I have encountered some people who think that autism is a fabricated disability and autistic children are merely shy and lacking proper discipline. I could understand since they are ignorant about autism.
Yet there are people who are well-informed about autism (such as being a parent or teacher to special needs children) who still treat the syndromes of autism as isolated bad behaviors to be eradicated. That simplistic view, unfortunately, confers no useful insight into the true motivations of the child. Instead, it deepens the mistrust and resentment between people with autism and Neurotypicals.
Why does the autistic child fear a change in routine? Why does the autistic teenager often feel depressed and suicidal? Why does the adult with autism resent working full-time in the office so much?
This will become clearer if I share what they might be feeling.
From the perspective of a young child, language is a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it allows one to obtain things like food, toys and the TV remote control. On the other hand, it requires one to follow instructions that cause problems. The mushy food does not like to enter the mouth, but words order it down the throat. The legs want to go to the playground, but words order it to go to school. The hands want to tear up the paper, but words order it to use the paper to do homework instead.
If only we could forget language – and go back to the land of happy, instant gratification. Like the garden of Eden where all the needs are met without any effort. The truly smart ones are those who chose to close their minds off to language because it is merely a big trap. Too late. Commands are filling the mind. The invasion has begun and the enemy is taking over everything.
Remember to drink the water. Remember to wash the dishes. Remember to complete the mathematics homework assignment. Remember to throw the tissue paper lying on the table away. Remember to think of a way to deal with the bullies threat to send me to jail. Remember to calculate the cheapest bus route to visit a friend. Remember to tell the science teacher tomorrow that there are actually 5 states of matter instead of 3. Remember to buy food for the fish in the aquarium tomorrow after school. Remember to organize the coins in neat rows. Remember…
Tens of thousands of thoughts race through the mind, each as urgent and important as the other. How can one hold on to all of them? How can one even make sense of all of them? How can one expect to react to all of them appropriately?
There are too many things to do, too many roles to perform, too many events to track. There is no time – literally, no time. In a world where the future is hidden by darkness, and the past is but a blurry mirage, one can only exist in the present. Hence, everything must happen now. And the humans of this world demand that things happen now. “Bring me the book now!” “Tie your shoelaces properly now!” “Do your homework now!” There is not enough time to think through the never-ending workload, not enough hands to finish them, not enough speed to race through all the destinations, not enough computing power to calculate all the possibilities. The overwhelming anxiety builds up. “I have no time. I have so many things to do. Why do you disturb me? What do you want with me?” The volcano erupts.
One day, one learns to follow a bridge of time that stretches into the darkness of chaos. The bridge is known by the unceremonious names of “scheduler” and “timetable”. It is now possible to see through the darkness and state with confidence what will happen and what must be done. The stray thoughts and reminders vanished and leave one in peace. Unfortunately, this bridge is very fragile. All it takes is one little thing that will turn the experience of walking along a sturdy bridge to a free fall off the edge of chaos. The bridge of time must never be broken. Woe is the saboteur who cuts off the bridge, for all the chaos shall be unleashed once more into the world.
The bridge of time allows the past and the future to exist. On the first sight, it seems to improve one’s life. Plans become possible, so interesting things can be done. Yet, one soon finds frustration as plan after plan fails to happen due to unexpected events. Even worse, commands divert one to do something less interesting. Too late; the bridge of time is a trap too!
The frustration soon gives way to a terrifying thought. Since nothing is known of the future, then everything is possible! The possibility of a time traveler who might kill oneself to test the Grandfather paradox. The possibility of a nuclear strike on one’s home. The possibility of an alien invasion. The possibility of a black hole swallowing Planet Earth. Zombies, ghosts, predators and stormtroopers may lie in wait among the shadows.
While one’s mind is busy thinking about how to fend off an extraterrestrial invasion, the world is moving relentlessly and demanding one’s attention. The traffic light that has just turned red, the bicycle racing towards oneself, the books that fell out of the schoolbag and the dog that just won’t stop barking. From the moment consciousness enters in the morning, until the moment consciousness leaves, one is engaged in a constant race against time. The Earthlings made the situation even worse. “Listen to me! Why are you always gazing away?” “Look here. Focus on your lesson.” “Dinner is ready! Stop what you are doing and come here now!”
