Feelings? 2

by Nancy Bekhor

“Donna Williams gets as close to the autistic mind as anyone is likely for the very reason that she herself is autistic.”  [Anthony Clare, clinical professor of psychiatry, trinity.  College, Dublin]
The following story is from her book ‘Nobody Nowhere’ at the point where she was in Scotland searching out other autistics to understand more about herself.

Donna is visiting the home of Kath mother to autistic adult Perry.

“Kath was a solid personality with whom I felt relatively secure.  Her voice was rather flat and even, and the pace with which she spoke was easy to follow.   She had long straight grey hair and darting eyes, and though I felt welcomed by her I didn’t feel smothered by her involvement.

She had a son my age (late 20’s), and her son was autistic.   When I met him, he was he was running his hands through coloured beads.  I didn’t want him to say hello or ask me how I was.  Those were words reserved for those who wanted to move in ‘the world’ and her son Perry certainly didn’t.

I sat on the floor nearby and took out a handful of coloured buttons and glass fruit.  I sorted them into groups, put my hand out to where Perry was playing with his beads and, without a glance and without a word, I dropped them.  Perry caught them and did the same back.

(I remembered my first version of relating – mirrors – but this time there would be nobody to say that my version of relating wasn’t good enough.)

This went on for a while, and we began to modify the game.   I had a bell which I jingled to myself and dropped it for him to catch like before.  Like before, Perry repeated but with the added feature of making a noise to go with it.

I mirrored him and the game became mobile with us following one another about the place in turn, ringing the bell and giving it over as the game became more and more direct.

I sat back on the floor, lining up the buttons in categories.
Perry approached, picked up a button here and there and added them to my rows
where they belonged. Without looking at him, I knew what he was saying.

I hadn’t noticed that Kath had entered the room. She was standing there silently as Perry came over to where I was.    He had laid himself out, face down, on the floor in front of me, arms pulled up tightly against his sides as he shook with anxiety.

‘Look at me,’I said reading the same action I’d seen so many times in myself. ‘Look, I’m daring to be touched.’ I had looked straight at Perry lying there as I had said it, tears rolling down my face as I read his behaviour as one might a book. I had the tremors from head to toe…

I turned to see Kath crying.
‘I never thought he had any language,’ she said. ‘Now I see he does. I just don’t know how to speak it’…
She said she had never seen him look so ‘normal’.
( and I had never felt I had understood another individual so well.)

‘We think it is we who have to teach autistic people,’Kath said. ‘Now I see it us who have so much to learn from them.’

Kath was also a teacher of autistic children.  See Feelings 3
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