Born in 1960 and 1957, my brother and I were seen as peculiar children. Had we been born a few decades later, I’m sure we would have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
Mark Leviton’s interview with Steve Silberman [“Misdiagnosed and Misunderstood,” March 2017] revealed to me the significance of childhood behaviors that I haven’t thought about in a long time: my inability to tie my shoes (and our parents’ joking insistence that I was, therefore, stupid); my brother’s habit of holding his arms up at his sides; my terror at the unfamiliar odor of popcorn in a movie theater.
This was all before there was a “tribe” of geeky kids to which we could belong, and parts of our childhood were not easy. We’re adults now, and our pattern-recognition abilities help us write good, clear computer code, so we have both earned a decent living.
We’re lucky; if we were farther along the spectrum, we might not have figured out a way to (almost) fit in. And perhaps we were lucky, too, to grow up when the diagnosis was reserved for those with more serious symptoms.
In extreme cases autism is clearly problematic, but moderate versions look to me like personality types that contribute to the human repertoire.
“Normal” behavior in America consists of buying, selling, accumulating, competing, and glad-handing. In moderation these, too, can contribute to society, but are the extremes any less problematic?
“Misdiagnosed and Misunderstood” brought back memories. When my son Joey was a small child, my husband thought him peculiar; I thought him creative. We were both right. He could also be puzzling and frustrating. At the age of two he would grab the crib rail and jump up and down for half an hour after we put him to bed, or lurch back and forth, banging his head and growling. He was sensitive to hair clippings or sand on his skin. He had a good command of language but also made up words like “eenitzer” for the stove timer.
At the age of four Joey had weekly visits with an odious psychiatrist who blamed us for our son’s “childhood schizophrenia.” Joey’s behavior made life hard for our younger children, who were wary of him and found him embarrassing. (He’d hide under the table in Sunday school and hum out loud in grade school.) Thoughtless teachers in junior high did not welcome him, and he was bullied. Joey would focus on some subject — wildflowers, coins, local history — that would occupy his thoughts to the exclusion of almost everything else.
We put him in a private school where all the students had issues, but his behavior became problematic even there. Our pediatrician said Joey needed to be in an institution. My mother-in-law couldn’t see anything wrong with him and considered us cruel, but we did what we thought we had to do.
Joey spent three years in a mental hospital. He adjusted to his medications, took classes, played guitar, attended dances, and earned his high-school diploma. After a stressful year at home, he entered a halfway house, where the staff taught him how to shop and cook and let him have a darkroom for his photography. He is now able to live on his own, with help. He’s involved with our church and a local clubhouse for young people like him.
When a pediatrician finally spoke to us about Asperger’s, it was our first inkling of Joey’s true diagnosis.
I was deeply disappointed in Mark Leviton’s interview with Steve Silberman. I have been in the autism trenches for more than twenty-five years as an advocate, an attorney, and the mother of a profoundly impaired autistic son.
Silberman states that Temple Grandin is an “example of what happens if you don’t mistreat autistic people,” although he acknowledges that not every autistic person has that level of potential. He also offers the example of Leo Rosa, saying that “his parents are not trying to force him to be someone he’s not. . . . He’s loved for who he is.” This sounds an awful lot like blaming the parents if their autistic kid isn’t accomplished like Grandin or happy like Rosa. A neurodiversity proponent once told me that my son was self-injurious and aggressive toward me and my husband because we didn’t love and accept his autism. She told me he was angry because he “didn’t have a safe place to be autistic.” Really. Parents who have to deal with a child’s severe autism do not need a burden of guilt on top of everything else.
I am sick of the way the media ignore severe autism, the way the medical profession shrugs its shoulders and pushes antipsychotic drugs, and the way the neurodiversity movement claims to speak for everyone with autism.
I am glad that you published Edward Bradshaw’s moving essay “Bella,” about his autistic daughter, for balance. I empathize with him and wish his family the best.
