What's it about.
Autism, much like everything else in the world, exists on a spectrum. Real-life married couple, Anushka Paris-Carter and Andy Paris (Side-note: Mr. Paris happens to be a former professor of mine at Hunter College), attempt to illustrate just how wide and complicated that spectrum is with their play, Uncommon Sense.
If you've met one person on the Autism spectrum, then you've really only met one person on the Autism spectrum. I have not personally met very many people that I was aware were on the spectrum. I did go on a rather awkward first date a couple of years back with a young man who lives with Asperger syndrome. While it wasn't a love connection, it was apparent that he was brilliant, very functional in society, and more than capable of succeeding in the dating arena. I had only seen documentaries featuring people who were so far on the Autism spectrum that they were non-verbal, and incapable of taking care of themselves. But Uncommon Sense introduced me to both extreme ends of the spectrum, in addition to some in-between.
There was Moose, a young man that towered over his parents at over six feet tall, almost entirely dependent on them to simply survive. While Moose had seemed, as an infant, to be meeting all the milestones his neurotypical peers had (crawling on-time, saying "Mama" at ten months old), at a certain point, his progression stopped, and he retreated into himself, into his obsessions with water and jellyfish and playing with an egg-beater. These were the things that made his world. His mother even went so far as to refer to jellyfish and his eggbeater as "his identity." It's difficult enough for neurotypical people (myself included) to self-identify. Even if a large part of communication is non-verbal (which it is), how can a person like Moose, existing far enough on the spectrum that he literally cannot voice his own concerns and interests get across who he is or how he sees the world? Could his neurotypical parents do it for him? They certainly tried. Tirelessly, they cared for their adult son who could now overpower and outrun them, who was prone to running away from home and into oncoming traffic or the local pond. They loved him unconditionally, but even though it broke their hearts, they had to entertain the possibility that their home was no longer the best place for Moose to live.
Lali (pronounced Law-Lee) didn't speak. At all. In fact, to her mother's bafflement and frustration, almost all she did, since very early childhood, was run her hands through uncooked rice. Her mother, however, refused to accept that her daughter would never communicate in a way that she could understand. She enlisted help from a paid professional to help her daughter find her voice.
Dan had Asperger syndrome, and was able to live independently (albeit within walking distance of his younger sister), hold down a job (at a deli), and retain a wealth of information that he deemed interesting, such as facts on cats, horses, and toxicology. He longed to be an Actuary, settle down with a woman he loved, and start a family.
Jess, similarly to Dan, knew a lot about a lot of subjects, but she found it easier to relate to the fictional characters in anime and video games than real people. She felt that she was not at all in control of her brain or thoughts, which made it hard for her to connect with people in real life, so hard, that she had already transferred to nine colleges since first going away to school.
While living life on the Autism spectrum certainly seemed difficult, to say the least, I could better sympathize with the people in the positions of loving someone on the spectrum, particularly the parents of the people very far on the spectrum, like Moose and Lali. One of the things about loving someone is that their pain often becomes yours, or better yet, is added onto your own pain. When I was younger, I would never believe my mom when she would tell me that it hurt her more to see me hurting than it did when she was hurting. She would argue that whatever pain I was feeling, hers was worse simply because she loved me so much. And over time, I began to see the pain and anger that would consume my mom whenever I went through a bad breakup, or was bullied, or had a teacher write discouraging comments on one of my assignments. So I can only imagine the nightmare of an existence parents of children far on the spectrum lead, especially when those children become adults, and they are still unable to care for themselves.
I thought of a quote from one of my favorite books, Turtles All the Way Down, by John Green:
“Anybody can look at you. It's quite rare to find someone who sees the same world you see.”
I could not agree more, and I think it's probably even more rare (but not impossible) to find that someone if you're on the spectrum.
But more importantly, I think we need to stop making so many assumptions where the spectrum is concerned. One scene, where Lali, who the entire play has done little more than play with rice, types into a keyboard the words, "What do you think," and then a little bit later, "my IQ is?," is startling. Her question stares all of us in the face, instantly incriminating any of us audience members (admittedly, I was one of them) who had automatically assumed that just because Lali hadn't spoken verbally, or smiled, or done much else but touch rice, she was not intelligent. How wrong we were. How wrong I was.
People on the autism spectrum are just as deserving of happiness as neurotypical people.
And they can be smart,
and they can be sexual,
and they can be desired,
and they can hold important jobs,
and they can love,
and they can marry,
and they can have children,
and they can live fulfilling lives.
And guess what? Even if you think you've never met someone who falls on the spectrum? You probably have. That's how vast and nuanced it is.
Boom. End of story.
Tell us about it below.
In the comments.