You have a child.
He learns to speak very early. He can read Dr. Seuss books by 2½. He learns things very quickly. He begins writing at a very early age and, being very imaginative, begins writing stories. He has a fascination with nature. He loves to read everything on every topic, from nonfiction to fiction. He is generally well-behaved, though often argumentative.
He cannot look you in the eye when he talks with you, but rather looks at your mouth or his eyes are darting all over the place (making him hyperaware of his surroundings). He is socially awkward and has difficulty making friends. He prefers to spend time alone, whether in his room or walking in the woods. He obsessively makes lists—lists of dinosaurs, then lists of sharks, then lists of plants. Everyone agrees he is highly intelligent, but the standardized tests at school suggest he is average. He is exceptionally good at seeing patterns.
I think most people would be pleased to have the first child. That child is obviously intelligent, but otherwise quite normal. The second child, on the other hand, is obviously autistic. More, the two children seem opposites. Autistic children aren’t supposed to be imaginative, and they have speech delays. But if you combine the two, you get a child with Asperger’s. Of course, not all children with Asperger’s have the same traits. But like all autistic children, children with Asperger’s have difficulty communicating, even though they don’t have the speech delay, and they also have coordination problems. Being a writer doesn’t mean you don’t have communication difficulties outside of writing.
Since we learned Daniel is autistic, I have read a lot about autism. One claim that confuses me is the claim that autistic people aren’t creative. That’s hardly my experience. In fact, there’s good evidence that most gifted and talented children are somewhere on the spectrum, probably with Asperger’s.
The Intense World Theory (IWT) of autism, which describes me and my son almost perfectly, makes it possible to have an autistic person who is also creative. Given the belief that autistic children aren’t creative, his creativity would make one wonder about his being autistic. More, from the description of autism from the IWT, the two people who know me best—my wife and my brother—each independently concluded that I probably “have that” well before I was officially diagnosed.
Of course, nobody would have thought there was anything wrong with me growing up. Asperger’s was unheard of in the U.S. in the 1970s and 80s, and autism was practically unheard of. Besides, what is wrong with a child who speaks early and reads by two and a half? And later, when he spends his time in his room reading books and making lists, it’s because he’s just a little peculiar, because he’s so smart. He likes to spend time in the woods because he likes nature. And he does have friends, even if he doesn’t spend that much time playing with them.
The difference between Daniel and me is that he had a speech delay. And he’s having some difficulty learning to read. His language improved quite a bit, and based on his vocabulary and the things he says, few would think there’s a problem. His speech patterns, though, may give it away. At the same time, as he gets older, I see much more of a continuation between him and me. His world might be a bit more intense, is all.
Indeed, the fact that IWT autism means you have a brain dominated by positive feedback also explains much. It explains why I swing between high and low energy—one would typically consider me to be mildly bipolar. It explains why I am sensitive to food textures and to things touching my wrists and neck—and general touch-hypersensitivity at times (high energy times). And it explains my extreme empathy—which makes me socially uncomfortable at times, yet allows me too to really hone in on people’s problems. And it makes me particularly interested in stories. I love fiction, and I love to write fiction.
Indeed, IWT does seem to explain so much about me. It is a fascinating insight.