Wednesday, January 28, 2009

the eyes have it...

in an earlier post, i described part of the impetus for the research that confirmed my self-diagnosis. what i left out was the moment several years ago when i first realized that i probably had asperger's syndrome.

one afternoon, i was walking through our living room headed to my wife's study. i glanced at a picture of myself as young child and stopped. i stared for a moment at the eyes of the child in the picture. i saw in the eyes of that child the characteristics that i had associated with children on the autism spectrum.

it's difficult for me to describe accurately for someone else what it is that i see. it's a very subtle thing that involves the "focus" of the eyes and the presence of slight dark circles under the eyes. it is easier to point out to someone when they can see a photo of a child with the characteristics alongside a picture of a child without the characteristics. i have a co-worker who has at her workstation a picture of her children when they were young and another picture of a co-worker's child who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum several years ago. looking at the pictures together, i can point to what i see... the circles under the eyes and the almost faraway look in the focus. mom tells me she used to call that the "i've lost you" look.

the realization of what i saw in the picture stunned me. i started doing some research. the more i read the more i saw that asperger's syndrome described my peculiarities more accurately than anything else i had read.

i have known for a very long time that i simply think differently than most people. i have come to accept that and made my peace with it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

so it's not stuttering?

i learned a new word last week. palilalia is the repetition or echoing of one's own spoken words, and may sound like stuttering. palilalia is associated with tourette's syndrome, asperger's syndrome, and autism. it is a complex neurological tic. i have identified myself as a stutterer since i was given that label as a second grade public school student. my stuttering manifests as the rapid repetition of an initial syllable, usually with increasing volume and frequency. my stuttering more nearly fits the description of palilalia rather than the blocking and prolongations most commonly associated with stuttering.

paliphrasia is a synonym of palilalia, with the added nuance that it is the repetition of complete phrases, rather than syllables. when i was a child, i would often repeat things i had just said in a whisper under my breath. i still do that from time to time, but not nearly as often as i once did.

palilalia and paliphrasia are both associated with asperger's syndrome. the plot thickens.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

what is life?

today marked the 36th anniversary of the supreme court decision roe v. wade, which gave women the right end a pregnancy if deemed necessary. my phrasing here is intentional. i wanted to avoid the words which have become so weighted in this discussion over the years. actually to refer to the exchanges on the issue as discussion or debate is generous. the interactions have seldom been on such a civilized level.

the abortion issue has both polarized and poisoned our political discourse. at this point, i doubt it is possible to change anyone's mind on the subject, but there are a few things that i think deserve more serious attention in this regard.

life is measured as the period from birth to death. this is evidenced on millions and millions of grave markers around the world. the reason is simple, birth and death mark the obvious markers. the question at the head of this post is essentially a religious/philosophical question.

ironically, the position held by many evangelical christians creates some very profound difficulties. the question i raise here is this: "if life begins at conception, how can human life be any more sacred than grass?" if the only requisite for life is a complete genome, what makes human life unique?

for me, the bible points to both the beginning of life and answers the "what makes human life unique" question in genesis 2:7 where it says "god breathed into his nostrils and man became a living soul." in all of the biblical account of creation, there is not another creature which carries that distinction. the only creature god breathed into was man. to me the message is clear, we draw our life from god. life begins with breath, and that breath is the holy breath of god, sealing the miracle of birth.

conception does not automatically guarantee a successful pregnancy or a live birth. miscarriages happen with relative frequency, and stillbirths also happen, though with less frequency in our modern societies than in times past. simply put, though we would like to claim otherwise, god does not guarantee a right to life, and it is misguided for governments to try to enforce a "right" to life that is clearly absent in the natural order.

please do not misunderstand. i do not advocate abortion as the answer to difficult life situations. the decision of whether or not to continue a pregnancy is not a decision that governments should make. the decision belongs, like it or not, to the woman involved, with the counsel of her choosing, be that physician, counselor, member of clergy or the religious representative of her choice.

