Autism Has Always Driven Progress4 min read

The his­tory of humanity is ortho­doxy fighting advance­ment. And losing. Every time.


Because the fact is, without inno­v­a­tive thinkers, without the people who see the world dif­fer­ently, nothing would change. Without the weirdo who looked at the fes­tering flesh­sack of bac­teria that is raw poultry and decided to throw it on a fire, we’d still be spending 16 hours a day chewing bark. In a cave.

Don’t get me wrong, we need the ortho­doxy. We need the ones who do things the way they’ve always been done, who get on and live and die as the world turns, in their bil­lions, unno­ticed. The cannon fodder of his­tory keep things going. And then we need the ones who know the truth of what it is to exist that the rest do not. Who watch the swing of a pen­dulum and see the cur­va­ture of the earth. Who think to wonder why the apple falls.

It’s a majority versus a minority sit­u­a­tion. A con­ven­tional versus uncon­ven­tional. Without us uncon­ven­tional types, nothing would move. Progress would be suf­fo­cated by the phrase, “But it’s always been done that way.” You need the ones who don’t care how it’s always been done, who aren’t bound by the dogma of what is pos­sible, to create the impos­sible. Because once upon a time, in a kingdom far far away, the lives we live now are impos­sible. But made pos­sible by people like me.

There’s resis­tance to positing a diag­nosis of autism on his­tor­ical fig­ures, and that’s under­stand­able. The evi­dence is often scant or cir­cum­stan­tial. And we don’t claim all human achieve­ment as our own, but, let’s face it, when you look at the people who have changed the world, they weren’t par­tic­u­larly… well… typ­ical.

Take, for instance, Thomas Tallis. At the dawn of the European Renaissance, a monk attached to the Tudor court, known for being odd, for being all but mute, and for com­posing music almost unfath­omably com­plex, inno­v­a­tive and beau­tiful that it doesn’t matter how atheist you are, it is the music worthy of God. Because it was not com­posed for a human being, or a typ­ical mind.

It is prob­ably apoc­ryphal that when Handel fin­ished com­posing the Messiah, having spent weeks in his room, hardly eating and sleeping, fever­ishly scrib­bling at his parch­ment, knowing what the first vio­lins were doing while the second vio­lins sawed away, while the wind and the brass sec­tions busied them­selves, knowing what 19 singers and 37 players were doing indi­vid­u­ally, what it would sound like when they came together, and only by what was written on a page. He emerged at last, exhausted and drained, and declared, “I have taken dic­ta­tion from God,” and promptly col­lapsed.

But don’t tell me that that was a typ­ical mind. Don’t tell me that it was a typ­ical mind when Michelangelo chis­elled David from a single piece of marble, working so long and so hard that on the odd occa­sion that he took off his shoes, skin came away with them. Don’t tell me that Einstein, who was famously impos­sible to live and work with, was a typ­ical mind.

We are the inno­va­tors. We are the ones who look at the world and see not what is, but what can be. And just think what could be if we didn’t have to fight. If we were allowed to grow towards our own suns. How far we could have taken the human race had we not had to battle for every inch by grudging inch. What heights of utopia we could have reached for you if we didn’t look at every child who avoided eye con­tact, or walked on tip­toes, or was late to talk, in terms of how to make them normal. That most lim­iting of words. I look at my autistic son and wonder not how his life will be cur­tailed, but how he will change the world.

It was Einstein who said that it was insanity to do the same thing over and over and to expect a dif­ferent result. But the his­tory of humanity is doing the same thing over and over again until the person arrives who does some­thing dif­ferent and is accused of being insane. Or heretical, or weird, or wrong. Until finally, through unimag­in­able bravery and per­sis­tence, the majority lose the fight. And it becomes the norm, it is adopted and absorbed, until the next rev­o­lu­tionary thought and act, and we repeat the process again.

In less enlight­ened times, the people who rose above the typ­ical masses were thought to have touched the face of God. But now sci­ence and pathology have degraded our brains to a more ter­res­trial level, bur­dening us with labels that have set us free. But even now, where everyone is unique, we have to fight to own the space we occupy, blazing trails the chil­dren trapped in end­less ABA and nor­mal­i­sa­tion ther­a­pies can follow when they finally break free. And they will travel fur­ther, blazing their own paths. Standing on the shoul­ders of giants, and seeing more than you know could exist. 

I am autistic. I see a spec­trum of light you do not. I see the world in terms you can’t con­ceive of. I see the absur­dity of what is and the beauty of what is pos­sible. Stop fighting me, if only because you will always lose.


  1. Beautiful…

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