Walking in the Autistic Eye of the Storm5 min read

A green eye in the middle of a hurricane

I remember the acrid smell of some­thing broken. Salty, sour, it per­me­ated the Gulf Coast air like the scent of some fading elec­trical fire or burnt gun­powder per­haps. A battle between sky, sea and land with humans in the cru­cible.

Looking out across a nearly empty motel parking lot, broken glass dully shone in the morning light. An early morning haze blan­keted the wounded sky. A haunted sky, not yet ready for the sun­shine to plunge through the mask of the rem­nants of the hur­ri­cane. There had been only one room hab­it­able in the one oper­ating motel in Rockport, Texas. No power, no run­ning water, but I’d taken it, as I’d need rest for the long days ahead.

Only two days before, I’d watched- with much of the rest of the world, as Hurricane “Harvey” had slammed into the Texas Gulf Coast with a pow­erful ban­shee fury. As I watched the news cov­erage, I felt a deep hurt growing inside me, feeling help­less as the car­nage unfolded.

I knew the autistic per­sons I serve each day, par­tic­u­larly children- with their unique sen­sory chal­lenges would be thrown about in awful, hidden ways as the storm tore apart their sense of secu­rity and over­loaded their already over­loaded Caregivers.

As I intensely poured over news, social media, I looked for responses which would directly impact, give hope and encour­age­ment to these per­sons and their fam­i­lies. While many nec­es­sary items were being assem­bled, mer­ciful aid was dis­pensed even hours after the brutal passing of the hur­ri­cane, the per­sonal, one-to-one encour­age­ment for the most vul­ner­able was sorely lacking.

Something simply had to be done, and I steeled my resolve to answer the hate­ful­ness of Hurricane Harvey, and show up for fright­ened, hurting per­sons.

Working with a lunatic urgency, I pleaded for dona­tions, recruited a dozen vol­un­teers, and together we assem­bled back­packs con­taining food, snacks, toys, books, incred­ibly soft blan­kets and more. We were ready and time was calling out, the “time for being fully present is now”.

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All the back­packs were ready, even as the dark skies of the Texas Gulf Coast were lit up with only the red, blue lights of emer­gency respon­ders. The silent skies were muf­fling the cries of fright­ened humans. I waited, waited hours for someone to go there, to take these back­packs of hope to the trou­bled. Where were the helpers for the autistic per­sons on those muddy, smashed shores?

A few calls came in saying someone or other would take the back­packs, put them in a ware­house and send them to the coast later. Once it was safe.

When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.

~ Mr. Fred Rogers

My heart would not give my mind any rest. It must be done, and I knew the moment was calling me. And so, making hasty arrange­ments for my own family, I packed my old car up with the back­packs I could stuff into it, sent word ahead to friends in the area (though many were now incom­mu­ni­cado) and drove south towards the ruin of the town of Rockport, a place where Harvey had been par­tic­u­larly savage.

The dirt road was hidden, first by time and then by the car­nage of the hur­ri­cane. I drove until I could make no more progress, then on foot with a couple of back­packs on each shoulder, I climbed over broken limbs, pieces of houses, past mud cov­ered ani­mals wan­dering through broken things, around over­turned cars and towards two spe­cial needs fam­i­lies living in their dark­ened smashed homes.

He was 13, and his wheel­chair was bent, mud caked, wedged against the wall near the off-the-hinges door of his home. His Caregiver, an Aunt I believe, car­ried him to me. And there in the wreckage, I held him against me, spoke words of encour­age­ment, hope and delighted as he first bro­kenly, then wildly grinned at the gift of his back­pack, the gifts from a dis­tant, but oh-so-close com­mu­nity of care.

Over the hours, the days, I went to them, often guided by word-of-mouth from the com­mu­nity, to locate them in dark­ened cor­ners of the broken town.

I wept in a parking lot with the arms of a Mom around me who told me how her autistic daughter was shell shocked, broken over the loss of her safe place, her room which now was scat­tered across yards, and in trees. Her favorite weighted blanket now hanging in tat­ters in the broken limbs of trees in what was once a wel­coming back yard.

Those hours, days, nights, passed in one long blur of motion for me. Now, I seem to remember only most clearly the faces of those young humans I reached out to. Faces of yearning, faces yearning to be lit with the joy of being known, valued, accepted and counted as fully human.

old typewriter with paper

Things are not as they ought to be in our cul­ture, and the fury of nature only ampli­fied a great wrong, a willful igno­rance humans commit against one another.

Autistic, neu­ro­di­ver­gent per­sons are too often treated as second-class status human beings. Unique per­sons, yearning to be known, while the cul­ture fights over causes, cures and jockeys for influ­ence, money, adorning posters with sad looking faces of car­toon ani­mated autistic per­sons.

Today, we live in a wretched storm of human mis­un­der­stand­ings, and while we sup­pose it rages unchecked, it is actu­ally a moment of true calling for us to dis­sent from the status quo, give our­selves to seek to know, accept and carry on our backs to all per­sons– jus­tice, mercy and rad­ical kind­ness.

I knew then, as I walked into those broken places to reach our fellow humans, as I know now- we must go, we must all go into the broken place of our cul­ture, demon­strate the best part of who we are as human per­sons, and in so doing- affirm we are all truly one, and that none of us is beyond the reach of the Greater Good.

We are all Fully Human.

Will you follow me?

Copyright © by J. David Hall, Life Guides for Autism | NeuroGuides (2019)

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