Let a Sparrow Be a Sparrow

I just picked up Malcolm Gladwell’s book, What the Dog Saw. Gladwell is an incredibly perceptive and engaging writer and his books have given interesting insight into how we perceive the world around us. In Blink he gives an amazing account of a research project done with an Autistic man and how he watches movies. The section, titled The Man, The Woman and The Light switch, gives an excellent description of what separates Autistic people from others.

So I was really excited to read What the Dog Saw which is a compilation of Gladwell’s writings for The New Yorker. And on page 1 I hit pay dirt. In the Preface, no less. Gladwell talks about what psychologists term The Other Minds Problem in reference to very young children:

“One-year-olds think that if they like Goldfish Crackers, then Mommy and Daddy must like Goldfish Crackers, too: they have not grasped the idea that what is inside their head is different from what is inside everyone else’s head. Sooner or later, though, children come to understand that Mommy and Daddy don’t necessarily like Goldfish, too, and that is one of the great cognitive milestones of human development.”

It strikes me that maybe this is what happens, or doesn’t happen, with our Autistic kids. They don’t make this cognitive leap completely. They know it, but they don’t know what to do with it; they don’t take the next step so they pull into their own minds.

But I wonder – do they do this because they simply can’t make that leap? I think so. Something is missing so that they are prevented from taking that leap. And that’s that.

Except, it seems to me, that many of us as parents and along with those professionals whose guidance we trust, keep trying to force them to make that leap. When maybe we should be accepting that it is what it is and let them be who they are.

If I’m an eagle and I want to teach my friend, the sparrow to soar the way I do – maybe I first need to get into the sparrow’s world and see if the sparrow can do it. And if the sparrow wants to do it. And if the answers are no, then can I accept my friend the sparrow for the wonderful gifts he has and not try to make him be like me?

We keep trying to force them to live in our world. I’m not saying we shouldn’t offer them the tools and resources necessary to live in “our” world. But if they don’t accept, maybe that’s ok.

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