Mark Leviton’s interview with Steve Silberman was excellent but missing a few things. After almost twenty years working in the classroom with kids with autism, I was surprised at Silberman’s lack of appreciation for the special-education teachers, speech pathologists, and school psychologists who see it all. He also neglected to offer one possible explanation for the increased number of autism diagnoses: that doctors have no compunction labeling a person “autistic” even when another obvious disability might be involved. Autism is the label du jour. Every teacher I know has had at least one student who was diagnosed with autism but actually has another disability.
Krista Bremer’s essay “American Winter” [February 2017] caused me to cry at work. The tenderness she and her husband show toward each other made me miss my own husband, who passed away six years ago. I’m glad he will not have to endure a Donald Trump presidency, but I do wish he were still here. The love between two people is sometimes all that can get us through difficult situations.
David Budbill’s poetry in the same issue opened my heart even more. I’m sorry he has passed on. The world needs poets like him, with a clear, simple style that speaks the truth.
Because of its beautiful scenery and hills, my neighborhood attracts cyclists. I dislike them, especially ones who ride in groups, because they often block roads and do not follow traffic rules. But after reading Heather Sellers’s essay “Pedal, Pedal, Pedal” [January 2017], I feel a bit more forgiving toward them.
Ralph Nader [“It’s Easier Than We Think,” interview by David Barsamian, December 2016] has spearheaded important changes in our nation and deserves our respect for doing so, but his disregard for Hillary Clinton muddied his message.
Nader makes unfounded attacks on Clinton, predicting she would have done “illegal and violent and greedy things” if elected and claiming her people rigged primary votes in Iowa and Nevada. Despite hundreds of investigative efforts, no proof of such accusations has ever surfaced.
Hillary Clinton’s positions on most issues were nearly indistinguishable from those of her Democratic-primary rival, Bernie Sanders. The candidates’ prime disagreement was in tactics: Clinton sought to engage Wall Street in rebuilding the nation; Sanders focused on those who are left out. I suspect we need both.
Although I blame Ralph Nader for Al Gore’s loss in 2000, Nader has done a lot of good. I appreciate his moderate views on gun control (there are some good reasons for gun ownership) and immigration (it’s about the economy, stupid).
He’s wrong, though, on self-driving cars. I used to work at Tesla Motors, an electric-car company, and self-driving cars will be available before we know it. They will bring enormous benefits in safety, time savings, and possibly emissions reductions. We need to get out of denial and figure out how to regulate self-driving cars.
Ralph Nader responds:
To Marjorie Morgan: Hillary Clinton is a hawk and a Wall Streeter. When she advocated toppling Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in Libya — which has led to constant violence there and in neighboring countries — she rejected the opposing advice of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his generals. Her positions are not similar to Bernie Sanders’s — not on full Medicare for all, on a fifteen-dollar minimum wage, on waging peace, on regulating Wall Street and breaking up the big banks, and on tuition-free college education, to name a few. The WikiLeaks disclosures showed how the pro-Hillary Democratic National Committee worked to undermine Sanders’s campaign.
To Matthew Eggers: Every American has an equal right to run for office, third-party candidates included. As Al Gore himself recognized, he lost because of the Electoral College (Gore won the national popular vote), the three hundred thousand Democrats in Florida who voted for George W. Bush, Florida governor Jeb Bush’s electoral system abuses, and the judicial coup d’état by the five Republicans on the U.S. Supreme Court, who blocked the state-wide recount ordered by the Florida Supreme Court. Absent any one of these, Gore would have won.
Also, the many hurdles confronting driverless cars — such as negotiating dense New York City traffic, resisting dangerous hacking, and gaining motorists’ confidence — should give pause to any proponent of them.
My husband and I have been together for almost twenty years. We have a happy life and hardly argue about anything, except his habit of hoarding magazines, artwork by our kids, concert ticket stubs, and so on. I pride myself on organization and having a nice, clean space. Why clutter up our lives?
Three years ago a friend gave me a subscription to The Sun, and I was instantly hooked by the raw storytelling and controversial content. I haven’t been able to throw away a single issue. The irony has not escaped me.