A few months ago, my friend Ib, gently encouraged me to watch the documentary Wretches and Jabberers. It’s available on Netflix and iTunes. I was traveling at the time, Richard was in Colorado, I was in NYC. In addition I can’t be bothered with the four different remote controls required to watch anything on our TV, let alone find a specific movie, put it in the queue, figure out which remote(s) to use, download the movie and watch it. Yeah. I know. When I see a TV, anywhere (unless it’s already turned on) I automatically walk away. It’s like a Pavlovian response at this point. If I’m home alone or just with Em, the TV screen stays dark. And I’m totally f*cked if Em wants to watch something and presses the wrong button by mistake. My 12-year-old son, Nic, has been known to pat me on the head and say in condescending tones, “Aw… Mommy. It’s okay. Let me help you with that.” Really. This has actually happened. Several times. So, yes, it took me awhile before I finally was able to watch Wretches and Jabberers with Richard on Netflix. I cried. I laughed. Wow, what a documentary! I’ll wait here while you go to the above link and put it in your queue.
Larry Bissonnette and Tracy Thresher are predominantly nonverbal Autistics. Larry is a painter, lives with his sister and was institutionalized as a child. He hits himself in the head when frustrated. He is echolaic. Tracy is homeless. *Please read Tracy’s mom’s comment on this comment thread as my statement is incorrect.* In the documentary he has places he is able to go for a few nights here and there, but nowhere he calls “home”. Both Larry and Tracy communicate through facilitators by typing. The documentary follows them as they travel all over the world meeting other nonverbal Autistics. The film defies the accepted and common neurotypical views and assumptions about Autism and what it means to be Autistic. Powerful, funny, poignant, it is essential viewing for all human beings, not just those interested in Autism, because it rattles our unexamined biases, our beliefs, our perceptions and everything we are being “told” about autism.
A terrific discussion took place in the comments on yesterday’s post. The whole issue of mentorship and hf/lf (high functioning / low functioning) was brought up. One person mentioned how “our functioning level should be based on how we treat our fellow humans not whether someone judges another’s way of communicating or perceiving the world as correct, or less or greater than another’s.” Her remarks made me think about the neurotypical world. What if each of us were given a functioning label? What if our lives, our abilities were reduced to a set list of priorities. Let’s say each of us was given a “critique” of our ability to meet that criteria?
If I was put under a similar magnifying glass as Autistics, it could be argued (of course all of this is subjective and that’s the point) I would fall into the moderately functioning category for neurotypicals depending on the set of agreed upon priorities. I do not hold any position of power. I write a blog for which I earn not a single cent. I publish occasionally on the Huffington Post, again, I am not “employed” by them, I submit pieces, they publish them, no money is paid for those pieces. I am mother to my two children, I do my best to care for them, but I do not “make money” for the privilege of having two children. I have my own business, I make a decent living (for a great many years I did not and barely was able to pay my rent.)
I flounder in the face of tests. I score poorly on most of them unless I have taken the time to study the material to ensure I am able to breeze through and even then I tend to make mistakes. I freeze up when I feel nervous or stressed. My vocabulary can be spotty, particularly when in stressful situations, I go off on tangents, I have difficulty writing a standard 5 paragraph essay. I shut down completely in the face of mathematical word problems. I use lots of adverbs, sometimes I change tenses in the middle of a sentence. Sometimes it’s hard for me to stay on track. I’m terrible at most cocktail parties. My interest in cocktail conversation wanes after the first 5 minutes. I have a passing interest in the weather, a favorite topic at such events. I have special interests that I can go on and on and on about. I cannot remember people’s names. I’m marginally versed in social networking. I dislike most TV. I cannot stand any show with the word “housewives” in it. I am extremely sensitive. I make social faux pas (what is the plural of faux pas?) often. I am not patient. I am a terrible liar. The list goes on and on.
We neurotypicals are not held to the same scrutiny our Autistic brothers and sisters are held to though. We don’t have to worry that we will be slapped with a functioning label, which will be prominently placed on our resumes. But what if we were? I doubt we’d sit passively, without resistance and “accept” this kind of limited categorization. I think many of us would protest vehemently. I think many of us would rise up, organize protests, argue for our rights as human beings, we would advocate for ourselves, we would fight, just as gays, African-Americans, Women and now… Autistics are.
Emma – 2008