Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder —
Autism and Humanity

One child in every 110 in the U.S. is now diagnosed to be somewhere on the spectrum of autism. We step back from public controversies over causes and cures and explore the mystery and meaning of autism in one family's life, and in history and society. Our guests say that life with their child with autism has deepened their understanding of human nature — of disability, and of creativity, intelligence, and accomplishment.

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Guests

is a literary historian and author of Not Even Wrong: Adventures in Autism.

is an artist and author of Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes.

Pertinent Posts

1

StoryCorps's animated short of a mother and her son with Asperger's syndrome reminds us of the lessons Paul Collins shared about raising his autistic son.

Selected Readings

Five Weeks

by Stephen Jay Gould

The famous scientist Stephen Jay Gould recounts a personal story about his autistic son and the charming simplicity of calculating dates.

Parallel Play

by Tim Page

My second-grade teacher never liked me much, and one assignment I turned in annoyed her so extravagantly that the red pencil with which she scrawled "See me!" broke through the lined paper. Our class had been asked to write about a recent field trip, and, as was so often the case in those days, I had noticed the wrong things:

The Vanishing Boy

by Paul Collins

The moment I opened my eyes I knew something was wrong. The sun wasn't up yet, and a cry was forming in Morgan's throat. I padded over to his bed, puzzled.

"Morgan?"

SoundSeen (our multimedia stories)

YouTube Logo Histories

For their son Morgan and other people with autism, YouTube has fostered a community catering to his interest in television logo histories. So we asked him for links to some of his favorite videos. Here's some of his favorites of PBS, WGBH, and Paramount.

About the Image

Morgan climbs on playground equipment in 2002 — the first year after being diagnosed with autism.

(photo: Marc Thomas)

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32Reflections

Reflections

This NOT a criticism in the pejorative sense. But it's not praise either.

For the program on autism there is mention of documentation suggesting familial connection of the disorder to parental occupations in science areas (and music). In other words, a genetic connection appears to be implied. For a number of reasons, this could be a very important, including for practical reasons such as family planning, if true. So the questions are, What is the specific documentation for this (eg, investigators; journal of publication; study design, including number of observations and control group; etc.)? and How thoroughly has this the problem been studied otherwise (eg, other publications that would confirm)? Clearly, bad science has the potential for great damage.

Thank you.

There was a comment towards the end of the broadcast interview, wondering about what the autistic did before computers.

I've never been overtly identified as autistic, but I can look at myself and note traits that are strongly congruent with that diagnosis along with others that are not. I can't tell you what others did to keep occupied in those days, but I found plenty to keep me busy.

I would manually calculate hundreds of points to graph a three-variable equation. Once I had several sheets of calculated points, I would take a clean sheet of paper and transfer those points into a two-dimensional representation of that three-dimensional figure (In Ink). This took many long hours. When done, I would briefly color the figure. My artistic mother saw the swooping forms and colors as an expression of artistic temperament. My engineer father saw the math and focus. Both were delighted with my similarity to themselves.

Later, after I deliberately learned enough social skills to function in limited social situations, I kept meeting people who were deeply invested in astrology. I decided to do a study of that belief system. I studied how to calculate the positions of the planets in the skies. When I met new people, I would calculate their charts and analyze them as carefully as did the astrologers of old. I would re-chart for each major event in their lives and add that to my data as well. Eventually, I was able to conclude that astrology can predict, to a limited degree, someone's personality. The more effectively they were parented, the less the astrological chart matched their personality. I found no correlation whatsoever between life events and someone's progressed chart.

These days, SuDoKu helps calm me down. I like doing it both online and on paper (In Ink).

As a college professor in Art,going on my 30th year at Defiance College,I am daily confronted with learning disabilities, my own and others. We have an Autism education program in our education division,so I interact with Autistic students on a daily basis , I also do some vollenteer work at Bittersweet Farms an Autism residental facility in NW Ohio.
My journey that I remember started when I was in the 4th grade and I was sent to psychologist for my inability to learn at the "normal" rate ,acting out , hitting as a reaction on meeting new people, even though I tested very high on IQ test, I still have trouble spelling , doing menoriziation , my social skill are what most would consider above normal, but I look at them no differently than if I was in a play , learned the "normal" acceptable reaction to what people expect , and I still play the artist card , we're suppose to look at the world a little differently, act a little bit differently. But for me it is the norm , inter-personal interactions are difficult , twice divorced, kind of a loner ,from my own point of view ,we with dissabilities are only different from the norm , and I don't respect or embrace the norm,I do embrace individuality , the right to be myself , and still be successful . I'm sure now I would be diagnosed with Ausburgers. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL , AND SHOULDNT ,many images of my work are on my facebook site

I loved the observation that Issac Newton was also a single-minded individual, who happened to be focused on something other people found interesting. Paul Collins mentions that there are Newtons of refrigerator parts and painted light bulbs and train schedules. Newton just happened to be the Newton of Newtonian physics and it's hard to imagine the one existing without the others.

As a teaching artist working with special populations, a person with a set of goals in my interaction with autistic students, I hope that I never fail to be open to whatever it is that the child is a 'Newton' of. Their sharing of that in our time together amounts to the greatest gift my profession can afford me.

This is regarding your story on autism. I really enjoyed your program and what I heard from the guests, but I wanted to offer a correction regarding your explanation of Wolfgang Pauli's use of the phrase, "Not even wrong."

Pauli used that phrase to describe theories that could not provide testable predictions or otherwise be shown to be right or wrong. You said he used the phrase to describe "way out theories." Way out theories are great, but they are useless (not even wrong) if they can not lead to predictions of physical reality or if there is no experiment capable of proving or disproving them.

Thus, general relativity is a way out, yet testable theory, so that Mr. Pauli never described it as not even wrong. We like those kinds of theories. Way out, yet testable theories are a good thing.

Thanks,

Jim Bowey

Concerning Morgan and all the other thousands of persons with autism and related disorders: Many of these people, like much of the public at large, are deficient in Vitamin D. When this is the case and high dose replacement Vitamin D is provided, there are often major changes for the good in the autistic person's functioning. For details and references, check with the Vitamin D Council and Dr John Cannell ---- "John Cannell, M.D." We enjoy your program each Sunday morning. Many Thanks, John Matthew,M.D.

Einstein’s God

I heard Krista speak with Doug Fabrizio on Radio West on 4/19/2010. I replied to the following comment that appeared on the Radio West blog after the show. Krista says that its time that some of us come out of the closet and this is my attempt. I am motivated to submit this post because of how it ties in with the debate on science vs. religion, Einstein’s god, inexplicable autistic gifts and perhaps your Speaking of Faith program that will air next week on math as a language. I know that I write in figurative terms, but I wonder and hope that my specific points are understandable.

The comment:
“I enjoyed the program today but was frustrated I couldn't confront Tippetts. Of course there is a conflict between science and religion. Science deals with empirical subjective fact and religion is based on belief without evidence. How does one know that God exists and how does one know WHICH God exists...Thor, Zeus, Allah, Jehova? You cannot claim to know the truth without empirical evidence. So called spiritual feelings of awe, mystery etc. are manifestations of our own biological functions whether we fully understand them or not, there's absolutely nothing that give evidence of a supernatural influence from outside our own senses. Tippets dismissal of Dawkins, Harris and others as being outside of the conversation totally misrepresents them. None of them claim to KNOW that there is no God, they are simply asking for the evidence and none has so far been presented except in the form of the God of gaps. We don't know, its a mystery so there must be a God and he did it, that is simply not satisfactory to a rational scientific mind!”

My response:

If there is a creator, there can be no conflict between religion and science. The book of science is the evolved Old Testament: the book of principles, laws and consequence. Einstein searched for these eternal verities. Einstein searched for unity. Einstein recognized god, but not the God of the Bible. Einstein believed in the God of Spinoza, the God of America's founding document and the God of my faith. We believe in the Laws of Nature and in Nature’s God.

