An Exploration of the Mind of a Gifted ASD Boy and Implications for the Life of His Parents
I am on my way to Australia to give a paper and to explore a little. I brought with me a pile of articles I had been collecting to read or to re-read. Not surprisingly, most are about autism. It is a chance for me to put together various perspectives on this fascinating subject.
But before I give you some impressions of my readings, I want to tell you a set of thoughts and images that occurred to me. I am sitting in a big plane, you see, and I don’t know exactly what kind – to me it is just a “big plane”. But as I sit here, an image of a 9-year old boy with brown hair and freckles and laser sharp eyes comes into my mind. “What kind of plane is it?!” I hastily dig into the seat pocket in front of me to find the safety card. “B747”. “Whew.” “B747,” I will say. But then I sigh because I know I will be unprepared prepared for the onslaught of technical questions that will follow. I will save my ticket, of course. “Ben” and I have a stash of airline tickets that we use when we play our airplane game. In this game, Ben sits imperiously on my couch with the toy cash register in front of him and a pile of airline tickets at his side. I play the prospective passenger.
“Hello, Sir,” Ben greets me. “Where would you like to go today?” “Where would I like to go?” I whisper. Ben frowns. “You decide.” “Well, maybe to California?” I venture. “How about Australia?” he asks. “Great,” I say. I know Ben has a thing about Qantas Airlines. I should have thought of that. “That will be 5 million dollars,” Ben declares. Now here I am stumped. Am I supposed to be the ordinary unenviable would-be passenger who gasps and mumbles that he couldn’t possibly pay such a fare, or am I instead supposed to be a zillionaire for whom 5 mill is a drop in the bucket? I whisper, “Am I rich or poor?” He frowns. “You decide.” I groan. “OK.” I start to exclaim, “5 million dollars!”, but he cuts me off. “That’s nothing to you,” he pronounces. “Oh,” I correct myself. “Sure, only 5 million. What about an upgrade?” Ben warms to this developing representation of a Fortune 500 businessman. “That’s a good idea,” he says. “You could ride on the top. I hear there’s a whole suite up there with your own private pool.”
His facial expression grows increasingly animated. Suddenly he stops, abruptly. “Let’s make the tickets for the upgrade and the private pool!” I say OK, but inside I am wary. I anticipate that the bigger than life gold embossed tickets with accurate replicas of 747’s that I imagine is in Ben’s mind will be completely out of our reach in terms of execution. In fact, Ben’s fine motor coordination is considerably behind his chronological age.
It is an exhausting business – my mind is about to explode as it tries to hold the image of the grand and glorious tickets next to the sloppy, ragged, red watercolor soaked strips of paper that I remember having made with him. And what is more, Ben will see those red messy strips as just that – red messy strips – because he lacks the capacity to imaginatively elaborate a fantasy beyond a certain point. Soon he begins to feel the need for the real thing.