Meeting John Elder Robison; Also IMFAR, Video, Sainthood, and More
John Elder Robison, signing books in San Francisco
Please take a minute to read John Elder Robison's reflections on last week's IMFAR conference. I found this research on feeling and behaviors especially interesting:
For some time we have known that that therapies like ABA teach behaviors, not feelings. For example, we (autistic people) can learn to read a face and realize, “he’s happy,” but that logical knowledge does not often translate to us experiencing the feeling. At this year’s IMFAR Susan Bookheimer of UCLA spent quite a bit of time showing me what imaging studies are teaching us about how we may soon help autistic people feel that happy message and thereby feel happy themselves. That will represent a quantum leap in the power and effectiveness of therapy.
One of the problems with being me is that it's very easy to become overwhelmed. For example, by meeting John Elder Robison.
I got to meet John Elder when he was in San Francisco on his tour for his book Be Different. It was overwhelming for lots of reason. Partly because his family has been such an intense special interest for me. Partly because I admire him so much. Partly because he was so kind and gracious, to me and to everyone there.
But I think mostly it was this: John Elder Robison seemed exactly like-- John Elder Robison. He sounded exactly like he does when he reads his books aloud. He acted exactly the way he describes himself acting. He was utterly and completely as I expected him to be.
And he radiated goodness.
I do not believe in God, but I do believe in the soul (which is not automatically immortal, but has the potential to become so). And I believe in sainthood. There are people who have a combination of charisma and purity of effort and intent that makes their presence healing. My Aunt Maude, who died when I was a child, is the person I knew best personally who had this quality most-- it was almost impossible not to smile around her, and she's the only person I've ever seen who seemed to inspire universal respect in her nursing home staff. Many older women have it, especially teachers and mothers. My boyfriend Max's older sister has it. Much as I object to him as an example of holiness, it's obvious that Pope John Paul II had this quality, and it's equally obvious that his successor does not. The person in whose presence I felt it most potently was the Dalai Lama, whose lecture I attended once. He was very difficult to understand, but the clarity of his intent and the strength of his presence were undeniable.
I've been around many people with autism who have this quality. Many of you have a purity of soul and infectious good will that I find healing to be around. One of my main goals in life is to help more people on the autism spectrum come to have that unself-conscious faith in our own goodness that most of us to deserve to have.
There is only one person I have met who has this quality of autistic sainthood more than John Elder Robison and that's Temple Grandin. She's the only person I've ever met whose presence was even close to that of the Dalai Lama. There's a reason why they're famous, folks.
So what was the point of all that?
Oh, I don't know.
I guess mostly that I want to encourage you to try to go experience the presence of John Elder and Dr. Grandin when you have a chance. They're both pretty tireless speakers, so you probably will have one. I felt bad that I didn't encourage my friend Adam to go see John Elder when he spoke near his town, but I was busy being overwhelmed.
And I knew how overwhelming the experience might be for him-- the parking, the noise, the crowd, the social anxiety. But I wish I'd encouraged him to go. Because being around John Elder, listening to him talk, talking with him, made me feel better about myself. Made me feel better about all of us.
I want you to to remember that all of us have the potential to heal others through our physical presence. You can choose to hide today or you can choose to share your light with those around you. If you have autism, it can be frightening and painful to try to show yourself to others.
But it is essential. There are people who need what you have to offer, imperfect though it may be. Try to give it to them.