Long before I learned about autism, I was thinking about it.
From the beginning I was a loner – when I entered 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 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. They were constantly talking. Their conversations bored me, sounding monotonously the same, yet they never tired of talking to one another.
Meanwhile, my mind only seemed to contain an appetite to see and 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 connected immediately. We were living together within a month. We seemed to know each other from the start. It was very simple.
Over the years I continued to work on this problem and I always came back to that – the simplicity of my mind vs the complicated minds of my peers.
I don’t mean that I was less intelligent than them, 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. They watched each other. That I couldn’t do. If there is a social intelligence, or a social instinct, then I was lacking in that.
Though I learned a lot, it didn’t help, for many of them didn’t like me knowing more than they did. Sometimes their jealousy, or resentment, forced 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 matters to most people is being part of society, succeeding in society, manipulating each other within society’s intricate games. People like us are too simple to take part in the games. I think it’s as simple as that.
But 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 can’t take part in social life. They called it ‘autism’ and they studied it decade after decade and proved it to be more complex than I ever expected.
Yet now and then, I find myself returning to this simple idea. It still seems to explain a lot.