Monday, April 9, 2012

Living With Autism: The Teenage View

Article - Living With Autism: The Teenage View

Published in the New York Times on March 16, 2007, “Living With Autism: The Teenage View,” written by Virginia Heffernan, is a television review that describes a then recent episode of the MTV series “True Life.” The episode focused on three teenagers and their families and how they deal with autism.

The first subject, Jeremy, can't speak. But that didn't mean he couldn't communicate. He and his mother developed a system, a written “keyboard” on which he could point to letters and spell things out. With the advent of the Lightwriter (a keyboard that speaks for a person) it was even easier for him to communicate with others. Though he still got overwhelmed by crowds, he was able to let people know that he was “'Happy and nervous, so I need to relax.'” His self-imposed retreats were no longer taken as evidence of sadness but just a needed breather.

The second subject, Jonathon, is an artist. He could speaks but had trouble suppressing some of his emotions. He was prone to tantrums, manifestations of his frustration. Because these fits happened within range of an easel, Heffernan comments that he “look[ed] more like an artist in the throes of concentration than he does anything else.”

The final subject, Elijah, who has a milder version of autism called Asperger's syndrome, “is considered the least impaired of the three.” He performed as a stand-up comedian and the focus of his narrative was whether or not he would take advice to include his autism in his act. His parents were against the idea of him identifying himself as simply autistic, since that was not really what or who he is. But ultimately Elijah chose to include talking about autism in his act, considering it an “asset.... something put in the foreground.”

I chose this article mainly because it brings forth real people living and thriving with autism; they have found ways to relate to others in the world and communicate in their own way. In the introduction paragraphs, Heffernan states that “very little in the popular literature is meant to engender empathy. Instead articles and documentaries on the subject whip up fear, and particularly fear in parents, because autism, which surfaces in early childhood, has no cure and no straightforward treatment.” This quote was what drew me to the article, what compelled me to read about Jeremy, Jonathon and Elijah. I wanted to read about people, teenagers, living fulfilling lives, not being ostracized from the societal sphere, as I can only imagine happens in most cases.

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