Eyes Like Lithium

I recently came across this piece http://www.utne.com/print-article.aspx?id=2147491704

(via Long Reads, from the Utne reader http://www.utne.com/Mind-Body/Eyes-Like-Lithium-Brother-High-Functioning-Autism.aspx,)

Eyes Like Lithium, by Danielle Cadena Deulen, is  a moving story describing many facets of living with autism from the point of view of the sibling of a boy with high functioning autism.

Some of us, parents of children with “low-functioning” autism, have expressed annoyance and resentment about the terms “high” and “low” functioning  as it relates to autism.  The “high” functioning camp seems to have hijacked the conversation, just as parents of the more mildly learning disabled children entirely monopolized a Parent Action Committee meeting at an elementary school that once considered integrating my daughter into its midst. ( They came to their senses as soon as they watched her climb the conference room bookcases, however.)

The vulnerability of these children, to those who have no tolerance for differences like autism, the vulnerability to the bullies of the world, at home and at school, is perhaps more intense for those who are “high” functioning, who have speech and are more able to be integrated into schools and communities.  For those children without speech, perhaps they are not seen as even worthy of the effort it takes to bully,  or they are so different that they are feared more, or maybe it is that they actually become invisible to their would be tormentors.

That does not mean that I think bullying non-existent for those with lower function. ( But what does that really mean, high and low?  It refers to IQ, as measured in the very questionable IQ tests, and also to one’s ability to function in the world.)  The bullying exists, I am sure; but, the ability to report the bullying  does not.

I have a great deal of sympathy for those with “high functioning” autism.  Their ability to “tell all” helps the rest of us to understand what someone like my daughter is unable to tell: that they love; that they hurt; they have fears and dreams; that they are, also, human.

2 thoughts on “Eyes Like Lithium

  1. Great post. I too love exploring how language captures or derails our experience as parents of kids with special needs, and how comparisons within our own community can be both harmful and helpful. I was recently at a lecture with a child psychologist who said she has begun using the label “full spectrum Autism” rather than “low functioning Autism” and as someone whose child isn’t on the spectrum, I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge to have an opinion on the implications of that. Any thoughts? It seems tricky.

  2. I have an issue with the whole idea of politically correct speech when it comes to my daughter. I had no trouble addressing gender issues and racial issues in speech when they came up in my youth; however, oddly enough, I cling to the old habits of referring to “autistic person” instead of the more person-centered “person who has autism”; and I often use “non-verbal” instead of identifying how she does communicate. I use the same excuses as other old people used when I was young for why I find it difficult to change.
    But somehow “Low Functioning” implies severe cognitive impairment and seems to be just a euphemism for “retarded”, which is, for many disabled people, related to the N-word. It is still emphasizing the skills that the individual in question lacks rather than leaving open the possible strengths that make the person an asset to the community.
    You might have to look harder, but those assets are there, for everyone, no matter how they function; we need to make a better world for them to function in.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s