Long before I heard about autism, I was thinking about it.
I was a loner from the beginning – as a boy entering school at 5 yrs old, I didn’t keep to myself by choice – I did it by instinct. I was completely unable to have friends. As Chris Stone says in my novel The Birdcatcher, describing his own first day at school, I felt like “an alien child left behind on a strange and unfriendly planet.”
I knew I was different and in the course of trying to cope with the daily trauma of being among other students and teachers day after day, I slowly decided what I thought the difference was.
It seemed to come down to a single fact – my mind was simpler than their minds.
The people around me seemed to have a complex unconscious social behavior, along with busy relationship agendas. They were constantly talking. The conversations sounded monotonously the same to me, but they never tired of talking to one another.
My mind was empty of all that. It only seemed to contain an appetite to see and to know the world around me. Everything – the sparrows squabbling in the dusty street, the ants climbing the trunk of a tree, a flower opening in the morning sun, mist rising from a lake at dawn – each was a new jewel of experience for me. But I had almost no desire to “get to know” anyone.
True, I did get married, but my wife and I didn’t need to get to know each other. We seemed to know each other right away, and connected immediately.
Over the years I continued to work on the problem and I always came back to that – the simplicity of my mind vs the complicated minds of my peers.
I don’t mean I was less intelligent, not that at all. I knew far more about the non-human world than most of them did. I was always reading, and I was always watching animals, plants, weather, etc. My peers, most of the time, watched each other. That I couldn’t do, and in that respect, yes, I guess I was less intelligent. I had no social instinct.
That I learned a lot didn’t help, for many of them didn’t like that. It even got me into fights.
In past centuries, long before Kanner and Asperger came up with the idea of autism, people used to call people like me ‘simpletons.’
Never mind that, because of strong memory, our minds might hold more knowledge. What mattered to most people was being part of society, succeeding in society, manipulating each other within society’s intricate games. People like me were too simple to take part in that game.
Then came Kanner and Asperger, and all those psychiatrists, psychologists, sociologists and rehab workers who have followed them, and they all began exploring this world of simple people who couldn’t take part in social life. They called it ‘autism’ and they studied it decade after decade and proved it to more complex than I ever expected.
But this morning being simpler than other people seems to explain me, and people like me, just as well as all the books that have been written about autism.