and there was always help on that account. But the little sister was the center of family life.
Besides the experience of seeing all these brilliant doctors, my father’s colleagues, who were all non-plussed by what the exact issue was with my sister, I think we mostly felt that she was a blessing, and the mostly non-verbal communication with her added a dimension to family life, which otherwise might have been much more fractious, and splintered completely earlier than it did. Having said that, I tend to think there was an element of subconscious blame games between my parents, and a practical development in which I tend to think that my mother in particular developed some saintly pretenses that the Lord had called her to devote her life to the care of this child, which began to take the place of her previous calling to support my father in his practice, and so I suspect that her total attention shifted to the child, who was placed on a pedestal as some sort of an angel, and the net effect of that may have been that my father was being frozen out and in retrospect it seems that by the time I was about 14 or 15 years old, there was a freeze in relations which ultimately led to a divorce, with my mother persisting in her saintly role, and never taking any responsibility for her part in changing the dynamics of the relationship, by de facto elevating her mother role to sainthood, at the expense of her wife-role. Needless to say it all exploded into complete and utter misunderstanding and an all around breakdown of family communications for the rest of our lives, with the little sister ending up in an institution, gradually deteriorating, and seemingly no longer really recognizing anyone of us.
In ca. ‘ 96/’98 I studied A Course in Miracles for some time with a brilliant family therapist in Riverdale, who was then in her late 70’s and 80’s and really had a lifetime’s worth of experience. Along with what I was learning of how the mind really works from the Course, it was also her understanding of family dynamics which gave me new clues about the situation I grew up in, or at least a different way to look at it. Fundamentally her insight was that a family unit often times is a demonstration that the mind really is one, which all of us don’t want to know, and therefore hate each other all the more particularly because we really see ourselves in the other, and this effect is of course the strongest within the family unit. It was through her questioning that I became hip to the dynamic of my mother’s making the child the absolute center of her life, and freezing out my father, and one thing that put me on to this was her probing into my own early puberty, and the notion that children often act out wildly if there is unspoken disharmony between the parents, and gradually I began to see a pattern. And so where on the surface it seemed that it was my father who became unfaithful, then it became clearer to me that there were other roots of the problem. And again on the whole it became very insightful to me to see how a family really is a dynamic system, that is truly one on a level that none of them consciously do understand or even want to understand. My ex-wife had an intuitive grasp of this, and an expression, namely, everyone always knows everything. And this is very true, and it’s threatening to us. Yet then there are paths like the Course, where the notion that the mind is one is brought out with great insight, and you begin to fathom, that it is unnatural for minds not to communicate, but that the choice for the ego really entails a purposive breakdown of communications, which is a necessary expedient for the individual to prove itself, and as such simply part of the experience here in this life. However once we can look at this with some more disengagement, healing may become possible. And now it is about forgiveness, and recognizing that the issue is not whether the autism (or whatever it is) of my little sister could ever be healed (small chance later in life, when decline has set in), or could have been healed, if only… (blame game), but to forgive myself for the inherent “autism” that represents the basic choice for the ego, and it’s illusion of a life separated from our source. If you read the descriptions of autism that way, and begin to forgive yourself, perhaps things can start to change.
At that stage, we can start to move beyond a lot of nonsense, and blame games, and simply recognize that the choice of being mentally handicapped, retarded, or autistic, a criminal, or whatever, is merely yet another form of acting out the separation, and therefore an opportunity to forgive ourselves for the “tiny, mad idea” in the growing awareness that we have the option to make another choice and that our brothers are actually our teachers who help us learn to make that other choice, when we’re ready. Now changing anyone outside ouselves is no longer necessary, for the only thing we can change is ourself. So all the attempts to heal and fix everybody around us is then recognized as part of the insanity of the dream of separation, and we can focus on simply doing the most loving thing, and that begins with forgiving, forgiving, and more forgiving, and then we’ll know what you do or don’t need to do, as the most loving thing in the world, including how to deal with a “mentally disadvantaged” sibling or child. For our natural inclination in our attempts to “help,” are usually little else but ways of trying to remake our brothers in our own image, which we immodestly presume to be “healthy” and “normal,” and thereby we miss out on the opportunity for healing ourselves, by keeping the problem outside of us, in someone else.
How has someone with special needs or Autism effected your life?