One seems to be operating in another dimension, separated from the present by a few seconds or more. The hands moved as quickly as they could to tie up the exam script but somehow ended up unacceptably slow. The pencil that just won’t write the letters in the way they are supposed to be written. The schoolbag that always takes a few minutes to finish packing, leaving one in the empty classroom. The football that has rolled away before one has the thought to move the legs towards it.
It would be nice if we can stop all time. This way, one would have all the time to catch up. All the reading materials, TV shows, games, projects can be completed. All the plans for all the possible future scenarios can be computed. All the skills required to improve one’s life, such as foreign languages and social skills, can be learned. There would be enough time for anything and everything. Alas, this still remains a dream.
Planet Earth is a dangerous place, the place where souls come to experience pain. Evidence abounds in the history books about the bloodied history of Humanity. People like Adolf Hitler have taken power, and are still taking power. The cruelty inflected with child soldiers, poisonous milk power, torture of political prisoners, massacres of aid workers and more astonish the mind. Closer to home are the bullies who enjoy inflicting pain on oneself, the cheats who steal one’s money without conscience, the teacher who has only words of resentment for oneself and the parents who see one as a loser bringing disgrace to the family.
This is a world of fear – where one’s life can end anytime. So fragile is this body that a small fall, a tiny virus, a few minutes without oxygen, a sudden drop in temperature, a tiny burst of radioactivity or a sharp object piercing the body can lead quickly to death. Even without external threats, the body has only a limited lifespan as it is helpless at self-regeneration. Surprisingly, humans have accepted their limitations without any second thought. Munching food is so troublesome, distasteful and dangerous (since one risks ingesting dangerous substances and pathogens). Yet, humans enjoy it! But this fear of fragility is always remembered and frequently used – in threats, punishment and bogeymen.
This is a world of control – where the strong force their will onto the weak. Ever since the falling into the first trap of words, the adults were busy setting rules. “If you do not obey me, I will punish you.” The words need not even leave their mouths, and yet the fear of their gaze has already spread. Resistance is futile. This is a place where even the proud must surrender – but to surrender to humans, the scum of the universe? How painful…
This is a world of deceit – where a smile can conceal a dagger. When one is angry with another, showing this emotion can lead to more problems. If the food tastes horrible, one should still say that it tastes well. Even when one has little to spare, one still has to share with others. This is a world where black becomes white, and white becomes black; a world where lies mingle seamlessly with the truth.
This is a world divided and subdivided by judgment. Humans judge each other for status in a social hierarchy. Skin color, age, religion, clothing, body language, accent, political power and material wealth are a few components of an indecipherably complex system that will influence this status. Being slower than others in reacting, saying the wrong things, doing something frowned upon by others or a million other known and unknown possibilities will bring down one’s social status. Humans have a compulsive need to ascertain social status – no matter for school, work, love or even religious undertakings upon themselves. In this irrational world where social status is arbitrary, the unworthy can rule, the unjust can govern and the glutton can be rewarded.
It was still alright when one does not understand. The bully is like an unpleasant rubbish bin to be avoided. The cheats are like vacuum cleaners sucking cash out of the wallet. The resentful parent is like an angry bull waiting to attack at any sign of provocation. Yet when one develops awareness of oneself, the damage happens. To know that the bully is targeting me personally, that the cheats think that I am a fool, that the parent thinks that I am a useless liability and the people around me think that I am a bumbling idiot, is like having arrows shot through the heart. No one can be trusted. Nowhere can be safe. No love can be confirmed. The forces of evil lie in wait. Why am I here? To suffer?
Waking up in the middle of the night, one finds tears mysteriously flowing down the face. Humans are irrational savages in fragile bodies. This person is definitely not of Humanity and not of this deluded world. Yet this is a human body, these are human thoughts, and the environment is the human world. The body that does not belong to anyone, the thoughts that appear and disappear like virtual sub-atomic particles in the void, and the physical environment that is so far away but yet painfully real. Which world did oneself come from then? Which planet, which existence, and which dimension? There is insufficient data to compute an answer.
One can search the cosmos and the totality of existence. Coming to the end of time, to the end of space, there arises the big questions. “Who am I?” “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?” Unfortunately, “I am nothing.” “I came from nothing.” “I shall return to nothing.”
Welcome to a disconnected existence filled with anxiety, uncertainty, inferiority, (false) confidence, anger, sadness, abandonment and loneliness. Maybe it is easier if one can make a quick exit, perhaps by cutting some ugly blood vessels on that human body which belongs to no one. After all, nothing is better than (a painful) something.