Adam Lanza came up often in conversations this weekend. How could he have gunned down little children? I felt defensive when I read an unsubstantiated comment from his brother that he might have had Asperger’s. Autistic people have enough to deal with already, without being branded as potential mass murderers.
I remember my first day as a volunteer at the Key School for children with autism in Joburg. As soon as I entered the classroom, I knew the children were different. Different from myriad of kids I’d taught for over thirty years. They didn’t look different. Just kids in shorts and T-shirts, busy with puzzles at their desks. But no-one noticed my arrival. No giggling or whispering to the boy next door. They fingered the puzzle pieces with rapt attention. No hands up. No requests for help.
Self contained. Inward looking. Mind-blind…
I’d spent weeks browsing through every book related to autism on shelves of the Park View library, from encyclopaedias to accounts written by parents and teachers. I already had a bulging notebook about a complex, life-long disorder of development – more common than cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome and childhood cancer. And it’s not like asthma. You don’t grow out of autism. It’s not a stage your child passes through. It’s a lifelong disability – a cruel and devastating defect for both child and family – but it doesn’t turn its victims into mass murderers.
Working with autistic children would have been an invaluable and rewarding experience, even if Kaleidoscope had never been published.