Krista speaks of incomplete religion. Incomplete religions deny the validity of empirical evidence, but you, on the other hand, are giving it a credence it does not deserve. Empiricism is the measuring and collecting of quantifiable data; this is the science of Aristotle and Bacon; facts are first collected and categorized; then relationships are discovered. Einstein’s science, on the other hand, was to theorize first and empirically fortify or disprove later. Einstein's science was rationality, not empiricism. Empirical evidence can never completely verify theory, it can only disprove theory. Empirical evidence cannot prove the existence of your mind, your consciousness, or your awareness, let alone God’s; case in point, Terri Schiavo.

More evolved religions understand that God has no name. I consider the holiest book of spirituality to be the Tao Te Ching, which directly correlates to the New Testament of the Bible, and it states, “The Tao that can be named is not the nameless Tao. The Tao that can be known is not the unknowable Tao. Nameless and unknowable, the Tao has been from the very beginning. It is the wisdom of all that is and the way of the Great Mother.” This is a very advanced understanding of the mind and its limitations and it was apparently understood somewhere around the time of, Lao Tzu, the Buddha, and Socrates. Our rationality, our experience, our facts are always one degradation away from that which is. Symbolized language or the written Word is at least three degradations from that which is.

The ancient Hebrews also recognized this. I was taught as a second grader in Catechism that God’s name was Yahweh meaning “I am who am”: a nameless awareness, perhaps a consciousness. Yahweh was written, YHWH, and I see it as a symbol, unspeakable. It is not that we are not good enough to utter the sound but its symbolism for our inability to understand its totality. Reality does not exist within a gap; the gap is our mind's inability to comprehend all that is. Out from beyond the gap comes all sense of spirituality, but also all sense of understanding, all sense of science.

Harris and Dawkins cling to a definition of God, just as the Fundamentalist do, and both bicker back and forth about empiricism, which cannot prove anything. It really is old news.

I am one that has experiences of awe. I naturally learned to enter them by turning off the intellect and emptying the mind. As I come out of them, I am presented with vivid pictorials, a spiritual hieroglyphics, a primary language. This is a universal language, only one degradation from that which is; it is the language of wisdom, the language of eternity and infinitude, of poetry and art, of being. This is the language of the feminine aspect of God, of God the Mother.

After having had these experiences, while reading, I could recognize when others had experienced them. I recognized that Emerson had them. In Emerson’s “Nature” he writes, "The world is emblematic. Parts of speech are metaphors, because the whole of nature is a metaphor, of the human mind.----the axioms of physics translates the law of ethics---This relation between mind and matter is not fancied by some poet, but stands in the will of God, and so is free to be known by all men. It appears to men, or it does not appear. When in fortunate hours we ponder this miracle, the wise man doubts, if, at all other times, he is not blind and deaf:” Emerson called this knowledge of the 'so called' gaps, genius.

As a kid, I was naturally good at mathematics. When one uses the intellect to focus, when one loses all sense of self in the object, when one enters that state of flow where you, the observer, and objective reality are one, this is extreme science and vivid equations can and do present themselves. Math is a primary language, a universal language, only one degradation from that which is; it is the language of intelligence, the language of space and time, of motion and design, of separation. Math is the language of the masculine nature of God, the language of God the Father. In my readings on Einstein, I can see that he had these “flow” experiences and he called it imagination.

I remember listening to a radio show, probably on NPR, and there was a British autistic man, Daniel Tammet, who could sing the numerals of ‘pi’ without pause or calculation for hours and hours. Without the knowledge of the gaps, you cannot explain this. He stated that he can do this because he sees each number as an image with color and shape. He can see the landscape of ‘pi’ and he translates the numerals. He sings the notes. This is the Language of the Mother, spoken in the language of the Father; it is music to our ears. This is where science and spirituality meet. This is where outer space meets inner space, where the heart beats with the mind, where the masculine and the feminine intertwine. This is where concepts are conceived. I call it reason.

This is an experience of the sacred, the source of truth and the conception of religion. It is as close to knowing as we can ever get and perhaps it is true knowing. Every individual can grasp this truth. The gap may or may not involve a God, but it does contain knowledge of the individual and how that individual relates to the whole. The gap contains values and virtues, ethics and morality, meaning and purpose; and from it will come a true and a tangible religion, which in actuality, is a true and a tangible justice, a justice, not just of rules and revenge, but a justice of burning, passionate, positive action: actions resulting in the good, actions that are healthy for the individual as well as the whole, Plato's ideal 'Good', the Christian's, 'Kingdom of God', the Buddhist', 'Nirvana', right here on earth, 'E Pluribus Unum'.

I really enjoyed the interview about autism. I have a 12 year old daughter with aspergers and I believe my 8 year old boy has austism rather than asbergers. I will be sharing the link with my friends and groups. It was very well spoken and I believe it could help people who just don't get it.
My daughter is passionate about Japanese aname. My ex (the kids daddy) is all about Star Trek and volcanism. Their daddy has not been pleasant about me thinking he is in the spectrum. And in the past he was annoyed by me trying to get him to fill out the fathers parent forms for the assessments for our kids.
My son is having the worst time right now. The school is just starting to work with me on this though I have been asking for a long time now.
I have another son age 4 and another daughter age 10. I am also asking the school for my 10 year old to see a councilor because living with two siblings in the spectrum takes it toll on her sometimes. That would be another good subject for you all to cover. By the way, I've only understood that my kids and their daddy are in the spectrum for about two years now. It is even more recent that i am finally finding more info to help me understand.
Thank you again!
Lori Revels

Our community of Black Mountain, NC, has been torn in recent years over an initiative for its struggling historic Hotel Monte Vista to become a residential school for students diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome; as most currently described somewhat in the letters to the editor of the BMNews via http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20100512/BlackMountainNews0501/3051... headed as: "Thoughts on Monte Vista" and "Where was the majority?" Having thereby learned much about AspergerS, including viewing the 2009 film Adam, I feel aspects of it in myself.

Videos of Ruffin (at age 3 and age 15) are found at the Center for Autism and Related Disorders website--Journeys Through the Autism Spectrum and Back (documentary). Ruffin is twenty, a rising junior in Electrical Engineering and Robotics at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, and working this summer as a coop employee of Texas Instruments as a researcher in the Analog Laboratory, and living with his roommate in a long-term hotel suite. The narrative poem describes his autism and recovery to functionality. Mary Jane White (Ruffin's Mom)

DRAGONFLY. TOAD. MOON.
A POEM

A practiced love of sameness:
As in this wild flapping and pacing . . .
Grunting is how he speaks to me.
A thing he wants is somewhere
In the world—find it! by
Looking
Everywhere. At all cost, avoid his tantrum.

A persistent love of sameness:
As in never move the salt and pepper . . .
As he does not speak to people, do not move
A thing in his world.
This will avoid his asking
Where?
This will avoid his tantrum.

A perseverative love, of sameness:
As in do not change anything . . .
As he does not speak to people, even me,
A thing in his world
He may love—but whom he will avoid,
By looking
Elsewhere. And avoid his tantrum.

To wash his hair was some danger.
He might thrash the tub wall with his
Head. How hard he hated any wetness,
Or to change his shirt: led me to drip water
Down his back, on purpose, once. This,
More than once. More than once. I remember:
Once he cut himself on bottle-glass,
And no more felt the pain than if his blood
Were water: was how I learned this.
Blood was nothing until its wetness would
Somehow bother him, and he’d undress.
To free himself from what?
Nor run for comfort, nor cry, but only wet
Made him complain—not the cut

My son toddles to four swings,
Pushes them until he brings
Them into a severe alignment that pleases him.