as stated, these are my beliefs. i do not delude myself that i will win any new converts to my position.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

thoughts on providence

as i write these words, i am watching the inauguration of barack obama as the forty-fourth president of the united states of america. rick warren has delivered the invocation. a part of the christian belief that i was raised with is the conviction that the united states exists and is guided by divine providence.

sometimes it has been easier to see, from my perspective, the hand of providence in the selection of our leaders than others. the last devout christian to occupy the white house was jimmy carter. after ronald reagan was elected his successor in november 1980, i wore a black armband for the next week. i was convinced then, and remain unswayed in the belief, that the election represented a decidedly negative turning point in our nation's history. one can trace some of the seeds of our current economic crisis to policies put into effect under his administration. the election of george h. w. bush to follow him was disappointing mostly because it meant a continuation down the path of our economic undoing.

the hopefulness i felt at the election of bill clinton quickly dissipated as the administration was met with congressional obstruction and politically manufactured distractions that effectively limited any substantial progress toward a more just and equitable society.

i find it difficult to talk about the circumstances that brought george w. bush into office, and even more difficult to think of the event as being a part of divine providence. it has been particularly distressing to hear him referred to by some as god's chosen man for the hour and lauded for his christian faith; a faith to which he has paid faithful lip-service, but which his actions have betrayed at every turn.

and now, as barack obama speaks the nation, having been sworn in as our nation's president, i find a sense a calm. a calm rooted in the confidence that the skillful orator who addresses us at this moment is, indeed, a man of god's own choosing. in retrospect, this moment would likely not have been possible, had george w. bush not led us to the brink of despair.

"god calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny" may not be the defining line of obama's inaugural address, but it is one of the lines that speaks to me at this moment. i have never felt as proud of my country or as confident in the guiding of divine providence as i do at this moment. i can say at this moment that barack obama stands before us because he is god's chosen man for this hour. i pray for the unity of our country. I pray that we, as one people, will stand shoulder to shoulder behind him to do what must be done for our nation in this hour.

Monday, January 19, 2009

coming out, in a sense

i have always known i was weird. how could i not know? not only have i been told that i was weird since i was a child, but i've always felt oddly out of place in social situations.

my weird has a name. it is asperger's syndrome. at present, i have a self-diagnosis of mild asperger's. this was not something i came to lightly or without significant struggle and a fair amount of irony. i worked with the regional autism program from 1991-1993, and my first wife was autism society of america teacher of the year for 1993. a co-worker during that time would often comment on how well i was able to relate to our clients. my (only half-joking) response was always that it was because i was so much like them.

the tipping point came last february, at a conference for the south carolina human service providers. the speaker for the closing session was dr. nan negri, co-author with kate mcginnity of walk awhile in my autism. during the session, she used passages from the book, exercises designed to allow neuro-typicals to experience the world of autism. my epiphany, if you will, came during the visit to the planet autism guided imagery exercise. as dr. negri described what the listeners were to imagine, i was awash in memories of my early childhood. it was intense and frightening. i was sitting on the front row (providing tech support for the conference) fighting back tears, remembering things i had long suppressed.

as dr. negri mentioned how happy we felt having things lined-up, i remembered playing with my first wooden abc blocks, stacking them up high and lining them across the floor, making sure the same sides of the blocks were visible. i also remember throwing a tantrum when dad would try to show me how to build something. i didn't want to build anything, i wanted them lined-up.

as the exercise progressed, i remembered tensing up when i was hugged, turning my tricycle and wagon on their sides and spinning the wheels repeatedly, standing on the playground watching children play and not knowing how to join them. i don't like crowds or noise. i remember my parents taking me to the county fair, placing me on the rides and eagerly watching me for signs of enjoyment. (they never saw any hint that i was actually enjoying myself, though i truly was.)

by the time dr. negri's session was over, i was a wreck. i had spent most of my life attributing my weirdness to a variety of things. i was a severe stutterer as a child (a skill i have maintained over the years despite therapy). i have always been overly anxious, despite working to portray a relaxed and laid-back demeanor. i have most of the characteristics of attention-deficit disorder. i had inklings that i might have asperger's syndrome, and had researched the symptoms in an on-again, off-again manner.

