The Walking Cure
By Ralph Smith
A few nights ago we went for
a long walk in an abandoned railway bed. For us, nowadays it's not
so rare as it once was to have another autistic person as a walking
partner. For me, I'm no longer surprised to hear my concerns echoed
precisely, or to sense a kind of "resonance" or intuitive
recognition in our company, in our conversation in our songs,
our recitals, our sensibilities altogether. That's what our walk
in the railway bed was like, for me.
In this case, it was the combination
of right company and extended walking that worked a kind of magic.
As we went along I joked about my theory of "the walking cure" for
autistic peoplea play on psychotherapy as "the talking cure"my
retort against all "causal" theories about autism. If
my joking was a premonition of sorts, when the moment came I was
reminded of something I'd written years earlier, about a feeling
I hadn't known in decades:
Traveling on foot and
knowing the place and distance, I could go with a sense of self
and movement intact. This arrangement fit my ability to perceive,
and so to trust, and so to experience.
At a certain point in our walking,
as the sky was nearing twilight, I noticed that a characteristic
"fog" had lifted from my senses. Next I was gesturing
and exclaiming about the sudden sense of "earth" and "gravity" and
"trees," about a feeling of personal presence. A true feeling
presence had emerged (again) as my very appropriate condition. For
the first time in a long time, I woke up to my environment, to a
mislaid sense of personal experience.
Revived (and now gone again) was
a sensibility that is my rightful experience: a sense of space and
a sense of presence, of appropriate awareness in self. This facility
is stolen every day in many ways; stolen from everyone, in degree,
but especially from those whose ability to settle within themselves
is by circumstance made all but extinct. In this way, stolen not
only from me, but from all others who are called "autistic."
My discovery is continuing right
now, in the sense that I realize, here, that my objection to turning
autistic people into "robots" is not against promoting a wooden
self-affect or some kind of automaton-like behavior. (These behaviors,
by the way, often seem inevitable because autistic people have no
choice but to model or "map" social mechanics, since we
lack the so-called "higher order" cognitive ability that is automatic
in non-autistic people. A parallel might be all the added-life-hassles
like assistive devices and social-services paperwork that many disabled
people must contend with, while non-disabled people might seem to
"breeze" through everyday existence.
The objection to turning autistic
people into robots is, in fact, a simplistic interpretation (which
I've heard more than once) of a more sophisticated objection. The
objectionour objection, I
thinkis not about "rote" learning raised to its
highest possible level. Our objection, really, is about the routine
deadening of the "spirit of self."
I mean that there are worse things
than being a "robot." The term "zombie" is more
accurate, and more chilling, more painful, because it's closer to
human. Autistic people are human; but our human qualities can be
respected, even "revived," only if we know that these
qualities are in us to begin with. Maybe I'm a pretty smart guy
by some people's standards, but I was never smart enough to realize
that in perfecting the rote ideal I allowed the death ofand
completely forgot about for a long whileone of the best parts
©2002 Ralph Smith.
~My indebtedness to the writing of Donna Williams
("Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic,"
and other books) is especially evident in paragraph three. For
readers interested in learning more about autism, I recommend not
only Williams' books, but this
Smith lives in Ontario with two
cats and a computer stuffed full of research on neurological and
developmental disorders. He researches Autistic Spectrum Conditions,
with side trips into cross-disability cooperation. His hobbies are
equally "driven," including a keen interest in clay
sculpture, graphics and anatomy. Read Ralph's other BENT piece,
Lots of Love and Gentle Thoughts.
BENT: A Journal of CripGay