How long his own severity attends him;
How little he notices or cares for other children—

Except their play disrupt his careful pattern
Of empty swing and empty swing,
Of crossing arc and arc of thing
And thing, two pairs doubling

That leaves three other children out,
but leaves him sing.

One morning his crib is an open handful of pick-up sticks
Around his fallen mattress. In how many nights?
He has unwound the metal bolts and nuts and washers
And drawn out the several rods that help hold it together . . .

A waist-high web of string
Meets me this morning, but
Where is he gone now? Sleeping
Or walking with a string’s end in his fist?
I see he has walked from doorknob to doorknob
To cabinet door to doorknob to cabinet door, every one on the floor.
His pattern of walking is woven behind him, so hard and carefully knotted
At each knob and handle and drawer pull, there is no advance possible
Toward him. It is a morning’s work to undo this
And a tantrum and a resistance not to be
Met with, I hope, too very often.
I hope he does not repeat this.
As I fear he will repeat this.
I do not want to repeat this.

We could not go out. He would not dress,
Or be clothed, or stay clothed, or tolerate
So much as a sock, or stitch, or suffer
A single thread to cling upon his skin.
Nor eat, nor let us eat, or sleep—
Either of us . . .

Having wrestled with my angel
Forty minutes, or more,
To our mutual exhaustion,

Having dodged a curtain-rod
He’d thrown at spear-like
Speed off a stairway landing—

My heart pounding,
And his head soaking wet—
The sweat of his exertion

Brought up baby-curls—
I thought, as swaddling might
Calm a jittery newborn,

That same might work
In this pinch—with a still
Naked toddler: so

Having done that, I hauled him
Several blocks, downtown—
To our Café,
whose cheerful waitress

Observed we must have been
Swimming . . .
It was
Summer, so I agreed . . .

I just wanted to order
Something . . .

I did not sleep. When
That bedtime came and he banged
His crib, paced all night in there,
Babbling one syllable in his trance,
Happy it seemed to me, but oblivious
(I learned—oblivious), I read: the stacks
And books ordered in—in what scrap
Of time—by mail . . .

Echoing Kanner, Bettleheim wrote:
Mute autism was all the child of the family’s
Death-camp atmosphere,
Whose refrigerator mother—nice sound
Bite, that!—stands humming in the kitchen
Corner . . .

For such damage done by language
Should Dr. B. not be
Marched out in blindfold?
Sign that he was simple, blind—no,

Enough that he wandered: free to plagiarize
Other subject—harmless ones,
Old European fairy tales,
And carelessly . . .

You cannot imagine what all I heard,
What little got back to me—Mary Had A
Little Lamb—and this likely only
A little of all it was—gossiped about
Our single stoplight, rural town:

Forty hours’ work a week, face to face,
Across a red-blue plastic table—adults
And nothing but a baby in tiny plastic chairs.

Do this, do this, do this—the clean, clear repeated
Invitation to imitate—and No! (this is
Information, child), and again this: Do this:
Sit, look, clap, touch your nose, your unseen
Ears, pillow, window, color “yellow.”

Fifty-two weeks a year—two solid years
With no Christmas, Easter, summer,
And with this, he began to speak . . .

Like a parrot trained to talk
As the evaluating speech clinician carped . . .

This was training my loved and long-awaited child
Like a seal
--better by half, with less than
Half a chance, than the alternatives—

Also researched:

The black-and-white,
Awful documentaries—worse
Than six-year-old, precocious
Elizabeth Bishop’s
February, Nineteen-Eighteen
National Geographic:

A boy with his hands padded in bandages,
Harmlessly battering his helmeted head
In care;

Or the unsocial male and female
Teens, seated on a common bench
In summer, oblivious to each other,
In their large, unlovely adult bodies—
Gazes averted from each other,
And from the relentless cameras;

Or the starched-faced toddler
First tracing sun-motes in her palm,
Making an identical gesture—in super-
Imposition—years later—
No change in her behavior, her solitary
Leisure in her thirties, in the quiet or noisy,
Clean or filthy State Hospital—
Court-ordered to be no more of . . .

Or the young man later busy looping yarn
To hook in canvas, seated on the common sofa
At his group home—the ones there are
So few of . . .

Forty weekly hours’ healing work was
Better by half than the available alternatives:

Public school authorities wanted
To teach him sign—that beautiful,
Fluid language of the deaf, that fleeting,
Moving language drawn upon the air—
Which makes a picture in the mind . . .

Which he could not do, nor
Attend to—when his attention fixed,
But upon a concrete picture, or solid
Things—
Nor would he be expected
To speak to me that lovely, fluid way
As there was no thought, no plan
To teach his mother to see, or listen,
Or imagine from the air, and after all
We were not deaf—

Yet, out of caution,
I let them take him off to school—
Just three—so they could play with him.

A video camera stationed in the dunces’ corner showed
He was not prompted to mouth a single word.

So when
The stubby bus brought him home,
After six hours’ day of school,
Two women, in two three-hour shifts,
More on weekends, taught him
To speak our common language, and
How to think in common ways:

Do this, do this, like a puppet, first:
Woodenly—at each request;
Woodenly, at first . . .
As woodenly, first, his father sat
Before me in his despair of our ever
Teaching him everything?—when?

There began to come a few
Sudden fluencies—until
He became quietly common.
Over one more year’s working time, and
Entered Kindergarten . . .

. . . which, of course, was not
The end of it—as he approached
Each potential playmate with his
Single, commanding salutation:
Friend, Come play with me!
not looking
Up from whatever thing
Held his fixed attention
until with further,
Careful teaching: Touch Joe, touch Jim—
We taught him—from photographs—
Snapshots arrayed across his desk—each
Personal name,
and drummed upon
The odd, to him, abstract notion
That in our common world—Some
Will be your friends, and some
Will not . . .

Then came
Latency: the beautiful, quiet
Years of going back and forth to school—
Simple enough, so:

In science, in school,
I, too, loved repeating it—
The experiment—
A simple miracle:
Crystals growing
Down a string—
Suspended
From someone’s pencil:

Down a tall jelly-
Glass, brought
Unbroken
From home—one
Printed with simple
Line-drawn scenes of
Colonial Williamsburg—
Huge, delicate-spoked
Wheels, and passing
Lanterns—a lady’s
Piled curls—the jelly-
Jewel backdrop
Eaten up and gone—
So simple—enough:
Solution of sugar—
We made
Supersaturate—
Shoveling it in:

Also into
Pale iced tea, and
Clouding each
Crystal goblet—
If unreprimanded—
At the holiday-
Crowded dining table—

Stirred and stirred
Stubborn sediment
Away to blur—

Time evaporated:
That worked as well
With salt.

Back then we saw the house that is our home now. Stepping into the car, with a realtor. And pointed it out.
If I had my choice, I’d make my offer on that one. It. The brick mass. On the corner.
Ah, yes, admired the realtor, that one will never be for sale.
And said straight out, If it were, you could not afford it.

Autism intervened upon this story . . .

Then, as life re-righted, when anything could happen again,
I thought, What else could I make happen?

My son, then six, went with me.
He said it was like walking into a church.

Whose interior walls were white. Every wall we saw.

Second visit: we got no further than the glazed-over terrace at the back door.
The woman of the house could not walk, and was seated there.
Surgery on her heel.
We glimpsed a dining room, behind the man of the house. He was very gracious, of course, but unyielding.
So wonderfully solicitous of his hobbled wife.

Third visit: my son and I stood under a low stucco outcropping—a second floor nursery, as it turned out, supported by two limestone columns—ornamented, but unclassically—carved with a double band of tulips:
A band of buds, below a band of stone, open cups.

We walked through the whole house, once,
Once, room after room, all white, all with stunning windows . . .

