Imagine talking yourself blue in the face trying to make the natives of the strange country you’re in understand you … but you can’t because they don’t speak English and you don’t speak their language.
That is just a brief glimpse into the world of a person who suffers with autism. It may not be entirely accurate and professionals in the field of mental health may disagree but it paints a picture of just one of the symptoms that autistic individuals battle every day – the inability to communicate effectively.
Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that first appears during infancy or childhood and generally follows a steady course without remission. Symptoms typically begin to show after the age of six months and become firmly established by the age of two or three years.
The disorder is not distinguished by a single symptom but by a characteristic triad of symptoms including the one opening this article. These major symptoms are: impairments in social interaction, impairments in communication and restricted interests and repetitive behaviour.
In an effort to bring the disorder into the lime light a local organization has chosen to present the public with a different view of the disorder. April also happens to be Autism Awareness Month. In an effort to assist in the fight, the Kaieteur News will highlight over the next two weeks some of the great autistic heroes of the world featured in a series entitled ‘Different Like Me: My book of autism heroes’ a book written by Jennifer Elder.
The stories are narrated by the perky “eight-and-three-quarters years old Quinn” who “wonders about all the autistic people who lived before” and who suffers with autism himself. It includes famous and inspirational figures from the worlds of science, math, art, literature, philosophy and comedy. People such as Albert Einstein, Andy Warhol, Andy Kaufman, Alan Turing, Lewis Carroll, Isaac Newton and Nikola Tesla among many others.
So we invite you to join us as we meet Quinn and explore the legacies left behind by those who ‘suffered’ with autism. And perhaps together we can work towards helping those around us who can do so much more if we let them.
Hello! My name is Quinn. I’m eight and three-quarters years old. My favourite things are baseball, dolphins, and ancient Egypt. Oh yeah, and I’m autistic. Sometimes I don’t understand people, and sometimes they don’t understand me. Little things get on my nerves, like too many people talking at once. It can be hard to fit in.
But when the other kids see how good I am at drawing, they are interested. This is how I make my place in the world. I just concentrate on what I do best.
Did you know that nobody had ever even heard of autism until the 1940s? It was around before then, but there just wasn’t a name for it yet. Then two different doctors, Dr. Kanner and Dr. Asperger, each started thinking about what some of their patients had in common. Some didn’t speak. Some were very good with numbers and patterns. Some were bothered by loud noises. But they all seemed to live in a world of their own, hardly noticing people around them.
Both of these doctors, thousands of miles apart, looked at their patients and came up with the same word: Autism (from the Greek word for “self”).
Still, it took a long time for us to begin to understand autism. It wasn’t until forty years later that Dr. Asperger’s work became widely known. Since the beginning of the twenty-first century, we have learned much more about autism and Asperger’s Syndrome in the Arts and Sciences—some who blend in with the crowd, and some who proudly let it show.
Sometimes I wonder about all the autistic people who lived before, though. Most probably never met anyone else like them. They must have thought that they were the only ones who ever cared more about trains, or music, or the planets, than about making friends. They probably assumed that every person on earth but them knew the secret to fitting in.
Did they wonder why they weren’t like everybody else? And how did they turn their unique abilities into something great? It’s hard to say for sure, but there are even some famous people who I think may have been different like me…
Albert Einstein was not a boy genius—at least, not as far as anyone knew. Most people thought that he wasn’t very smart. He didn’t talk at all until the age of three, and still didn’t speak well when he reached the age of nine. About the only thing he was good at was playing the violin. Albert didn’t do well in school, and his teachers were often irritated with him. One school even threw him out. They thought he was hopeless. They were wrong.
There was something going on inside Albert’s head, something wonderful. The first time Albert saw a compass, when he was around age five, he was fascinated .What made the needle move? How did it know which way to point? These questions along with his love of math, would eventually lead young Albert to the science of physics.
After college, Albert took a job in a patent office. He never stopped thinking about physics, though, and began to write his ideas about time and space. Then, in 1905, he published a paper that shook the world. When people read what he wrote, they were amazed. Some of it was hard to understand; he predicted that time could slow as you approached the speed of light and that space itself could be pulled out of shape. He even showed that anything—a jellybean, a lump of metal, a drop of water—held immense energy inside of it.
His ideas took years for other scientists to prove, but one thing was always certain: Einstein’s work would change everything. Albert became very famous. He traveled all over, lecturing and teaching—even at the college where he had been a poor student.
Some of Albert’s ideas were used to build the atomic bomb, the biggest weapon ever made. This made Albert sad, because he was a pacifist—someone who is against war. He spent the rest of his life trying to convince countries not to use the bomb. For this reason, he is remembered not just as a great scientist, but as a great man as well.
Taken from: Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes by Jennifer Elder © Jennifer Elder 2006
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