Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Why I'd Prefer to Be Mildly Autistic

I had an interesting realization tonight.

But before I get into that, there's a confession I have to make. And please don't take this too personally, but what I want to get off my chest is...that you bore me. And most of the time, just to be fair, I pretty much bore myself. 1st world societies, with their people suffering from increasingly diminishing attention spans, either encouraged by or resulting in internet and television obsession, drug/alcohol abuse, video games, sexual degradation, and pop literature, in addition to the many other casual spoils of modern life, are making for a very dull climate. Maybe 'complacent' is the righter word.

It seems the more a civilization advances, with America as the prime example, the more its inhabitants devolve into cultural zombies. Our daily effort becomes the process of trying to stifle our innate desire to do something (our original nature which wants for us to live dangerously and make an adventure of the daily life) with all the momentary gratifications we can manage or afford to stuff into our day. Most amenities in modern life, in fact, are designed to be nothing more than a quick fix. And since we prohibit many types of drugs, I must ask: Are we oblivious to the fact that most of what we consume on a daily basis could more or less be considered just as harmful, dulling, and addictive than what we tell the kiddies not to smoke or inject through needles? For it all serves the same underlying purpose: numbing restlessness which would be better satisfied through meaningful activity.

We're suffering a shortage of interesting people. Each generation the count reduces, which takes me back to that realization. The other day I encountered in Psychology Today an article about a young woman, Kiriana Cowansage, who was diagnosed at the age of 19 with Asperger's Syndrome, a condition on the "high functioning end of the autism spectrum." The subject of the article is a graduate student in NYU's neuroscience program, an undoubtedly intelligent girl, and yet she frequently gets lost in her own West Village neighborhood. Other quirks of Kiriana's: 1) When she was two years old her mother remembers her saying things like, "The bee fell out of my mind. What's a mind?" 2) She once spent 10 hours straight working on a puzzle of the astrological heavens. 3) She can hardly interact comfortably with most people but possesses a natural closeness to animals. 4) Her tendency is to develop an extreme infatuation for her interests as well as a consuming focus toward whatever is her task at hand, preferring to be immersed in productivity rather than to socialize or hang about.

One of Kiriana's current projects at NYU is translating a textbook on neurodevelopment into metaphorical scenes, combining her scientific proneness with her talent as an artist. "To me, art is a part of science, of observation—it's finding the details that define an object." Kiriana's drawings are described as whimsical and detailed, perhaps influenced by the Edward Gorey books found strewn about her apartment.

After reading the article I found myself overcome with fascination for this person. I even noticed in me a strange yearning to be diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome myself and to befriend other people with similar conditions. How lovely, I thought, it would be to be diagnosed as abnormal and belong to a scene that could care less about the I-Phone or latest episode of Prison Break. I won't deny that I'm incredibly naive to what it truly means to suffer from any form of autism or neurological disorder. I'm sure the people who actually struggle with these conditions would do anything just to be normal. Nonetheless, I have to naively wonder if perhaps, in some respects, they were saved by their disorders from living your average ho hum kind of life.

But then I suppose the same question could be asked to the victims of a tsunami disaster, residents of a civilly unrested region, or those who struggle to simply eat in poverty stricken third world countries. Would they trade in their "interesting" lives for a one-way ticket to safe and comfortable normal land? Please inform me if you're savvy, because I honestly don't even know if that's a dumb question.


Won Gyu said...

I feel ya man.
That's why I'm going to try and follow through with whatever dreams and interests I someday you can write a book about my many experiences. I think you would've enjoyed a bike trip through Europe.

Mmmelody said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mmmelody said...

This reminds me of a chapter in Augusten Burrough's book (can't remember which one) where he describes his brother Troy, who is obsessed with trains, facts, and the way things work. While I'd be delighted to be diagnosed with something that made me a little off, it'd have to be under the condition that I would not become a burden to those charged with my care. How nice would it be to be wholeheartedly content working on a puzzle? It'd be nice to be impervious to the judgments of others every once in a while.

ugyen said...

HI There... Your Blogs linked to my World Blog Collection..... "Check Personal Blogs" In left Side Bar
A reciprocal link from your end would be awesome!!!
cheers mate

the awkward epiphany said...

won gyu: i've actually already written several books on the subject of your travels and overall excellence. only i replaced your name with my own.

comment deleted: why did you delete your comment?

mmmelody: thanks for your comment. i guess that's what the appeal be fascinated with something. like in the movie adaptation where they take that strange drug that refines their interest down to that of a bright-eyed child's.

ugyen: i wish i were in bhutan with you right this second.

AnneC said...

I am autistic/asperger's and definitely would NOT "give anything just to be normal". I love the way I experience existence...I don't think someone needs to be autistic to love life, but I would not be too quick to assume that being "normal" will solve your issues. Much of the struggle experienced by people on the autistic spectrum has nothing to do with being intrinsically disordered, but rather, with experiencing discrimination and bullying and having the entire world think that you are broken because you do not wish to spend your time in typical pursuits.

When an autistic person focuses deeply on something -- at least in my experience -- it is like finding worlds within worlds of never-ending complexity. When I look at a blanket, I do not simply see a square piece of fabric, but a lot of individual fibres, each at a different angle, each dancing and catching the light in its own particular way.

The fact that I, for instance, cannot drive a car does not make me sit and yearn for normality -- the very same perceptual differences that would make driving safely difficult allow me to appreciate particular kinds of visual complexity and pattern in the everyday world, and also lend advantages in certain situations (e.g., being able to understand and make sense of diagrams, being able to draw realistically, etc.).

Again, I do not mean this to sound as if I am claiming to see the world in a superior way -- I just think that it is an equally valid way. And I do recognize that some people might not share my views here and that some people might prefer to be "normal", but it is really an individual thing. Not all of us wish we were someone else just because we have difficulty with certain kinds of standard tasks. I know I don't.

Emily said...

I believe that having disorders like aspergers and being 'normal' both have their advantages and disadvantages. On one had having aspergers allows you to grasp very complex thoughts as well as have many different talents, people with this disorder often can't do things like drive a car or even converse with many people 'normally'. I've often wanted to have the same disorder for your same reasons, but I'm not sure I'd really chose to have it. Just think about meeting and having conversations with new people, it may be a little more than 'awkward' to have said disorder. : )

Also, this is Emily from queensmiley...

Whitney said...

People are drawn to those like themselves. People different from us seem to scare us. Change frightens us. Humans as a race try to fit in with others, and I think your boredom is a direct result of this. I find people too predictable sometimes. The occasional spontaneous outburst is welcome (within reason.)
I don't know much about autism, but the craving you seem to have for the interesting is something I can relate to. To occupy myself, I've always told myself stories in my head. Usually, these stories feature someone or something abnormal. On xanga, I am unpromises. I told you I'd come to this site, and I have.
Disregard the bad poetry on my blogspot.