Of metal bar, each bore a central medallion—more tulips—bound by a narrow, narrow border of green-acid glass:
Crackled clear glass that looked like winter ice, or falling rain.
And sleet, a pebbled opalescent white.
A bronzed opaque black.
A little real green,
A little pale yellow.

Then it came to us, our white elephant.
It came as four apartments. My son and I could only afford to live in one of them—downstairs.

My son slept in the library, a north room with no closet.
I slept in the original kitchen, another north room, without heat.

Its attic—crow’s nest—was empty.
The maid’s room was occupied—Do Not Enter—my renter’s storage flickered under a loopy neon ring, serviced by a run of stapled conduit.

My son, my renter and I were in the basement, waiting out a tornado warning. I opened the subject of buying a house—her own home.

Then it was empty enough to touch, to enter the master bedroom and linger before the octagonal bay of four double casements, twin to a formal dining room below.

My son wants this room. I want this room. It is becoming our house now.
We do not always act as if we were in church.

My twelve-year-old walks into his summer dorm room at physics camp. He is sullen. He says it is an ugly room. It is.
He needs to live here, just a week.
He appeals to me pointedly: It only has white walls. This is an argument he’s heard, and knows should sway me.
They might have put a little color into it.
I sit on the low, narrow bed. To talk.
I say everyone who moves into a dorm moves away from home.
I suggest now he could buy posters?
He doesn’t care to.
I suggest his roommate might bring posters.
I remind him he will only sleep here.
I insist it will be dark then.
He is not philosophical.

Summer’s end: my twelve-year-old and friend are camped on the second story side porch, with cats.
They are eating up there. They have even dragged up the cat bowls.

Also, a spool of kite string, and their colored plastic wheels, with snapping plastic sticks.

One end of string loops down, across the yard, to a fence.
There is an elegant second string attached, to facilitate retrieval.

All afternoon the plastic wheels of a changing contraption travel back and forth, up and down, the singing string they call their zip line.

There are no proper places in this house for televisions.
All the proper places are taken by fireplaces.

I take down our latest volume, to read a chapter aloud to my son and his fidgeting friend.

Now that the renter’s entry is closed up . . .
Now that the stairwell is opened . . .
Now that the hallway is free of odd doors . . .
Now that the doors are back in their appointed places, and open . . .
Now, anywhere I choose to sit in this house, I can see out the windows of other rooms.

Living room—sitting by the south wall’s fireplace, my eye travels easily out the north windows of the library—to the cool, purple rhododendron—each spring.

From the dining room’s octagonal bay—low sun strikes the tiny, red iridescent corners of a sideboard’s glazed upper cabinet doors.

Above a table, the central white petal of each glass tulip glows—a steady white flame—as the sky darkens.

At dusk, the glass becomes, burns opaque.
This is dinner hour, on the western prairie.

As I wrote, this was latency.
And then, he
Was never going to learn to spell, although
We spent every breakfast working at it.
Dyslexia—another awful word,
But commoner—intervened:

At twelve, just past Christmas, at the age
English cabin-boys signed on
The Royal Navy—the age—we researched it—
Marquette left his wilderness home
For college—for Quebec—
He moved away to board in Massachusetts.

I drove to see him, once or twice a month.

Two years’ school, in blazers and khakis,
And school-colored ties, he learned to listen
To his laptop computer—read for him—

And how to talk—slowly, in phrases, please—
Into his headset microphone—so his own
Words would rise up in seconds flat
Upon his steady laptop’s screen: he learned
To mimic Steinbeck and Hemingway, and
To print his papers, by pressing Print,

And learned to ski—a flashing solitary—
Down night-lit Berkshire’s Black Diamond Trail,
To hike Monadnock, and the gentle Linden Hill . .

You were born
A girl-child
To grow into
This Christian name,
Which will be
As a shell
To the tender foot
Of a snail; in it
Your heart will
Go on beating
And glistening.

After the cards
Are all fallen
Into their
Rightful places,
After the pure
Accident of
A shuffle,
You will see
The hearts
Line up
With the hearts;
The spades,
With the spades.

Then persist
In nothing:
Water will erase
Your name, your
Heart. Wind
Will carry you
Away. Everyone
Who ever loved
Or remembered
You—though
They persist,
Or do nothing—
Will follow
Or go before you,
The same way.

Away,
He learned to play
Within a baseball team,
The year his teachers’
Favorite, unfavored
Boston Red Sox,
Won the Series.

Baseball and golf! became
His own preferred, predictable
Games of discrete events:
Do this, do this: these allowed
Him ample room for individual
Acts, feats of skill . . .
while avoiding still,
And still ignores, the social fluidity
Of soccer, or basketball . . .

A Benedictine wearing a teal-blue and yellow, short, down-jacket,
And below that, a black scapular, his fore-apron and back-apron,

And the brisk skirt of his cassock. A blue and rather chunky bicycle
Propped at the innermost, blue door of the courtyard. Another

Unmoved bicycle with wide-winged handlebars in the monks-only,
Quadrangle garden, into which we may only, but openly, gaze:

These are The Rule’s customs of privacy and un-simple welcome.
Our square refectory table placed at a window that opens onto

The dead garden. Our son, their student, and we, are here—are guests here,
And this is their hospitality: Order, Benedictine of the Knights Hospitalier,

Order of St. John of Jerusalem, Order of the Knights of Malta who fled, fled
To the Imperial Russian Navy, that extended them all a certain, welcome

Hospitality in the East, as Napoleon moved against them. A welcome
Of ancient and heroic tenor: One who comes so as to please another.

At fifteen, he is become our perfect scholar,
With good behavior—yet—
As caution finds its expression
In this part of the Midwest . . .

He’s come nearer home at least—
This warm, odd, dry winter of

Russet-grey twigs of denuded sumac—uppermost
Twigs.

St. Croix, along the Great River, St. Paul, St. Michael, St. Cloud—
Exits

Off I-94—the hourly bells—ringing out from Marcel
Breuers’

Sculpted concrete banner (spiral back stair) and honeycomb
Façade.

Hand-sized pairs of red squirrels’ busy to-and-fro pattern:
Gathering.

Whether winter proves warm and odd, or dry, the same
Behavior.

Dark-grey, small, square offset paving tiles everywhere,
Granite.

Over these, each weekend, I enter guest rooms of the Abbey
Monastery . . .

He works his hardest, as he ever has,
Under strict, kind Benedictine tutelage
Of black-robed monks and lay oblates
Near Minnesota’s German-American
(God is laughing) St. John’s Abbey.
And so am I, as I love, have my living Isaac:

Who is learning ordinary, ancient Algebra,
And new helical, chemical Biology—
Dictating his assigned paper—on Fragile X—
One genetic disorder I remember
He was tested for—
This makes me laugh and sigh . . .

As I am reading him Darwin’s
Autobiography—
in an alcove, Old Seminary:

As much as ease—as any odalisque,
His bare ankles, his long feet,
My down coat—full length—the fat, green sofa.
Long fingers—cradling a pillow . . .

We go back to where he fell asleep . . .
Don’t stop! . . . No, I heard you read that. Leave
His head lie propped on a cushion—
Heels—easily beyond now—the other arm’s end.

Hell! Greek and Roman history are hard enough
For anyone—to dictate well, or spell.

Theology is:
Practical lessons in how to make time
For some activity you love.

Ceramics: where he likes most to work,
At length, entranced, seated at the wheel—
Functional, centered spinning—his kicking, kicking
Heel—shaping lightweight cups, a set of plates,
His glazed, shallow dish for loose pocket change,

A vase that flows out and, breathing, closes in
Upon what is now—a nearly perfect lip.

Fall again. We hike on marshland
With his camera. He found
A dragonfly at first,

And then a toad, the exact
Sandy brown of the pathway’s
Ground—to draw attention to.

