Working on the voice-over for a documentary on autistic children and elephants that cameraman Michael Glowacki and I are doing for our prospective series on Asia, once again it struck me how much stimuli we ˜normal humansâ” process in one day, in one hour, in one conversation.

In an age when we have extended another part of our brain into virtual conversations and experiences, we are swept up into living in parallel worlds. Our attention spread out over electronic messages, advertising nuances, news of the day, supermarkets of choices, consumer desires, entertainment, social media – an endless list of distractions – there is precious little time or thought given to those who have fallen into the gaps and cracks.

There is no shortage of autistic people who finally do make it through the gamut of what is for them bewildering signals or more precisely stimuli to establish a kind of self sufficiency into their lives. Yet at the same time there is an ever greater number of autistic children being diagnosed in the last decades, particularly in Asia. The term autism is fairly broad, and covers a whole spectrum from ‘high functionality’ to ‘severe’.

like being an anthropolgist on Mars
like being an anthropolgist on Mars

I am not sure that we can even imagine what it must be like to live in a world where everything is so incredibly chaotic and unreadable. The better person to describe it would be Dr. Temple Grandin, herself autistic, who describes her experience of “normal society” as akin to “being an anthropologist on Mars”. Meanwhile, modern medicine is still stumped on finding a cure.

As I ran our footage back and forth, seeking to find words that would fit the images, it struck me how extraordinary it was to see how much love the two kids we followed, Ben and Setang, got from their family and milieu. Their experience with animal therapy had been a catalyst, but in the end the caring which they get, the trust that they build up in those few who are close to them is their bridge to our world.

Ben and one of the paintings he did with his sister
Ben and one of the paintings he did with his sister

Extraordinary also was the Wat Chang Khien school we visited earlier this year, where with kids with various special needs study alongside ‘normal’ kids. In an interview with one of the special assistant teachers assigned to one of our subjects, he pointed out that not only do the kids with special needs benefit from the contact, but the ‘normal’ kids too became much more compassionate with other children in general. There are no losers here.

Setang and his classmates
Setang and his classmates

Our ability to see the bigger picture is crucial to surviving with our humanity intact, but our ability to decipher the smaller situation is equally crucial to seeing the big picture. Looking at the simple, nearly hidden messages in the paintings Ben did with his sister, or at the enthusiasm Setang felt interacting with his class mates it is obvious that that love and compassion is precious to them.


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    I understand why she some feel that autism is a gift, but I doubt they felt that way growing up, and I doubt that all of the parents who have autistic children at the other of the spectrum feel that way. It’s a gift only when one makes it into one. A good lesson that to learn is not to be so hasty to give up on a child at such a young age. It seems like doctors categorize autistic children very young, and that sets the tone for the rest of their lives. As far as we’ve come, there is still much that medical science does not understand and cannot explain about autistic children, or many other things for that matter.


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