Autistic Symphony Book Cover


Autism, as a defined medical condition, has been known for only a little more than sixty years now, and even for much of that time has been rarely diagnosed and seldom discussed. Recently, however, the situation has changed dramatically. Autism is now being recognized far more frequently within the general population and is being diagnosed in our children at greater rates than once thought possible, and at much younger ages.

As a consequence, there are many books being written today that deal with the subject of autism. For the most part, each can be categorized as belonging to one of three distinct types. First, there are the medical and psychiatric texts, professionally written works that outline the scientific parameters of the condition, clarify guidelines for official diagnoses, discuss alternative theories on neurological, genetic or environmental causes, and so forth. Next there are the support books: these are generally filled with strategies on how best to cope with the challenges autism can bring, and are targeted most often to parents who are raising autistic children, although occasionally they are targeted to autistics themselves. Finally, there are the cure and treatment books: here a level of hope is being offered in the form of special diets, new drugs, behavioral therapies and other interventive techniques—all put forth as solutions, or at least as substantial alleviations, to what is assumed to be an otherwise tragic disorder.

This book too deals with the subject of autism, but does not fit neatly into one of the three categories just mentioned. In fact, this book does not seem to fit into any category at all.

I came to the subject of autism late in my life, at the age of forty-five. I mention this because I am fairly certain had I come to learn about autism much earlier, I would have been more likely to see the condition as nearly everyone else seems to see it. I would have found the medical and psychiatric texts to be fascinating reading, and I would have found myself nodding in agreement with many of their studied words. I might have pored through all the support books I could get my hands on, and I would have been grateful for any helpful advice. And perhaps in some of the more disquieting moments, I might even have found need to turn to the offers of treatments and cures. As it was, I came to autism late in my life, at the age of forty-five.

By that time, I had spent far too many nights engaged in a somewhat compulsive activity of mine, wandering and pacing the floorboards into the very late hours of the evening, long after everyone else had gone safely to bed. From lighted room to lighted room, from adolescence through adulthood, I have been trying to track the course of a discussion that has been running for far longer than I have. It is a discussion that takes a variety of turns, all of which I find I love—mathematics, religion, evolution, philosophy, physics, literature, psychology, history, to name just a few. I recognize in these names the different guises for those two subjects that fascinate me the most—humanity and its found universe. By the time I came to autism, I had been preparing a very large space in which to hold it.

What follows in these pages of Autistic Symphony are five works—five movements, if you will—that carry my attempt to enable others to see autism as I myself now see it, a neurological condition, sure, but also immensely much more. Autism is by far the most significant key I have found to date for understanding humanity and its purpose within this world. Autism is not a bright, shiny key, of course. Autism is more like the rusted, scratched and twisted thing one finds discarded in the dust, but as we all must surely remember from our childhood tales, it is precisely that type of key—the one most likely to be overlooked—that in the end succeeds in opening an essential door. I harbor no illusions that my efforts are likely to produce immediate impact. The current perceptions and definitions regarding autism are widespread and well established, and furthermore they are supported by the most respected elements in our society—the scholars, medical researchers, government institutions, and so on. What I am attempting to do in these pages is much like the driving of a small chisel into the bricks of a massive wall, followed by a stepping back to see how far the cracks might spread.

Or perhaps a better analogy would be the sounding of the trumpets at Jericho. When I think of autism—understand it as I believe it is meant to be truly understood—I am reminded above all else of music. Loud, impudent and crashing chords when the purpose of that music is to bring down the binding and blinding walls. But also, sometime after the dust has settled, a strangely sweet and hypnotic melody rising above a universal harmony—a full orchestral work imminently accessible to those willing and able to listen.

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Copyright © 2007 by Alan Griswold
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