For me, the thing which lingers most in my mind, my memories, is the look in their eyes.
How can I describe to you what it is their eyes have told me? Eyes which have told me stories of buried pain, deeply blurred aches of long years of being relentlessly misunderstood, overwhelmed by their own bodies, minds, senses. Eyes telling stories of deep scars of undeserved traumas and yet wondrously holding present a boldness, a furious presence of hope. In those eyes I’ve seen unconditioned, unredeemed stories of truth. Truths I encounter every day in guiding autistic adults, as I labor to untangle them, liberate them from the pathway of cruel damages thrown upon them by today’s culture.
Aubrey. They told her she was intellectually disabled. She’d heard it said for many years, and now she repeated it back to others as a kind of shield against expectations of being anything but pitied. Her label. They looked upon her as simple-minded. The simple mind of a girl-woman who would never know the feeling of doing anything in her life without the constant care of others. Young, autistic, and adrift, tossed about in the bargain-bin narrative of deficits. We’d only known each other for a short time when I caught a glimpse of it in the deep wells of her eyes. A hidden other. A voracious collector of wisdom, she’d carefully guarded her secret from all. Philosophers, poets, writers of old graced her mind with profound knowledge. And yet she played dumb before a dumb world, dancing unseen behind the scenes of her mind, a mind cleverly hidden behind curtains, away from the observations of normal folk.
Evan. I sat for just over an hour in a quiet, darkened hallway outside of his bedroom door before I caught a glimpse of his eyes. His first words to me were a spoken barricade against intrusion. He told me in rasping urgency to read, read the letters he’d left on the kitchen counter. Handwritten. Four pages of a letter detailing how he didn’t need anyone’s help, how he was “fine,” and then he’d closed the ink trail with a heart-wrenching portrait of a man hanging suspended over a bottomless canyon of loneliness. With deep set eyes peering out from under long, stringy hair, upon a face unshaven for months, he looked out at me sitting in his hallway in puzzlement, wonderment of my continuing presence on his self-imposed island of abandonment.
Jacob. He flashed a broken smile. Darting glances cast from eyes belonging to an escape artist. Those eyes held deep grooves of oft-repeated denial of person. He’d polished his form, the embodiment of pretence of normality in a daily investment of masking his autistic mind from the ignorance of too many others. Our first words were exchanged at a lunch with his mother. In my presence, she’d willfully shattered every thought, broken into every sentence, and cracked the surface of his every urge to reveal his true self to me. As a youth, his mother once dressed him in an “Autism Superboy” costume and made him dance, sing a little song in front of an audience of parents. It was there, and I could see it. A barely contained banshee howl, a primal scream straining against the dam in his eyes, a blistering rage to be known simmered there.
Every day, I straddle between two worlds, looking into two sets of human eyes. I see both a willfully ignorant culture looking upon autistic persons as broken beings, and too the lonely, yearning eyes of autistic persons hungering to be accepted, known, loved and valued.
As for me, I’ve looked at life through both eyes now, seen life through the view of those desperate to know humanity in sameness, and now from my unexpected recent perspective of the unmasking, unpacking of my own mind, history in acceptance of my autism diagnosis.
I tell you, if it were in my power, if somehow by my will I could bend the light across the landscape of our culture, shift it, bring two views, autistic and non-autistic together, and forge the grace of understanding, I truly would, no matter the cost.
Humbled by the following of so many autistic persons. Steadying my resolve, feeling their trust upon me, I look into the eyes of untold numbers of my fellow humans, and gathering strength, I guide them towards hope, towards being known, towards a future both seeing and seen as complete, as fully human.
Dimly, I look as through a haze cast by a wasteland of ignorance, towards a horizon I know together we will see.
One day, on that day, when all eyes will open to fully see one another.
J D Hall | NeuroGuides.org
- State of Dis-Union: The NeuroDiversity Movement At A Crossroads And Why It Should Matter To Everyone - April 21, 2021
- An Unwanted Hill to Climb: The Challenges Autistic Adults Face in Social and Occupational Settings - October 10, 2020
- In Our Autistic Eyes - August 18, 2019