it is difficult to think objectively of oneself while reading the deficit-laden descriptions of the dsm-iv, though with a little reflection, i can see myself described in the asperger's syndrome description. an item i found helpful was an article by carol gray and tony attwood, "the discovery of aspie criteria," particularly the section where they described asperger's syndrome in terms of strengths rather than weaknesses. it was as if the authors were descibing what they saw when they looked at me.

so there it is. i am weird, and weird has a name. that's all for now.

liberally speaking

perhaps no term has been as maligned over the last thirty years as the term liberal. it is a term i embrace with equal parts of accuracy and defiance. it became trendy to blame the nations problems on liberals or the liberal elite. painting a political opponent with the liberal brush assured success, particularly in the south. liberals emerged as the whipping boys of conservative talk radio. liddy, north, limbaugh, hannity, o'reilly, et al. used the term as a slur that would never have been tolerated in any other context.

what does it mean to be liberal? the latin root word liber means free. traditional dictionary definitions focus on such things as generous, broad-minded, not literal, favoring progress. words listed as synonyms include: generous, munificent and bountiful.

in truth, the rabid partisanship that has characterized the political debate in this country for the last several decades has served us poorly. a healthy democracy needs intelligent, respectful debate and input from both sides.

the eagle, that magnificent bird that is the symbol of our nation, is not a one winged bird. when the lord god drew up the blueprints for the eagle on the celestial drafting board, part of the design was a left wing and a right wing. an eagle with only one wing could not fly and would, as a result, starve to death. in the same way, a nation which lists to one side or the other, can never thrive. some fear that our next president will push us too far to the left. those on the left worry that president obama will do too much to appease the right. he must, in fact govern from the center, with support and cooperation from both sides.

that being said, sign me up for the left wing, please. there’s a lot of work to be done to bring us back to the thriving democracy we once were.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

of pride and prejudice

this weekend marks the martin luther king jr. holiday and the run-up to the inauguration of our nation's 44th president. the media has focused attention on the racial makeup of the president-elect, and the historic nature of this event in light of the painful past of racial divisions. i join with many americans in hoping that this auspicious event is, indeed, both a milestone and a turning point in our history.

the media attention has drawn focus on the racial pride of the african-american community, and rightly so. i can only imagine how this event resonates in the breasts of those who have suffered the blatant ignominy of our nations past. the euphoria of the black community is understandable, and i share, to a degree, in that euphoria.

residing as i do in a small rural southern town at the heart of bush-mccain country, i have ample opportunity to see the obverse side of pride, the prejudice, that seethes only slightly below the surface. this prejudice is nothing new, it has been exploited by the republican party since the embrace of the civil rights movement by the democrats.

prior to the democratic embrace of civil rights, the post-reconstruction south was solidly democratic and the democratic party (of slavery, secession, and states-rights) was the white peoples party. prior to a court ruling in 1947, the democratic primary in south carolina was open to whites only, and the winner of democratic primary was often unopposed in the general election. the solid south began to fracture somewhat when strom thurmond ran for president as a third-party states rights democrat (dixiecrat) in the 1948 election. the prior year's court ruling was one of the precipitants of his campaign. (states-rights was an easily recognized code word for the racial segregation that permeated society, especially in the south.)

when the democratic party embraced the civil rights act of 1964, white southerners flocked to the republican party in droves. they were not, they would say, abandoning their party, it was their party who had abandoned them. they were right of course. but the republican party, in welcoming this new blood in the south, abandoned the party of lincoln and theodore roosevelt.

the intervening years have seen the republican party rush headlong into the snowy drifts of self-righteousness. the marriage of political expediency and the power lust of fundamentalist christianity produced the unholy alliance that wrecked both church and state. in today's rural white south, to be a christian assumes being conservative and republican. while many in our nation celebrate with pride the most historic election in the history of the republic, rural southern whites stew in the bitter sauce of prejudice.

let them stew. i celebrate with my fellow americans the promise of a restored nation. it is not a promise that will be realized in a day or a year or even eight years, i know, but let me stand while i may with those bursting with pride in the face of prejudice.