Monday, June 7, 2010

A new chapter begins.

Sunday: my first book club. It was almost accidental; my mother-in-law passed on the book, I read it, she told me when they were discussing it. I invited myself along (basically) and so it went.
The Secret Cure, by Kate?Sue? Woolfe; autism, asperger’s, isolation and hope. Nicely written, a little slow in places, a good blend of historical happenstance (German research papers lying untranslated for twenty years while the same behavioural traits puzzled scientists across the globe), and fly-on-the-wall detail.

Until we can quantify the genetic slip that produces autistic behaviours we will never know how much of these are down to environment rather than genes; as with any child, environmental factors have the ability to shape a personality and stifle abilities just as much as nurture them.

My hypothesis: we are all somewhere on the autistic spectrum. But where on that spectrum do we draw a line and say this is a problem?

We most frequently identify autism from it’s negative affects; little or no speech, headbanging, obsessive-compulsive behaviour and attachment to ritual, sensory sensitivity, an aversion to touch and a multitude of others.

Rarely do we diagnose on the basis of it’s potential strengths; mnemonic and linguistic, high mathematical and/or musical aptitude, the ability to think innovatively and with attention to detail that would bore the average person.

I wonder that if by limiting our children to a narrow ribbon of ‘normality’ we risk losing the potential for brilliance; by selecting behavior on the bell curve we lose the richness of what might be.

On the people side: I hate small talk. There’s nothing quite as bad as enduring pleasantries (when they are just that, formulaic and perfunctory) with a one-of-encounter. The type of person who lives three hours away, works a job, has a family. In short, you or me. (Wow, shying away from social encounters. I must be autistic.)

There is something very refreshing about meeting people for an explicit purpose. We are here to talk about this book. Not what they do for forty hours per week, or how many children they have, or their daughter’s upcoming wedding, but this book.

Of course, our context is apparent from our contributions to the discussion: we can only relate from our own sphere of experience, but somehow this subtle dissemination of information is so much better than the blindingly obvious.

One woman has brought a Wikipedia profile of the author, so we can tease apart her inspiration; another hasn’t finished the book but is fascinated by it’s concepts, promises to finish it before it goes back to the library. The mother of young children muses on the nature versus nurture element, the sensory overstimulation we all receive on a constant basis, and the dietician weighs in with the additive/wheat side of the equation. There is so much knowledge embodied in the three?four? generations around this table.

Good coffee, beautiful food: the discussion never runs dry. The first Sunday morning of the month is hereby reserved for book club. What are you reading?