Monday, November 18, 2013

Written by Paul Timmins

An indian parable talks about how 3 blind men describe an elephant. Each looks only at one part from one perspective and the 3 men come together at the end and find themselves explaining what sounds like a completely different creature. (An outsider would of course know that they are all ultimately describing the same creature).
To hear Suzanne Wright explain me, she might say: Imagine a child who reacts by biting, hitting, and screaming to changes in routine, or children saying unkind things about him. A kid who couldn’t tie his shoes until he was 8 or 9. Never sleeps. Escapes naked outdoors when the parents finally get sleep. What will they find broken next? Walls covered in dark lines where the child dragged his fingers for years to stabilize his path to prevent from walking into the wall. He grows up to have few friends in school, spends most of his time alone, talking to himself about technical topics, boring his parents to death about technical minutae, and obsessively and relentlessly fidgets with electronic parts, sometimes injuring or shocking himself, and buries his mind deep into a computer, for hours. Unable to judge danger, darts across the road impulsively, strips off clothes, pulls at them, screams during his parents wedding freaking out about wearing a necktie. Insists on doing the same thing the same way every time. Needs a detailed list to buy a can of soup from the grocery store in adolescence. THIS IS AUTISM.
To hear my parents explain me, they may say: Imagine a child who is in second grade and reading at a high school level. Who is so frustrated with school being beneath him academically, and lacking social skills, sometimes acts out inappropriately with frustration. Innovative, and focused on his interests. Breaks a lot of things, but learns to fix them. Always doing something amazing with his electronics sets and writing computer software, even though he’s only 10.  He got in more than a few accidents on his bike, some serious, and he rarely looks both ways before crossing the street, but we live in a rural area so it’s not a big deal. I may have to make grocery lists for him even as an adult, but the upside is I know PRECISELY what I’m going to get. He’ll call in a panic before he substitutes something without talking to me. This is my son!
To hear my employer explain me, they may say: Here’s a guy who will work tirelessly without any respect for time on things that are important to us. Has no trouble working late nights to work on service affecting projects. Rarely takes breaks to eat or use the restroom (just don’t get in his way if he needs to use the restroom, he looks pretty upset on his way there!), in fact, I think he often forgets to eat entirely. He’ll explain things in intricate detail, and educate the rest of the staff on the details that are important to catching problems early. He catches errors that others make quickly. He’s very methodical, and writes detailed procedures if we can slow him down long enough to document what he’s doing. He can memorize the entire network and how every device interacts. He can quote sections of 500 page contracts from memory. I never have to worry about him calling in sick on a monday because he’s out partying, if anything, he’s been working on some project for us all weekend because he was really interested in it, and slept through his alarm because he was up all night researching our next new product deployment. Always cheerful, and colorful and interesting. Sometimes he makes analogies that make no sense at all, and forgets the names of his coworkers, and while explaining things moves his arms around like he’s in a Jackie Chan movie, but that’s just part of what makes him who he is. This is our employee!
Listening to each talk, you may wonder if Suzanne is describing a different person entirely than the other two. She may herself wonder. Maybe she’d talk about how surely they’re not the same person, and she’s really speaking of someone more disabled than the other two, as that person clearly is not in need of help or services. An outsider will hopefully see the truth that all 3 are describing the same person.

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