Though I missed them,
Digital captures in his camera
Showed me—the dragonfly—

Slow, old, or hurt perhaps,
It crawled, flipped over, righted,
Wandered off into the grass . . .

His toad was hard, solid,
Still and small. Still,
He saw it, and placed it gently

On a bleaching leaf, for a good
Background, for contrast,
As if it were an old, green

Screen for the cursor—when
A cursor was how we taught him
What a finger is to do in pointing:

Make a path for the eyes of two,
Or more, to follow. It dawned
On me that night—the first

Time—fifteen—he pressed
My shoulders down to bring
My eyes between the leaves

To turn them toward the moon—
A crescent at his fingertip . . .
At one, and two, and three,

We’d lost forever that wonted,
Pleasing show—of his
Early childish lisp—

His beetle in a haystack—
But, O, and yet, had this—
No—would find these:

Dragonfly. Toad. Moon.

this autism epidemic is one of the most artificial and rambling non-scientific forms of scientific superstition in our society today....

i really love this program, but this episode has made me really angry. listening to these two take, what i consider, normal aspects of childhood imaginative play and pathologize it really disturbs me, as does the industrialization of this practice.

complicit with an educational industry that prizes obedience over the imagination, we are medicalizing ourselves into a species of pharmaceutically-dependent drones, and the managers of this are making money from the autism trade.

children are diverse and human beings come in many forms. autism as a diagnosis is a symptom of a society at odds with itself, with a process of reasserting inequality and oppression.

if a child loves to focus and shows an enthusiasm for culture he/she is autistic.
if a child can't seem to focus and enjoys physicality he/she shows a deficit for attention. damned either way.

our society has created an eye of a needle for individuals to pass through in order to be given the holy grail of normality. this itself is a source of great tension and existential pressure.

don't buy this autism stuff...these people are making a ton of money on a diagnosis they admit is 'hard to define'...this is not science, it is speculation, and i use that word in its most 'wall-street' sense...

We are all on the spectrum, somewhere. When we think of a spectrum an image of a rainbow may come to mind - the visible light spectrum, glorious. Still, as broad as the range of pure colors may seem it is only a tiny sliver of the galactically large spectrum in which it lies. This spectrum encompasses all electromagnetic radiation, running from certain radio waves to gamma radiation - in a sense to infinity and beyond. I believe it is so with human temperament and proclivities and pathologies. Somewhere, we are all connected on the spectrum because it is so vast.

While listening to this story I began to wonder about evolution. To survive we must adapt. When our specie begins to explore its next evolutionary development, how would the first experimental attempts appear to those of us who are not a part of the process. Certainly these developmental changes would not be recognized for what they were. Being other than normal they would most likely be regarded as a negative and not a positive, an affliction or defect. It's reasonable to assume that the next evolutionary step would involve the further development of our mind, it's capacity and functionality. What is the possibility that the condition we label as Autism is is fact an expression of this evolutionary process?

If Autism can be viewed as a specialization of the brain's functionality and recognizing that remarkable intellectual accomplishmants can result, is it not possible that we are seeing our specie trying to find it's way into the future.

Sunday morning 8:00 am Central. Checking the on Being website to see what might be in store to substitute for church today. Decided it’s best to stay home with the dog that wandered into the yard last night and besides, the hour and a half to church around the flooded areas is expensive in money and time. I’ve only scanned the program webpage and read “The Vanishing Boy” so far. The title threw me immediately into fear. The one that always comes up whenever I have to consider any kind of medication. I thought, of course, that their son disappeared into the pill. Not. With medication he returned from the dangerous journey he was on away from “reaching out into the world and forming full sentences.” Kind of like “The nearer your destination, the more you slip-slidin’ away.” Been there, done that. Still there will be fear for me. But maybe this time it’ll be tamped down just enough to make room for a touch of trust.

Thank you so much for this show. I cried before it even stared, just the thought of Autism and humanity in the same breath as I have often struggled with how my son is treated in this world. I have thought at times when do I get to accept my son for who he is instead of always "working on stuff" with him. He seems fine in his world, it is everyone else who is struggling. I saw the film Into the Wild several years ago ( I had read the book before that but before I had my son) and I thought "that is Graeme!", even the music written by Eddie Vedder spoke to me. My son has Asperger's and Tourette's and the show today was so validating, I kept laughing to myself because all the things they were saying were true of our family, from the genetic part (a paternal uncle has Asperger's to a grandfather who is an inventor, another is a computer and mathmatics major and a grandmother who was a conductor) to the interests, trains!!!! and machinery, how things work.

We need these people in our world and we need more compassion and a way to accommodate them and their gifts.

Thank you again!!
Michaele
St Paul MN

The conversation intensifies my desire to understand more about the autism spectrum -- not only for the sake of loved ones who struggle with its effects on family life, but also in the hope of seeing clearly the biases and expectations that shape everyone's responses to this way of mind. Thank you for some important signposts on this journey.

I found it so very frustrating listening to this story because I know that if we had a society that truly respected itself, that we would be supporting these parents in prioritizing the health and development of this child by changing his environment to truly support him, rather than trying to force him to fit into the environment he's been placed in. We, as an intelligent species, have the ability to honestly and effectively prioritize children - the future of our species - and to structure the world and our communities and homes to give them all that they need to be their best, but we haven't yet chosen to do so. I look forward to that time, a time when rather than drugging children and labeling them as "disabled" when they are not functioning as well as they want to be, we invest our resources on finding out what it is about their environment that is causing their toxicity and/or deficiency...

The irony of the parents trying to lecture this boy about how to care about others when his own needs are being neglected or even outright rejected (he obviously was traumatized by being forced to move, for example), is glaring, to me anyway.

Your program brought me joy, not because I have a son with Aspergers but because as your program pointed out no one will acknowledge the condition, not even other parents. To hear the coping skills of these two very smart and sensitive parents made be proud to share this strategy with you: Get emotional counseling for your child as well as yourself. We sent my son to weekly group sessions for years before seeing 'results'. Every person who knew him before this, when he was having the temper and frustration fits, comments that they cannot recognise him - except that he looks like the same person. We experienced the same odd disparity of abilities and disabilities for years before we knew what we were looking at. Our son had a different quirk to his inability to comprehend other children. He would be constantly accused of inappropriate touching. He would want to ask the child who is crying "Why are you crying?" and try to hug that child. It was one of the first signs that we missed that he had a disability - his overarching need to reach out and in his own terms understand what was happening. He also to this day cannot bear to let a single book be given away because he reads them constantly. By the way, one example of those books is the Harry Potter series which he started when he was beginning the third grade, not at all age appropriate interest. Yet, he could not write, and still has difficulty with spelling. He could always and still does construct large, incredibly detailed worlds in his mind, filled with characters who have strengths and weakness, wear interesting clothes, live in odd houses, but he can't construct a plot other than employing an idea that he has read somewhere else. And did I mention his math and science comprehension level is through the roof, yet he's only an average student because he can't express himself. I have seen my son change from that kid who would never look you in the eye to a young man that, albeit studies the whys and whens, will now come up to you and ask "Do you need a hug?" and then hugs you. But like the parents that you interviewed, I worry about the future. Sure, his condition isn't profound, but until recently, he didn't have a single significant friend. What about when he goes to high school? What about college? What about a job? Will he ever find a true love and marry? Your program has given me hope beyond what I could find by myself. Just to listen to someone else talking instead of the voices in my heart and mind has given me a kind of peace and realisation that this too is just another step to tomorrow. That we all have challenges, and maybe the small things we do today will make it better some time soon.

