Song for my Brother
An Asperger perspective – curated by the Spectrum Scribe
09 May 2015 2 Comments
I recently recalled an incident at High School, the relevance of which to me, I have only now realised, more than 30 years later.
A boy in the same grade as me carried out an act of vandalism on a teacher’s office.
This boy was prone to random acts of petty vandalism of school property, but this particular act was one of extreme contempt against the teacher, leaving the room looking like a disaster zone.
This wasn’t my style, if only for the reason that I understood the immediate consequences of such action.
This boy never showed the slightest interest in academic study and dropped out of High School before graduating.
He was a kid from the other side of the tracks and his behaviour at school gave a clue as to the dysfunctional home that he perhaps/probably lived in.
I think that is the only thing we had in common, dysfunctional families.
But I now realise there is one glaring inconsistency in our school experiences:
He had friends – I didn’t!
and I really do mean, I had no friends.
Despite his firmly established asocial character, this boy hung out with a fairly large group of boys, albeit likeminded, but a circle of people that could reasonably be called friends.
I had no one.
The fact is that despite being intellectually gifted, I was unable to access and direct this power sufficiently to overcome my handicaps of ADHD and Aspergers.
A social misfit was better able to ‘make and sustain friendships’ infinitely better than I was.
Perhaps they didn’t quite meet the clinical criteria of being close friendships and I have no idea how long he remained friends with his group after school, etc…….but his batting average at school was right around the 300 mark!
I often wonder how seriously the articulate ramblings of ‘high functioning’ Autistic people are taken.
What do we have to complain about – and I am not complaining here.
But I think it is important that those who are struggling with more severe forms of autism have a good understanding, from the horses mouth, of the trials and tribulations of some of us who are less impaired, but impaired enough for our lives to be, at times, a living hell.
As I pondered this incident served up from my long term memory, I had only one thought:
15 Feb 2014 Leave a comment
in #Multimedia Autism Advocates, Advocacy, Aspergers, Autism, Autism movies, World Autism Tags: Academia, Aspergers, Autism, Autism film, Autism movie, Best Foreign Language Film, Footnote, intellectual, intellectually gifted, Israel, Joseph Cedar, Oscars, World Autism
I was initially drawn to this film as a critically acclaimed, very intelligent black comedy, which in the words of Roger Ebert:
‘is a merciless comedy, that is a study of human nature, that is deep and takes no prisoners’
It happens to be an Israeli film and was their 2011 Oscar nominated submission for Best Foreign language film.
Of all the countries to have been nominated for this Oscar category, Israel is the most under awarded: 10 nominations to date, without a single win, but enough of my cinephile trivia.
On the surface, the story is about 2 professors who happen to be father and son.
The protagonist father has dedicated most of his Academic career to the study of Talmud texts, cataloging and mapping the tiniest of differences – but alas without formal recognition due to an unfortunate technicality.
His son is a much lauded and prolific author of Talmud text books, who has enjoyed considerable commercial and Academic success.
In the opening few scenes, it looks like a simple story of father and son rivalry – while in fact it is used to set the scene for the real story.
There is often a very fine line between intellectual giftedness and high functioning autism – with considerable overlapping traits.
The autistic traits of the father were apparent to me right from the get go.
His singleminded quest to compile the Talmud in a form that is most faithful to the original, is the personification of the pursuit of a special interest.
A quest for knowledge for it’s own sake and as it’s own reward.
We learn that for 30 years, he walks to work (wearing sneakers and a suit) at the Israeli National Library, taking the exact same route every day, regardless of the weather.
He has an office at home, where he seems to spend all of his time, wearing bright yellow noise cancelling headphones and files everything and anything away in folders, with no apparent indexation system other than in his head.
But perhaps he’s just a quirkily genius, right?
While the autistic traits of the father were very obvious, at least to me, it didn’t overwhelm the unfolding story.
There is so much else going on.
We are given a glimpse of the legalistic egotism that handicaps much of the world of higher academia – delivered in the form of the mother of all ethical dilemmas, which feels like a vortex from which there is no escape.
The misdirection device is used to great effect, just before the pin prick punchline, that really shocked me.
The younger professor, perhaps in his late 40s, has an exchange with his own son, who is in his late teens.
He expresses concern and disappointment with his lack of ‘direction’ and focus.
Following this, the boys mother calmly suggests to her husband that the points he has just made with his son, would be better directed at his ‘Autistic father’, the elder professor!
I was shocked, so much so that I had to pause the film and pace around for a few minutes.
The tone of his wife gave no indication that the term autism was being used in the pop culture sense that ADHD and other terms are used.
She was clearly an intelligent woman in her own right, intellectual discourse being one of the pillars that in part defines her culture and indeed the history of her people. So I believe she was simply stating the obvious, albeit one that may previously been unspoken!
While I was pacing and trying to compose myself, I shed a few tears.
That scene could have easily been from my own life and I was reminded how easily ‘being autistic’ can be masked in those of us working in academia, the sciences, engineering, the traditional professions, anything in fact that allows and perhaps even requires our total absorption, high level focus and attention to detail.
I was also reminded that the autistic gifts, that can be channelled with powerful effect in the intellectually gifted, can carry a very high price.
Just when I thought the film was entering it’s tragic finale, the film delivers an exhilarating sequence that had me utterly mesmerised.
The elder professor picks up on a tiny phrase, not even a handful of words and we are shown the cascading, fractal thought process of the autistic mind, well my mind at least.
I would encourage any parent of a gifted child with Aspergers to see this, because you will be looking inside your child’s mind and not only be able to see what they see, but feel how they feel.
I got an adrenalin rush just watching it and I am in the cascading, fractal thought A-team!
I also had a powerful feeling of catharsis – it was like I was being vindicated – reassured that I am not mad, that I am not alone and reminded of what a remarkable gift it is to be able to make multiple connections with the tiniest of details, served up from deep within my long term memory.
A moment of Zen.
I don’t know whether the writer/Director, Joseph Cedar deliberately set out to make an autism themed film.
There was more going on than ‘just’ autism, not least a brutally honest portrayal not just of Human nature, but also of the Culture which in large part defines him.
The film goes in hard and deep and takes no prisoners and it caught me completely off guard.
I need to see it again, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight and I suspect for an even richer experience.
This is a rare film, that for me makes autism accessible to the non-autisitc population and will resonate especially powerfully with autistic people those whose intellect enables them to overcome, to some extent, the challenges of autism.