Have you ever wondered about the thought life of someone on the autism spectrum? Benjamin Collier describes it like this in his book My Life A.S. Is: An Inside Look at Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome: “It’s like the human brain is the garage for a delivery service, and every package is a thought, and each part of the brain is a different terrain vehicle. My brain has to deliver a thought across a desert wilderness, only my desert jeep won’t start, so I’m stuck with a snowmobile. Not only that but the snowmobile already has packages of its own to deliver, so it has to work double-time. The package still gets there, but it’s slower, and because it’s a different vehicle it can’t take the same routes, resulting in a different journey. So whenever someone asks me a question, my thought takes longer to process, and often provides a different perspective because it had to take a different path.”
I met Benjamin at a Write Canada conference several years ago. At first I didn’t realize this quiet, reserved, apparently shy young man had Asperger’s, a form of autism. And even when I learned this was the case, I knew very little about the condition. Benjamin’s book, however, is giving me rich insights.
Perhaps the Most Compelling Opening I’ve Ever Read
I used the opening lines of the introduction of My Life A.S. Is as an example of a great hook to keep readers turning pages. They read like this: “It was a scary year when I sat down to write this. The toughest I’d been through by far. My place in the world never seemed so uncertain. It’s not so much a question of ‘Why am I here?’ so much as ‘Why did God take a person like me and put me in a world like this?’ This world and I don’t get along. We can’t see eye to eye. The rules of this world are a foreign language to me. We’re not compatible.”
Whether I knew anyone personally or not who was on the autism spectrum, this would make me want to read on—and it did.
Autism Is Not My Identity
Further in the introduction, in “My Perspective,” the author shares these words: “All my life, I’ve been proud of my autism as the thing that makes me unique. But I realize now that this line of reasoning is flawed, because my autism is not my identity. It’s not a part of my core being. It couldn’t have been responsible for my sense of humour, my likes or dislikes, or my relationship with God. However, I believe autism has provided the necessary environment for me to embrace myself as fully as I have. It has removed the need to ‘fit in,’ which most people do by suppressing anything about themselves they don’t see in others.”
Benjamin’s ability to so clearly recognize—and his ability to communicate—what makes other people tick and what makes him tick challenges readers to not only get to know things from his perspective but also to consider their own behaviour and the reasons behind it.
Self-Absorption vs. Self-Awareness
This makes me think of Matthew 7:1-5, which reads like this in the English Standard Version: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? . . . You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
While this book review has nothing to do with our sinfulness or anyone else’s, I believe the principle of recognizing who we are and what motivates us will help us recognize similarities and differences in others. We will be better able to connect with the world around us and will, hopefully, reach out with compassion and love.
And speaking of self-awareness, in “The Perspective of Others” portion of the introduction, Benjamin says, “Even many high-functioning autistics may come across as self-centred. This is to be expected, since we’ve spent much of our lives in our own world, where we don’t have anyone else to think about. That was our introduction to life. Even if we are aware of other people now, we have to contend with an old, built-in worldview and all the habits that go with it.”
In the final section of the introduction, “How It Feels,” the author says, “One of the reasons deep autistics don’t communicate is because they don’t see a need to. When there’s a problem, they believe that everyone already knows what the problem is. The view of an autistic is that everyone knows what they know, as if they are a single consciousness.”
The Conversation Continues
I will always treasure the first conversation I had with Benjamin at a Write Canada conference several years ago. And while I was disappointed when the plenary session began and our chat came to an end, here I am, years later, “listening to” the author explain what life is like from his perspective. He has invited me—and other readers—to see things as we might not otherwise see them. He has been willing to risk transparency and vulnerability. Kudos!
I’d like to leave you with one final quote: “Ironically, the side of my brain that doesn’t operate right is the logic side, yet people find me to be very logical—almost Spock-like when you add the lack of emotion on my face. The truth is that I’ve come to some very wise decisions through purely creative means.”
Coming to a wise decision through purely creative means . . . I love that.
My Life A.S. Is is a thin volume, but it’s packed with insight and understanding. If you have Asperger’s or any form of autism, if you are raising a child on the autism spectrum, if you know someone who is dealing with this condition, or if you just want to learn more, I can’t recommend this book highly enough.