Hello, A praise of your show I just heard that you are going to do a show coming up about autism. I am originally from Somalia and now live in Minnesota. My son who was born here has autism along with tons of Somali American autism children born in Minnesota. According to a study done by Minn dept of health and CDC, children born in Minn to Somali parents are diagnosed with autism up to seven times higher. Now, there are tons of issues with what causes autism, do we need a cure and what kind of therapy works for each kids. However, since it was initially thought autism hit every one and every ethnic groups the same rate - this study and the rate it is hitting an oral society with non verbal autism indicates something. I thank you for doing this show and you are right that having a child with autism really teaches you to be patient, tolerant, acceptance and that no one is perfect because we all live in glass houses. Thus, no one should throw any stones because no one is perfect. Before my son was diagnosed with autism, I don't think I ever noticed or looked twice at anyone with disability and now I am a relentless advocate for them and realize that we are all human with strengths and weaknesses. Thanks again and God Bless you all. Idil - Autism Mom

I really found this conversation facinating. My son Jake, age 4, is Autistic. We had many similar experiences with Jake as these two had with Morgan. For example, Jake is our only child so our frame of reference is limited regarding typical childhood development. However, what really inhibited us from recognizing his problems was the sheer abundance of his attributes both physically and mentally. Jake is so sharp. His memory and how observant he is always amazes us. For example, as a two year old, he would notice who wore which shoes and he would return the right pair to each visitor (we don't wear shoes in the house) when they were ready to leave. In addition, he would watch where items that he wanted were placed so he could go retrieve them when no one was watching. Also, he would memorize the books that he liked so that even though he couldn't read, he could say the right words and could "read" ahead without even turning the page. We could neglect a book for a long time and he could still pick right up with his memorized lines. He learned how to operate the dvd player, the iphone, the computer and the microwave right away. In so many ways, he figures things out very quickly. Physically, he has great balance and is very quick. He also has a great sense of rhythm and will dance to and "punctuate" the lines of music with amazing precision. We kept thinking he was just a late talker and that since he lived in a two language home, English and Vietnamese, that it would take longer. Speech and language seem to be his main problem. He does have some strange interests such as watching automatic doors open and close and riding escalators and elevators. He also likes to watch specific parts of dvds or videos over and over.

Other similarities that I recognized from the radio program included how much Jake likes Thomas the Train. He also loves the metro and the bus. Both me and his mother are accountants and my brother is extremely accomplished in the Computer science field. Jake goes to Pre-school Autism Class and his teachers report that he is happy every day. We are always commenting that he is such a happy boy. Jake loves to watch Utube videos on the iphone. Jake uses words and phrases in other situations to help him communicate his thoughts and desires. For example, he had a big wheel type tricycle with turn signals that when activated actually vocalize the words, "turning right" and "turning left." Jake started using those phrases in the same tone to direct us from his car seat to where he wanted to go. For example, as we would approach a Starbucks, he would direct his mother into the parking lot by saying "Turning Left" and "Turning right" all because he wanted a frappachino. He would do the same approaching McDonalds because he wanted a Hot Chocolate. He says "Turning Right" as I approach an Arby's because he wants a Jamocha milkshake. We didn't recognize it at first but any time we "missed" the turn he wanted us to make, he would get so angry that it became clear what was going on. He remembered where he had gotten the drink before, so he wanted to go again. He also speaks to himself with the words that we use. For example, he will put himself in Time out and he will say things like "stop or I will take it away." For weeks, my parents had been trying to get him to jump out away from the pool deck when he jumped in the water but he just kept having near misses and the lifeguard was really concerned. Then one day last week, he said, "now Jake, jump out away from the side" and he actually did that from then on.

I could go on an on but I just wanted to say thank you for such a great program. There are still so many mysteries about Autism. I hate that so much time and energy gets expended on the vaccines, heavy metals, chelation and gluten free diets. I would prefer more emphasis on helping autistic people cope and helping "typical" people to understand the spectrum. Finally, I love looking at what my son has instead of what he doesn't have. It is a nice break from worrying about what his life is going to be like, how frustrated he will be and how difficult things could get for him. It is heart breaking for me to watch him want to play and interact with other kids at the playground and at the pool. The other kids initially want to play and interact, as well, but his speech, language and other things always seems to get in the way. I needed this reminder of his uniqueness and special qualities. It helps me to understand him a little more.

My nephew is autistic, something that his father, my older brother has had much trouble coming to terms with. I texted him after I listened to the program, urging him to listen to the podcast. He texted me back saying he had heard some of it (both of us being faithful Public Radio listeners), but that this is a hard thing for him to listen to. I assured him that the program was very positive and uplifting and to please listen to the entire show. I hope he will do that. Thank you for a wonderful, informative and uplifting view of living with autism.

About Morgan's incredible interest in Goodwill stores. Could it be that because the clothing is arranged by color and the racks are uniform in size be the reason that he finds it so soothing and comfortable?

I've listened just now to the last half hour of your segment on autism, and was fascinated and delighted with your thoughtful and detailed portrayal of the life of our autistic kids. I am a father of a high functioning six-year-old autistic girl, who is beautiful, kind, and smiles all the time. The same sort of ritualistic behaviors your segment noted do show up, such as watching videos of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory dozens of times, and being ultra-sensitive to sound. While she is gravitating away from that in some measure, it is clear she is different socially. Let me relate one such incident: while walking one day, my daughter had greeted two overweight people warmly by saying, "Hello, fat man! Hello, fat woman!" I was so mortified I said nothing, and heard the woman exclaim, 'How rude!" I wanted to explain to her, b/c I knew that in my daughter's mind, she was paying a sincere compliment, and merely referencing an obvious identifying trait of this couple.

Also, I am a teacher of Latin, and, in the last few years, have had three students on the autism spectrum in upper level Latin. They have all been top of their class!

Thank you for bringing the spotlight onto this societal challenge in a clear, warm, and refreshing way.

Just a comment on the autism program, which btw, turned out to be more interesting than I expected - I was going to turn it off today, but I got hooked.

It sounds like the 1 in 110 (was that it? – I had to fuss with my computer before I could type this – of course) is too low a number. Your broadcast today - & especially the autistic-like traits of so many "regular" people - makes me think that autism people is not so much a disorder or condition as possibly a SUBSET of the human population and is only a “disorder” at the more extreme end of the spectrum.

The semi-tuned out aspect sounds like a lovely state, frankly. I wish I could retreat into that most of the time in today's world.

I would like to learn more about the autistic-like traits in the larger population. Can you point me in the right direction, please?

Japanese anime is hugely popular with teens & twenty-somethings. Interesting.

(Regarding the question below that seems to require a response - it's not really a story is it?)

the following is an essay I wrote for her blog on music. I belief that show sighns of living a life on an austistic sprectrum. I hope that you enjoy the essay. On playing in the orchestra Over 25 years ago, I played my last performance with an orchestra. My orchestra experience's, like fine wine, grown more valuable with age. I first played in sixth grade. I choose the string bass because I could rent one for 12 dollars a year. The was more affordable then rent for a violin or viola. I was given a music aptitude test in fifth grade; I did not receive an invitation to join the orchestra. In sixth grade an open invitation was extended for all to join. Grade School was a trying time for me. In about 1st grade, I stopped communicating with my peers. I can remember sitting on the basement stairs of the school; feeling lonely and separated. To this day, I cannot step on the grade school grounds without a wave of strong emotions cascading over me. I was selected last to play most games. I never learned to catch or throw a ball. When I practiced my skills did not improve. I kept my eye on the ball, but I still dropped it. I shot a ball at the basket and nearly always missed. I now understand my inability to catch was related to poor vision in one eye. I have limited depth perception. This inhibits my ability to determine how fast an object is coming towards me. I lived in a self imposed invisible box. Peer interactions baffled me. I often found myself saying things at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places. I missed many subtle clues. With my peers I was socially impaired. I can remember being obsessed with patterns in the floor tiles. In a 9 pattern square is it 5 blacks with four whites in the middle or is it four whites with 5 blacks on the outside. If I bumped some part of my body, I need to touch the other side of my body to maintain balance. I started eating sandwiches in 16 bites, four bits per row, some times even alternating the directions of the rows, to this day it remains an obsession with me. If my body rests on something, I feel a compulsion to count the contacts and insure that they divisible by two. I related well with adults; there rules seamed easier to understand. I felt acceptance in their world. Part of this acceptance came from the fact I learned to read early and very well. I was reading biographies in third grade and science fiction in fourth grade. I was a member of an orchestra for eight years; five of them were with one conductor. Six of them were with the same core group of orchestra members. Consistent social interactions with this group helped me learn to relate to my peers. At times I ventured forth from my self imposed box. Many members of the orchestra overlooked my inappropriate responses and actions. The orchestra members gave me the courage to look beyond that box. I felt the freedom to explore and to improve. I learned the world was a good a safe place. That I was loved for who I am and what I could accomplish. These explorations become more frequent and lasted for greater periods of time as I learned to trust my interactions with my peers. I look back fondly on those years. These memories balance out the ones from grade school. I will always cherish their friendships. My friends helped shape me into the man I am today. By the way, that last concert was played as a member of the Weber State Symphony Orchestra. I was attending Weber State on a full tuition scholarship. I earned the scholarship while attending Utah All State Orchestra in my Senior Year at Logan High. Not bad for a kid who failed his music aptitude test.

