It’s probably important that I share this again ….
I spent many long nights while I was home-schooling Ian, trying to come up with a way of explaining how I understood autism.
As a visual thinker, of course I came up with a visual way of answering my own question – I called it “The Jam Donut Theory”, and I have tried to create pictures (below) which will explain it to you in the same way I sketch it on a whiteboard and explain it to college students. (It really needs scribbling, but I’ve done my best 😉)
Here, the Jam Donut, blue dough, orange jam :
With the right kind of work, these ‘points of accessibility’ can become permanent channels, making it much easier to engage with the working mind within, potentially for the rest of that person’s life.
I always hesitate to include that last image, because it saddens me. That is a ‘worst case scenario’, and you can imagine the frustrations which might result.
Here, I would like to tell you a story …
Many years ago, when my son Ian was first in adult services, the center held a party for several different special needs groups. There were many kinds of disability there, not just autism, and it was noisy and wild and wonderful.
At this party, there was one young woman – let’s call her Mary – who’s ‘thing’ it was to go around the room and shake hands with all the adults present, and ask them “What’s your name?”
She came up to me and shook my hand. I remember it clearly. Her hands were small and soft and delicate, but she shook my hand firmly and asked her question: “What’s your name?”
I answered clearly so she could catch it, and then she went on her way, around the room again, asking her question as she went, each person saying their name exactly as they had before.
She came back to me. “What’s your name?” she asked me.
I looked her square in the eye and with a smile on my face, I said “You know my name. I told you. Can you remember?”
Mary went very still, and I could see the cogs turning as she tried to remember. Many long seconds went by.
I didn’t move. I didn’t prompt. I stood quietly, and waited.
Suddenly her face cleared. “Fiona,” she said softly. “Your name’s Fiona.”
“Yes!” I grinned at her. “You do remember. Well done!”
After that, Mary wouldn’t leave my side. I was her new BFF, and she clung onto me as if her life depended on it.
The staff from the center were staring at us, and Mary’s mother seemed to become rather embarrassed by her daughter’s unusual behaviour, but I was in the zone then. We – Mary and I – were sharing something special, and I wasn’t in a hurry for it to end.
But she was maneuvered away from me, and shortly after that I had to leave.
It was only on the journey home I realized that perhaps for the first time in her life, someone had discounted the knowledge of all the things Mary couldn’t do, and had credited her with a working mind.
And her clinging to me like a limpet was her way of saying ‘thank you’.
I had no expectation that Mary would be able to answer me. I just took a chance. But if I had never taken that chance, I wouldn’t have experienced a moment of pure magic.
All it took was changing the format, and patience.