Dr. Gregory House, talking about his patient, who was an autistic child, said: ?Why would you feel sorry for someone who gets to opt out of the inane, courteous formalities, which are utterly meaningless, insincere and therefore degrading? This kid doesn?t have to pretend to be interested in your back pain or your excretions or your grandma?s itchy place. Can you imagine how liberating it would be to live a life free of all the mind-numbing social niceties? I don?t pity this kid, I envy him.?
This quote is very meaningful to me because: first, I am tired of mind-numbing social realities; and second, my youngest brother Vinz, who is turning 10 in November, suffers from borderline autism.
His is a very mild form, so that some people think he suffers from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. He runs around and dances without music and talks to strangers and, sometimes, to no one in particular, but he goes on as if he is actually conversing with someone. Unless you know the symptoms of autism, you would think Vinz is just another ?bibo? kid?until you notice that he has trouble keeping eye contact, he has problems keeping still, he asks questions out of the blue, the answers to which he already knows, he easily gets frustrated, and he has fixations?with green socks, the number 9, and Mr. Bean, for example. Social norms and proper behavior are concepts he has difficulty understanding. He has trouble knowing right from wrong. There is no black and white to him when it comes to attitude and behavior; he only realizes that he did something bad when he gets scolded or when we get mad.
This problem of his gets more complicated when we go out, because once he sees something he wants, he has to get it now or he would throw a fit?all of which happened too many times in different malls, shops and groceries. He would scream (shriek would be the more appropriate word) at the top of his lungs, and scratch and punch the unfortunate person who tries to hold and restrain him. All attempts to explain or calm him don?t work, and more often than not we have to physically carry him away from the object of his desire, hurry out of the mall, and cut our trip short.
With the encouragement of his preschool principal, my mother first took Vinz, who was then three years old, to his pediatrician, who then referred her to a developmental pediatrician. My brother underwent an evaluation consisting of an assessment of his intellectual level, behavior and locomotor development. The pediatrician recommended that he see a speech pathologist and an occupational therapist to help him with communication and behavioral modification as well as help him cope with school. Eventually, Vinz transferred to a school that is quite famous for how they deal not only with regular students but special children as well.
His speech therapy lasted for two years, but he had to continue seeing the occupation therapist for three more years. The latter was interrupted for a year because another assessment done when he was eight years old showed definite improvement. At home, he was throwing fewer tantrums and frustration fits. He established more eye contact and was more articulate. And he started to grasp the difference between proper and bad behavior. In school, he was able to keep up with the academic requirements, although his second grade teacher noticed his attention span growing shorter as the school year was about to end.
Another visit to the developmental pediatrician ended with the recommendation that Vinz see his occupational therapist thrice weekly for at least three more months. Since both my parents were working full-time, I was tasked to accompany him to his therapist on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
Living 24/7 with an autistic brother is already a trial of some kind, but being in a place where many of them ran around and feeling comfortable was a completely different experience.
These kids do not fit in well in the normal world, but come to think of it, whose loss is it really? What good is a world of niceties and notoriety, a world of extremes, like what we all have to deal with all the time? What do they miss, the ability to lie your way through something? To use deceit to get to the top? To worry about worldly things and do anything to achieve them?
There?s one funny thing I?ve heard said about autistic children: You should be glad when they learn to lie because that means they have learned to think the way normal people do. I think this captures the irony of how it has become ?normal? for people to use their intelligence to get ahead of the pack through deceit and immorality, wearing masks and pretending to be more than what they are.
One of the things I have realized from Vinz?s condition is how easily we lose our innocence or taint it as we grow old. It is not just a child?s state of mental blankness that needs to be filled. He should also be taught to feel the bliss of constant amazement and curiosity, of never holding grudges and knowing to trust Mom to give the right answers to life?s most important questions.
In Vinz?s case, I envy the curiosity that shines from his beautiful brown eyes and the steady smile plastered on his face, devoid of shallow worries about what to wear or where to go or how to make someone like us, or worse, how to be like someone else. It?s all these things?or rather, the absence of them?beautifully woven and protected by innocence that sometimes make me think that perhaps we are the ones who are missing out on what it means to be alive?and that Vinz and others like him are the lucky ones.
Amaris Grace M. Cabason, 20, is a freshman at the San Beda College of Law.