Dear On Being,

I am a new listener to the On Being podcast and would like to share some thoughts after my recent introduction to the program.

This past weekend I was traveling from Houston to San Antonio to attend a wedding, and discovered that the interstate now has 3G coverage. That means I could stream media while driving. So I went onto iTunes with my iPhone to listen to a speaking of faith podcast. That is when I discovered On Being. I listened to two programs that I would like to share about.

FIRST, I listened first to the podcast with the Anthropologist in Bethlehem. I absolutely loved that you examined the humanity in the Palestinian situation. This was particularly meaningful because I traveled to Israel and Palestine three weeks ago with my wife and grandparents. We did the classic Holy Land tour, but also spent two days in Palestine (Jericho and Bethlehem) with people that my grandparents had become friends with. To give context—my wife is Hispanic, but family is white, evangelical Texan. I am a 31 year old attorney in Houston. My grandfather is a former Baptist minister who is now doing non-religious relational training with Arabs in the middle east. It is fascinating work that ties closely to some of the work your guests on the podcast are doing.

During the trip, we spent a day with Palestinian high schoolers in Jericho (both Christian and Muslim), an afternoon with a Palestinian Christian family in Bethlehem, and an evening with a Palestinian Christian family in Jerusalem. It was an amazing experience. Personally, I left my evangelical-zionist roots several years ago due to previous friendships with Arabs and a study abroad in Tunisia. But the experience behind the Palestinian wall was still life changing. I knew about the conflict, but there is nothing quite like going through the checkpoint between Jerusalem and Bethlehem and seeing armed soldiers in front of the Berlin-esque wall and watch towers. I did not know that the Palestinians were literally imprisoned behind the wall. After our trip, I was struck with the humanity of the people on both sides of the wall.

One example: We ate lunch in Bethlehem with a Palestinian Christian family who had moved back to Palestine from Philadelphia in 1994. They moved back to start a hotel and live in their homeland. Now they can’t leave. They are generous and compassionate people who fed us more food than we could eat in a week. They treated us as family. Also, although they identify as Christians, they are passionately Palestinian. From the rooftop of their hotel, they showed me all of the new Israeli settlements creeping closer and closer into their homeland. You could sense in their voice that they long for resolution of the conflict, but are almost out of hope. The father said: “This conflict will take 500 years to resolve.” What a thought! As an American—whose country wants resolution within election cycles—it was difficult to comprehend that someone could have such a sense of his place in history to think in terms of 500 years. With humility, he understood that he and his family are just one generation of many. Americans think the world is about 200 years old. This man lived in a region that is thousands of years old and embraced his role in that history. There is something deeply human about embracing who we are in the midst of history and conflict.

That same evening, we ate dinner with another Palestinian family on the Jerusalem side of the wall. Their house is less than 100 meters from the wall. In fact, they used to live on the other side. But the wall was built just meters from their home. When it was built, they left their home, knowing that being on the wrong side of the wall would forever change their lives. They gave us a tour of their house with a tone of shame because it was not as grand as their other house only 100 meters away. During the evening, I spent much of the time talking with their oldest son, who is a 30-year old studying in Europe. When I asked him how he identified himself, he answered: “I am not sure. I am a Jordanian citizen with Israeli papers labeled Palestinian. Although we are on this side of the wall, I am still labeled Palestinian and am restricted in my citizenship and travel. I study in Europe and many times want to leave this region forever.” This family looked the same as ou r friends in Bethlehem and were equally as gracious. And they were not so different than families here. The teenage daughter texted on her phone during dinner, and the youngest son explained how he was training to be an MMA fighter. This was a family just living their life. And although they happened to be on the right side of the wall, you could tell the conflict affected them to the core of their being. While they seemed to have much joy, you could tell life was heavy.

Since our return, I have been sharing these stories with family and friends. I even shared a slideshow presentation to my law firm. As part of the presentation, I showed three sets of pictures. The first was of the Bethlehem family labeled “Palestinian/Arab/Christians on one side of the wall.” The second set contained pictures of the wall. The third was a picture of the second family labeled “Palestinian/Arab/Christians on the other side of the wall.” I explained that, although the conflict is complicated and both sides are sympathetic, the reality is that the Palestinians are people, just like us, who are deeply impacted by this conflict. When we listen to political rhetoric about the middle east, these are the people affected. When I shared this with my law firm, you could see in many faces that light bulbs were going off. They had never seen these pictures or heard these stories.

This is all to say that, when I listed to the podcast, I was extremely grateful that someone with your platform is sharing that same story (and more articulately than me). And, I did not have the opportunity to visit the refugee camps. So I also learned things I did not know. But the humanity of the people behind the conflict is an important story that should be told many times over in our country. Especially to conservative Christians (with whom I sometimes identify). When you blindly support the current political state of Israel based on an obscure verse in Isaiah, you should know that you support the wall that is affecting these families deeply. Don’t get me wrong—I am not an anti-Semitic. I think the Jewish story should be told as well, and it is in Holocaust museums throughout the world. But both sides are human and both stories need to be told.

SECOND, I then listened to the podcast on Autism and humanity (it was a long car drive). It was really well done and also hit close to home. My uncle and cousin were both recently diagnosed with Asbergers. My cousin, who is now 22, is an isolated, college dropout who currently works as a computer programmer. We have been trying to get him to go to a counselor for years to be diagnosed. When my uncle finally took him in, he was surprised that the counselor told him that he also had Asbergers. It makes sense. He is also a computer programmer who watches Naruto (a Japanese anime cartoon) and loves Spock. Both my uncle and cousin are high functioning, but this can be a key to unlock them (and mainly my cousin) from years of frustration and self-hatred. Many of the things said on the program described my cousin Matthew. He doesn’t like being around people. But I never thought that the reason is because he is so logical that he has trouble understanding people. The thing I appreciated most about the program was that it did not treat Autism as a disability, but as part of humanity. It was inspiring. My cousin does not have to merely cope with being different; he can dream to use his special gifting to excel in a particular field. I quickly passed the podcast on to my uncle and plan to use it as a springboard to help give both of them hope.

In sum, I was blown away that the first two On Being podcasts I listened to related so profoundly to my personal experiences and family. I love the way the podcasts are done. They are a conversation about humanity; not an opinion or judgment on politics or morality. Please continue this work exploring all the ways politics, religion, and science make us human and better explain aspects of our humanity.

Thanks for your work. I am now a loyal listener.

