...some of the most unusual people are some of the oldest. You know, back in the old days people had better things to do than run their kids around to psychologists and speech pathologists to get them labelled with some dire diagnosis. They had more pressing tasks to accomplish, like finding enough food for a family to eat during a major economic depression, or fighting in wars.
And she's quite right about that. When people are busy going about their everyday lives, many of them are not going to have the time or inclination to agonize over what someone else might think of their personal quirks (or those of their family members).
Even when there are no wars or other major calamities going on, people often don't pay much attention to differences that have not been pointed out to them. There is a tremendous amount of natural variation in the human species, and when people have not been taught to fear a particular type of difference (such as by autism-awareness campaigns), they are likely to view that difference as part of the landscape of ordinary human life.
I got a comment recently that asked how old I was when I learned to talk. I never did answer it because, the more I thought about it, the more I realized there was no clear answer. When I was a child, I just assumed that I learned to talk the same way everyone else did. Looking back, though, I don't recall many conversations in my early years. I remember repeating phrases that I thought were funny and giggling over them. I remember singing songs, or parts of songs, over and over. That seemed, at the time, to be a perfectly reasonable and amusing use of words. At what point did I have "normal" speech? Who knows? When I was a little kid, I didn't spend any time wondering what other people thought of my speech.
To be pedantic about it, I still don't have "normal" speech. I sound autistic because my voice isn't modulated the same way as most other people's voices. I have a much narrower range of tone and inflection, and it's often outside what might be considered the average range. Usually people can understand me well enough, but I sometimes have to repeat a word or two. I suppose you could call that a speech disability, although (like many things that are called disabilities) any problems I encounter are the result of other people's prejudices, rather than an actual lack of ability. If I didn't have to worry about being discriminated against because of my voice, it would be no more of a problem than speaking with a regional accent.
When I was a child, I often wandered away, climbed tall trees, played in traffic, and didn't pay much attention to adults who told me that I was not behaving properly. That didn't mean I had some sort of tragic and mysterious mental defect that made me incapable of social interaction, understanding danger, etc., and what's more, I certainly wasn't suffering or trying to escape from life. Quite the contrary—being alive seemed like a wonderful adventure, too precious and fascinating to be wasted sitting obediently in dull classrooms. I got kicked out of several primary schools for wandering away when the teacher wasn't looking, but I never thought that made me abnormal, either; I just thought schools were inhabited by narrow-minded conformists. I wanted to explore the world, going on brave quests like the kids in my favorite adventure stories. No doubt my view of life was absurdly melodramatic, but I'll tell you what: Those who would describe my existence as a devastating tragedy are being far more absurd.
There's a post on Joel's blog called Celebration of Interests, in which he asks autistic bloggers to write about their perseverations. Like most of us, I've had quite a few interests over the years. I remember being fascinated by ladybugs as a child because they had so many different patterns of spots. They seemed almost like dominoes come to life. I had a notebook in which I drew pictures of ladybugs with various numbers of spots and kept track of how many of each kind I saw.
I wonder, though, if autistic perseverations are really all that much different from anybody else's interests. There are plenty of non-autistic folks out there who spend huge amounts of time talking about football, celebrity trivia, or politics. Because their interests are common and socially accepted, they don't get called obsessions or perseverations—but what's the difference, really?
At the moment, I don't have any strong interests other than this blog. I believe that my reasons for blogging are about the same as most other folks' reasons—to share my thoughts and concerns with the world, to be part of an online community, and to learn from others. I hope that, as we begin another year, all of us who blog worldwide can gain more understanding and acceptance of our fellow human beings and our everyday differences.
Happy New Year 2007.