Autism: Is there room for normality?

I have spent a lot of time on this blog talking about how autistic Ian is. There can be no doubt, I suppose. It’s pretty much there, in your face, front and centre.

So, in the hope of writing something a little bit different, and perhaps a little more positive, I found myself wondering: What is there about Ian that isn’t autistic?

Is there anything?

Let’s go through some areas of his life, and see …

The way he walks?

Well, almost. Except that he has a way of walking which is … gentle. Almost as though he steps carefully. He toe-walks, of course, he always has, and because of this, his feet are exceptionally broad.

We have his shoes handmade by a company in South Africa who make leather footwear, because they take Ian’s foot measurements seriously, have created perfect lasts of Ian’s feet, and the shoes they make actually fit him.

Even buying them, bespoke, from overseas and paying for delivery to Ireland, the shoes cost us less than handmade shoes would cost here – if we could get someone to believe Ian’s foot measurements, which proved impossible when we tried.

So Ian’s shoes are unusual, and the footprints he leaves are unusual, and the way he walks is unusual, too.

The way he talks?

If we discount the frequent snippets of video footage, and strange other-worldly sounds which emerge, and judge solely on his voice … maybe. If you can hear him.

Ian speaks softly and often quickly, so it’s easy to miss what he says. If he’s reading out loud, there will be strange emphasis on certain words, and no normal cadence to the sentence, so the delivery can seem a little strange.

But he pronounces words beautifully, even a more unusual word, like croissants. He does enjoy a croissant.

The way he looks ?

I suppose in photographs there is nothing to show that Ian is autistic. He looks normal, doesn’t he? Okay, his skin is paler than anyone else in his family, and his eyelashes are longer, and because of his toe-walking he has a marked pelvic tilt, and heaven forbid you ask him to smile for a photograph because you’ll get a grimace, but on the whole, Ian looks okay.

Actually, better than okay. He’s a handsome chap, and draws furtive glances wherever he goes.

The way he eats?

Hooboy. No. Definitely not. Well, not in our culture, anyway. Ian eats almost exclusively with his fingers, and his diet is very limited.

The way he dresses?

Given that Ian would happily spend the day in only his underpants – or even completely naked – he’s on the outskirts of social behaviour with this one. He’d fit right into a nudist colony. He’d be a raving exhibitionist, if he didn’t completely lack the awareness of his own nudity, or what it means to other people or society.

But he does wear normal clothes when we go out, and he wears them well.

The way he reads a book?

Almost. Until you realise that he’s read the same book a hundred times, and is flicking the pages so quickly even a world-class speed reader would have trouble keeping up. Why pause over the words when you already have them in your head?

He’ll occasionally turn the book upside down, just to see the pictures from a different angle. He could probably read it perfectly well. His brain is like that. (Mine too, upside down and backwards – I wonder where I get it from …?)

The way Ian watches a film?

Maybe, if you use the verb ‘to watch’ very loosely, and ignore the intermittent blasts of hand-flapping which appear.

Ian is happy that the film is on in the same way that his dad is happy the sport is on, behind him, with the sound off.

Television as security blanket.

The way he travels in a car?

Potentially, if you ignore the hand movements and his occasional imperious commands of “That way” (complete with pointing finger) when there is more than one road to a particular place.

His car door is locked. The windows are locked too, because he figured out that he could wind the window down and open the door from the outside. Autistic, not stupid. And he has a sticker in his window, just in case there’s ever an accident and I’m unconscious or worse, just to alert emergency services.

So where are we?

We’ve covered a lot of Ian’s life. Of course we haven’t covered every single thing – I’m sure that’s not possible – and some of it (like toileting) I don’t want to cover anyway.

But here are some positives –

Ian gives the best hugs.

He has a really beautiful smile, when it happens spontaneously.

He has a highly developed sense of humour.

He has a very good ear for music, used to sing with near-perfect pitch (before his voice broke), and taught himself to play the keyboard.

And he types like the wind. Really, really fast, accurately, and with only two fingers.

What more could you want?

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