May 17, 2010


Because I have autism, I live by concrete rules instead of abstract beliefs. And because I have autism, I think in pictures and sounds. I don't have the ability to process abstract thought the way that you do. Here's how my brain works: It's like the search engine Google for images. If you say the word "love" to me, I'll surf the Internet inside my brain. Then, a series of images pops into my head. What I'll see, for example, is a picture of a mother horse with a foal, or I think of Herbie the Love Bug, scenes from the movie Love Story, or the Beatles song "Love, love, all you need is love."

When I was a child, my parents taught me the difference between good and bad behavior by showing me specific examples. My mother told me that you don't hit other kids because you would not like it if they hit you. That makes sense. But if my mother told me to be nice to someone, it was too vague for me to comprehend, but if she said that being nice meant delivering daffodils to the next-door neighbor, that I could understand. I built a library of experiences that I could refer to when I was in a new situation.

That way, when I confronted something unfamiliar, I could draw on the information in my homemade library and come up with an appropriate way to behave in a new and strange situation.

When I heard this during a program about autism on NPR's Speaking of Faith yesterday, it sounded pretty familiar to me, too. I still have a great desire just to pull old books off shelves and turn the pages, to look at old pictures and videos, just to see what memories and associations concrete objects and video can stir in me. I often need to do that Google search, too. There are still parts of my memory and I guess parts of my life and my identity that I can't access directly. I need other people to understand this. I think maybe I've gotten too good at coping behavior for people to appreciate that there are holes in my life.