We had the pleasure the other week of spending an evening in the company of Ros Blackburn as she delivered a talk for local group of parents and teachers dealing with autism.
Ros Blackburn is severely autistic but makes a living from public speaking and should anyone get the opportunity to see her speak then I would certainly encourage you to.
Firstly, she is inspiring in that despite her autism (because of her autism) she has forged a living. She's not dead in a corner, she isn't in prison, she's a normal human being making a living. This is a particularly optimistic note.
Now during her talk she touched on something which I think applies to L. I should say that she is quite forthright in her views, especially that if a child can do certain things then they are most certainly not autistic. I disagreed with this but clearly she has a very clear, experienced and specific view point. The talk dealt with severe autism and conditions such as dyspraxia and aspergers syndrome. She doesn't really deal with the autistic spectrum, as per the title of this whole blog, she too sees the world in black and white which is of course perfectly understandable.
Anyway, she starts off by stating that she only knows what she is taught shown or told (again, I have no notes to reference so I may be paraphrasing). This means that, as she beautifully explained it, she has no gut to advise her. She can't rely on instinct to tell her what's right or wrong. She needs strict rules to follow otherwise she is stuck.
Consider for a moment the following sentences and what you would do for each...
"can you open the window?"
"can you speak French?"
"can you swim?"
You would perhaps respond to each question differently. An autist would instead refer to their internal rule book, perhaps deciding that "can you...?" means answer yes or no. Or, it may mean go do it please.
In my mind as she was explaining this I thought well why don't you clarify the question? I understood that the question is ambiguous, that "can you swim?" could be interpreted as go and find a swimming pool and jump in it and swim, and that there is no reference point in the autistic mind to try and figure out which is the appropriate response, but I still don't quite understand why you can't clarify the question.
I suppose this would mean clarifying everything - there must be so much that we take for granted that we understand, but how do we learn these things?
Anyway, the lack of a gut feeling certainly reminds me of L. Perhaps not do much in the misunderstanding but certainly in the need to have things examined, to prepare himself for what is about to happen. His reference points which most of us use - previous experience, mirroring the reactions of others, common sense - are all somewhat distorted and so he deals with things differently.
It is a testament to us that we manage this quite well with him.
Even if I do say so myself!