Several years ago the book The Dyslexic Advantage by Drs. Brock and Fernette Elde came across my desk. The idea behind the book was quite simple: Dyslexia is not a disease but an orientation with its own inherent advantages and disadvantage. It had only been treated like a disease because A) we gave it a name; and B) parents and the therapeutic community had focused solely on the disadvantages, such as struggles with reading.
It is perfectly natural to focus on what we perceive as disadvantages. I do this all the time with myself. Something I want is not coming to me effortlessly; in fact, it may not be coming to me at all. At times it seems as if this thing that I want is all that stands between me and happiness. That being the case, I focus more and more of my attention on this desire that became a challenge that is now becoming a problem until I have forgotten all those parts of my life that are not a challenge and it seems as if my whole life is nothing but a problem in need of fixing. This is also sometimes called “self-improvement.”
Reading The Dyslexic Advantage I was reminded of a conversation I had with Sawyer years ago. His pretending, I explained, was like a superpower. It was as if one of his hands possessed immense strength. With this hand he could grind rocks into dust. Unfortunately, lacking fine control, that same hand shattered glasses whenever Sawyer tried to take a drink. Because drinking a glass of water is more common and practical than crushing rocks, this superpower was most often seen as a disadvantage. Our goal then was not “cure” him, but to help him learn to harness his power.
Sawyer was uninterested in this explanation when I offered it to him nearly ten years ago, and he is largely uninterested in it now. He is uninterested in it for the same reason most of us are uninterested in it: because he is unhappy when he runs up against those challenging parts of his life. He wants something and he cannot have it. He is unhappy that he cannot have it. He wants to be happy. What is wrong with him that he cannot have that which would make him happy? Don’t talk to me, he says, about challenges and superpowers and learning and evolution, just give me that damn thing so that I can be happy!
And I think, welcome to the human race, my son. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we will never cure autism or learn what causes autism because it doesn’t exist. What we call autism has spread like an epidemic because our definition of it has spread from people who would not talk or respond to touch to people like my son as we have begun to recognize the connection between the two, once too distant to see, now increasingly apparent.
Perhaps a day will come when we will all be called autistic, when we recognize within everyone the temptation to retreat from others, to turn away and avoid the glare of attention, to think only of our own needs and not the needs of others. And should that day come, just like with a fatal disease, perhaps something within all of us will die. Perhaps if we all believed we had caught autism, it would be the death once and for all of our belief in broken people.
I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.