An Essay by John Smyth, October 11, 2016
Your body doesn’t work as it should. Only your senses inspire confidence. What sounds or smells normal is magnified ten times with no buffer from effects. Sight sees shiny brightness and glare when screens are encountered. Quiet noises and powerful energies from persons and things around you are all filtered by others who do not notice their existence. But you take it all in. Yet when you seek to filter some at stressful times, you cannot. The body you were given wants its own mind. It will not obey your commands to it. When others say you are not compliant, you usually want them quietly situated alongside you in the same skin losing whatever smugness they have of superiority.
Within this maze, your voice never developed. Quite distressingly, what wellness you have is in easy powerful capacity to learn. In your silence, you observe directly and voluminously all that usefully comes before you. Patiently, day after day, you wait. Where are the experts to find and help you? Is there a God in power who hears your cries? Where was He in the room when your doctor told your mom that you would quietly be an imbecile for life’s entirety of long waiting minutes without reprieve? Where are the answers to weeks, months, years, and now going on decades of your life? Should anyone have responsibility to retest the presumptions of incompetence by that doctor?
So many people quietly share your wisdom and nightmare that, together, you sustain a $5.2 billion industry.¹ There are over 270,000 of us “nonverbals,” meaning we “are diagnosed with autism and cannot functionally communicate with others using (our) voice,” below the age of 18 and perhaps 100,000 older than 18 in the United States. Autism Speaks, the single largest non-governmental funder of autism research in the United States, publicly admits about this population, “(d)espite that substantial fraction, we still know very little about these individuals, their abilities, and their needs” (Autism Speaks). But you know this because you are part of this population.
Individuals dedicate their lives to be pawns in a fabricated lie about your incompetence. They speak authoritatively about “splinter skills” as an “ability to do a specific task that does not generalize to other tasks” (Cheatum). Splinter skills are mastered before they are developmentally expected, for example in “the ability to play a particular piece on the piano without having the generalized ability to play the piano” (Ayres). Darold A. Treffert, MD, one of the world’s leading experts on hyperlexia, which is the ability to read precociously, writes of children on the autism spectrum who can read but not speak:
Children in the type II category have hyperlexia as a splinter skill as part of an autistic spectrum disorder. They read voraciously, usually with astonishing memory for what they read, and often have other memorization abilities, sometimes linked with number or calendar calculating skills. These splinter skills are seen along with the characteristic language, social, and behavioral symptoms seen in autistic spectrum disorders…. Such a “splinter skill” can be what I refer to as an “island of intactness” in such a child and it is a process of identifying, engaging and enlarging those “islands of intactness”, in my view, that constitutes effective treatment in autistic spectrum disorders (Treffert).
But you have never seen anyone work to find your intellectual competence, or to communicate with you, much less access splinter skills or other skills to help you become a functional human being. You don’t count pointing at dumb things repetitiously with a body that won’t work because of the demeaning damage you recall to your self esteem and the frustration they won’t just stop and presume your competence! In the meantime, your “splinter skills” grow.
You are desperate to communicate and be loved for who you are instead of who another wants you to be. You have developed a fairly acute appreciation that language gives professionals the distinctions they powerfully employ about splinter skills and other dehumanizing labels.
What makes something a splinter skill, really? Whose prejudice is applied here? Athletes with physiques are not freaks, so why are we? Of our friends, all are amazingly whole human beings with gifts developed in their trauma, like a blind person who hears and smells more acutely to survive.