I remember being very young – maybe eight or nine years old – and watching a documentary about autism on the public access channel. It was presented as a truly terrifying condition that nobody understood, and made the sufferers Irreconcilably Different. They were just outcasts forever and ever, amen. Thank God it isn’t like that anymore; Autism is openly discussed and studied. But at the time it was scary, and I specifically remember one experiment they showed.
The autistic children would not walk or stand in a line. So, for reasons I can no longer remember, the researchers or teachers strung a red rope in the classroom, and asked the children to stand by the red rope. They did. When they asked the children to walk, as long as all their hands were on the rope, they would proceed in an orderly procession. This was very intriguing, and nobody knew why the rope would make any difference. When they took it away, even after just walking in a line, none of the kids would walk in a line. So the researchers took another rope and this time placed it in the children’s hands. And it worked just like having the rope beside them – they would walk, all of them touching the piece of red rope. Then the researcher cut the rope into pieces and gave the each child a piece and as long as the child was holding the piece of the rope, which was not connected to anything anymore, he would walk in a line.
I think maybe there’s illumination to be had in that experiment. I don’t know why I do the things I do, or refuse others. But I know I carry pictures inside me that tell me it is okay to take a step forward, because I always have something I can hold on to.