My original thought for this post was to explore my sense of skepticism about the possibility of communicating with my older brother, Michael. He is low functioning, autistic and has never spoken. This is a theme that I have explored before, and I am concerned about repeating myself. What I have tried to say is that it is so difficult to communicate with someone who doesn’t recognize entities other than him or herself. There is a range of severity in autistic individuals. This is evident from the description of autism as a ‘spectrum’ disorder. My brother acts as if he is the only one in existence; this phenomenon, described as ‘autistic aloneness’ in scientific literature. It’s as if he the only person in his universe, with everyone else as a backdrop. How could anything be lonelier than being the only one in the universe?
Yes, I am skeptical about being able to communicate with my brother. I am even more skeptical of those people who claim that they know what Mike is ‘thinking’ or feeling. What I do believe is that these people do not listen or observe very deeply. On the contrary, they overlay their own sensibilities on Mike, and assume they know his mind. He is not capable of confirming or denying their assumptions. There is an exception: everyone knows when Mike is hungry; he goes right for the food.
But it is not obvious what he is laughing, crying or frustrated about.
Perhaps I am missing the larger issue here. Most people, if they were to see my brother and his housemates in the community, would cross the street to avoid them. Communication with people like my brother is not even a consideration. This is not surprising. I’ll take ‘live and let live’ any day. I do have a problem with those who use their ignorance and fear to ignore or deny the very humanity of Mike and those like him; to denigrate them with offensive language or to bully them just because they can.
I flesh out many of the themes of my writing by searching the Internet. I found a wonderful, thoughtful post by M O’Callaghan called Skeptics and Retards, in which she explores the use of the word ‘retard’ pejoratively. I refer the reader to her blog rather than to summarize it here.
There is a history to the terminology used to describe low-functioning, intellectually disabled people. At one point ‘mentally retarded’ was an acceptable term; for that matter, terms such as feeble-minded and simpleton were in common use. In fact, in the early part of the twentieth century Intelligence Quotients (IQ) levels were associated with the terms, idiot (IQ= 0-25), imbecile (IQ=26-50) and moron (IQ=51-70)
It is hard to imagine that any of these terms were ever used respectfully, but society has not always been respectful to those who cannot fend for themselves.