January 8, 2005

E. R. Schneider comments on "Revenge of the Nerds"

I've received many letters in response to my latest BH column, Revenge of the Nerds. In particular, I've received an overwhelmingly supportive response from the autistic community. One such response was from autistic activist and author, Edgar R. Schneider:
I have AS and am married to an HFA woman. (I only found out about my autism 10 years ago by reading an article by Dr. Oliver Sacks.) Not to shill, but I have had two books published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Ltd. The second is titled "Living the Good Life with Autism," and among its theses is precisely the point you make in this article. I should like to add that our interests (writing for me and photography and web sites for Alix) have gotten both of us listed in /Who's Who in America/. I have to wonder how people who consider it a "disease" intend to "cure" us of that.

I have written and spoken about a hypothesis of mine concerning the nature and causes of autism.

The nature of autism is a deficit of the intuitive emotions caused by improper wiring of that part of the brain, which has been confirmed by several authorities with whom I have been in contact. (Indeed, the subtitle of Dr. Sack’s article read, "Can an artist make art without feeling it?")

As to the cause, I attribute my own autism to brain damage caused by infectious diseases in early childhood. A young woman friend of mine, who, because of an automobile accident, suffered damage to her left temporal lobe (the seat of the intuitive emotions), lost that faculty, i.e., became autistic. However, I have also read of the recent identification of genes that affect brain development. Thus, I have concluded that autism can have causes that are both environmental and genetic. As a result, given current medical knowledge and technology, a "cure" is nowhere in sight.

Given this, autistic people are limited (if I may use that word) to learning about, and dealing with, the world strictly through the intellect. I believe that you can imagine the sociability problems, arising from this, that these people have, although they may be quite intellectually gifted, especially considering that their values and priorities might be quite different from the non-autistic. The best that can be done, as you have pointed out, is enabling them, given their limitations, to function in society. An essential starting point is an understanding of who and what they are. It was certainly the case with me. I called my discovery "liberating". It enabled me, to paraphrase Kipling, to understand myself while others misunderstood me, yet also make allowance for their misunderstanding.

A few short notes in closing. Jasmine O'Neill, who has become a good friend of mine, has recovered her ability to speak. You mentioned a number of people who were very likely Aspies. I wonder about Mozart and Beethoven, but, among composers, I would certainly list Anton Bruckner and Richard Strauss. Lastly, in October 2000, I gave a talk in Mansfield, OH, to a group of parents and professionals. One of the attendees was a school psychologist, who sent me a beautiful letter afterward. Among other things, he wrote that, after hearing my talk, he would be willing to require that all major candidates for high public office have AS. That got me thinking as to whether or not, 25 centuries ago, Plato might not have known some AS people when, in his "Republic", he came up with the idea of philosopher-kings.

It was a pleasure reading your article.

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