Last Sunday there was an article in The New York Times Magazine about Thorkil Sonne’s company Specialisterne. Created as a vehicle to take advantage of autistic kids strengths – precision, memory, penchant for repetition without getting bored – Specialisterne was founded after Sonne noticed his Asperger’s son’s “unusual skills.”
I’d read about this before. More interesting than the article were the online comments, some which showed the continual rift within the autism community between high and low functioning people. There’s real tension and anger that Aspie’s kids get all the glory and that the many with intellectual problems are swept under the rug. The Aspie stories become centered on the social aspects, aspects that many parents of kids on the spectrum wish was the only issue they had to deal with.
I admit I was taken aback by some of the hostility towards the story. Isn’t it enough for families to struggle with autism, regardless of where you may lay on the spectrum, without taking shots at the so-called “advantages” of differently autistic people? I’ve written before about this idea of an “advantage.” To me it is a troubling way to look at autism. Nate has never had any edge because he’s autistic. Sure, he is excellent at certain things and he has his own perspective, which we love. But an advantage? Is there any parent, pre-birth, who would say “Oh please make my child autistic. He/she will really have a leg up on others.” Anybody want to wish that on their kid?
The width of the spectrum is such that “autistic” can mean different things, from Asperger’s to the more classic version of a non-verbal autistic. Writing about Nate, I’ve always tried to explain that our experience is ours, that while there may very well be some lessons learned and hopes gained that can help parents in similar situation, Nate’s successes (and failures) are not the result of a one-size-fits-all template. So while Specialisterne may work for some, it by no means applies to a great number of others. But it’s a good story and one that helps the lessen the overall confusion and worry that families have for the future of their autistic children.
Ron Fournier was on Morning Joe today discussing his new National Journal piece about his son Max, who has Asperger’s. Joe Scarborough also has a son named Andrew with Asperger’s. Watching the interview, I thought two things. One,that’s supposed to be me on TV, talking about Nate and my new book (which doesn’t exist yet. This was a fantasy thought). Two, that while Nate is far from being Asperger’s, and I mean that Nate isn’t as adept as Aspie’s kids, Ron and Joe’s stories were very similar to mine and Karen’s, especially trying to teach your kid how to ask “How was your day?”
Listening to these two fathers of very different boys than Nate, I realized that there was enough common ground among all of us and that was valuable. From our unique experiences come a shared experience.