Brad Snead

Your last on "Autism" was a poignant piece. I'm a child psychiatrist who's learned to work successfully with Michigan's "most troublesome" children (felony offenders in placement). My goal has been to help them understand how they became evildoers, my knowing that these are kids who were tortured when they were very young. Thanks to my father's Irish whit from a straight face, humor, when appropriate, served to break the ice and give these kids some distance on their awful histories.
More recently I've been privileged to work with "autistic" kids. As your remarkable show revealed, putting persons in artificial boxes makes no clinical (human) sense. Being an expert with murders and father rapers and not with "autistic" kids, I've discovered that humor works with many of these kids who are not supposed to have reciprocal social exchange with others.
I never thought of Glen Gould as autistic; just as bizarre! Neat show.
The human approach to others in the way the authors and you reviewed "autism" works just as well to all and each of us. It's humbling.
Thanks,

Hello, All,

Last Saturday night, I set my alarm so I would be sure to be up in time to listen to Krista Tippet's show on Autism.

I have two adult sons with Asperger's and I was anxious to hear others explore the depth and meaning of Autism - for individuals, families and society.

Although I enjoyed the interview with the couple who have an autistic son, and I loved reading Tim Page's article, I found that this show did not take me to the inner depth of exploration that so many of the 'On Being' shows do. I wanted to go deeper.

Why, for example, are so many of these souls coming into incarnation now? I don't want to know the physical causes, but the spiritual ones. What are they here to teach us? What are the soul lessons we, as parents, and as a society learning because of them? What does their presence reveal to us of the nature of giftedness? What are the life lessons and limits I as a parent am challenged by? How can we, as a society, make room for, nurture and encourage these souls? How is their presence changing our world?

I've thought on these issues long and hard. I have some thoughts and not many answers, but I was hoping to hear those issues explored. Unusually, for this wonderful show, I felt the conversation stayed on the surface of things...not where meaning and insight are accessed.

Perhaps you'll decide to go deeper with this issue one day.

In the meantime, keep doing the important and valuable work you do through this program. It's a time of sanity in my week that I value so much.

Most sincerely and with gratitude,
Anita Web Weaver

Great and interesting interview. My 16 y/o has Asperger's. It wasn't identified till he was 12. But his normal was just normal...and kind of like his dad, or other people in his family who don't have aspergers or autism...just some traits. Interestingly my son LOVED trains as a child. But he did not like Thomas the Tank engine much. The animated faces on the TV show frightened him terribly. At the same time Chevron had a commercial with animated cars the commercial scared him to pieces. He could cope with toy Thomas trains on a small scale but much preferred Brio. As a young teen he knows fellow Asperger teens who enjoy Japenese Animation. Again my son does not really like it. He is too old to be upset by such things, but it is interesting that as you say it's a common obsession but one that he doesn't share...even though he is quite aware of the interest. He has mainly out grown the train interest though unique train events or stories always interest him and he remains very knowledgeable about trains. Now days his interests run toward computers particularly soft ware, animation, web design. He is great at providing tech support to me and others. He is never critical of others lack of knowledge but doesn't understand why some find simple techy activities so hard. The other great thing about my son is that he has totally embraced being a geek...which in some circles is quite cool now. And if the other kids don't understand his geek qualities, he doesn't care much.

I have a dear brother who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 in 1979. He is a gift...someone who I learned much more from than I ever taught. My love for him, my curiosity for how he learned, the gleanings of connection that he and I shared, were powerful experiences that led me to choose teaching as a career. I am the teacher, the mother, the person I am today, in part because of the relationship I share with him. I am grateful that we as a society have evolved past our first notions of what "autism" meant, that we have thrown out that box that we put them in and realize the richness that they have, the creativity, the connection, the humanity. I was told as a nine year old that Brian would never be normal, could never be like others....I remember thinking "but I don't want him to be like anyone else-I love him the way he is...." I was told that autism meant he didn't have feelings like us, but to me, he cried when he felt pain, laughed when he liked something, and curled up beside me when he was sleepy and wanted me to rub his back. One day when I came home from school, and he had been home a few hours already, he flew out the door and ran to me-this child that "couldn't connect"--I asked him what he did today and what he said still can bring tears to my eyes and joy to my heart--he hugged me tight and said, with a wide toothed grin "Today-today I love Tammie!!" Brian has been a gift to me, and to others, I am certain. Thank you for this show-I will share it with my family, with the families that I work with, with the caregivers who spend time with my kiddos when they are not in my classroom--it is very important that more people realize what a gift they are...at the very least, as an avenue to learning more about yourself as you connect with them...but more likely, you will find there is so much more than that in store if you are open to it.

I'm very disappointed in this week's program on autism--to me and many others, it is inconsiderate, rude, and downright degrading to refer to people as their disability, and then as people. In tonight's "On Being" program, people with autism were consistently referred to as autistic people, which places the value on their disability, and not on them as people. How would you like to be known as "that glasses person" or "that stuttering person"? We would never refer to people who wear glasses or stutter this way, yet society often calls people with disabilities by their disability, and it's NOT ok. For more information on person first language, please visit: disabilityisnatural.com/explore. People with and without disabilities will thank NPR (and MTPR too) for using language that values us as people.

Hearing this discussion gave me more of a lense through which to understand my mother. My sister figured out that mom has aspergers syndrome. It seemed to explain a lot, like inappropriate or hurtful comments she was always making, as when she commented to a guest at her father's funeral, "I see you're still around!" He just laughed and said, "Yes, I'm still kicking." The lesson I took away from your discussion was that she was not at all vicious. By the way, she was a math whiz at Cornell and a fantastic artist. She has perfect pitch. As a teen, she excelled in every sport. We just could not figure out why she was always so overwhelmed by any show of emotion. And she had nine children. Imagine that. She knew how to tune us out completely. She could never figure out people's reactions. Why did that art professor want her to do something differently? He must not like her, she concluded. And if anyone acted hurt or angry about something she said, she wondered what was bugging them. She truly had no clue. What a study she is. Now, at 92, and after several strokes, her mind works differently. She says she has forgotten a lot of things. And she is so pleasant.

Autism is often misunderstood. People do not open their mind or seek the truth but rather usually grasp onto what tidbit they have heard from others and used that as the complete truth without doing their own research.

The Autism and Humanity with Paul Collins and Jennifer Elder I found extremely well put together. Parents of a boy diagnosed with autism were able to speak and naturally describe this one child with autism. There were able to look inside themselves and be able to attempt to understand what their son Morgan was thinking. The conversations about their life with their son is most interesting information (and I have 3 boys with autism). My favorite quote is "his normal had been normal to them" is exactly how I feel in my life with autism in it.

Paul Collins does a very good job explaining some of the details of autism. He explains things that he has noticed with Morgan and shows reasons for why these things are the way they are in children on the autism spectrum. He tries to explain the way they prefer to interact with others by explaining their need for total focus in every day terms we can understand. Lack of theory of mind is a hard thing for most people to understand, Autistic children do not understand the theory of mind which neurotypical children seems to understand like magic. Being able to understand that others around you do not think like you and have beliefs, desires, knowledge etc. that you do not have. He also explains how the single mindedness characteristics are normal in a household with an autistic child. The child continues daily to be fascinated with one subject, watch the same movie over and over again or collection of something like Thomas the Tank sets because that is an overriding goal for a child with autism.

1 in 110 children today are born on the autism spectrum. These children have problems relating to others, problems with social interactions, problems with learning empathy, and single mindedness. They may have sensory issues and a intolerance of many things in the outside world. Often they are happiest being with themselves and have been described in their own words as being aliens among humans. The parents of the autistic child Morgan have spent their time teaching Morgan how to blend in with society today. At the same time, Morgan has taught them the importance of understanding yourself.

I highly recommend this broadcast as the parents were able to explain their life with autism in a nice easy understandable comparisons! Learning more about autism can make a difference to children and families in your community!

apples