| by Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne
( April 2, 2014, Montreal, Sri Lanka Guardian) World Autism Awareness Day falls on the 2nd of April every year. This year, Ban Ki-Moon, Secretary General of the United Nations, in his message has said: " World Autism Awareness Day is about more than generating understanding; it is a call to action. I urge all concerned to take part in fostering progress by supporting education programmes, employment opportunities and other measures that help realize our shared vision of a more inclusive world".
It is reported that each year, 4000 children are born in Sri Lanka who suffer from autism.
The Secretary General is right. Responding to autism is mostly about taking every measure to include autistic persons in our world. Because if they are not included, they become vulnerable to exploitation by society. Autistic children and adults are intelligent and sensitive. They feel the same others and have the same sense of dignity as others do. What distinguishes them from most others is that they never leave the innocent world of childhood, which makes them open to possible discrimination and the inheritance of loss of maturity and cunning - the street smartness that some of us would have. Therefore The Secretary General's vision of a world of inclusiveness should be flavoured with enduring protection and security.
Watching an autistic child enjoy the simple pleasures of life; relishing whatever there is on the table without complaint; exalting in a simple car ride to his favourite haunt; trusting his parents with unreserved innocence; and his total lack of suspicion of anyone, makes me understand why Ivan Turgenev wrote his wonderful short story "Mumu". It is a heart wrenching analogy of an innocent and vulnerable person. In the book, Gerasim, the gentle giant, a deaf-dumb mute whose mental and physical countenance rendered him an outsider, had no fluctuation of hope nor awareness of ominous despair. The imagery of Turgenev leaves one suspended between Russian serfdom and modern day indifference. The rich woman whom Gerasim serves leaves him bereft of the few things he loved, above all his puppy, whom she forces Gerasim to kill, merely on a whim of hers. Gerasim had to fulfil his mistresses wishes.
As far as I know, Gerasim was not portrayed by Turgenev as being autistic. The story of autism is a story of innocence, like that of Gerasim, almost begotten by despair upon impossibility. Their laughter and joy, of simple pleasures felt, follow them through their inevitable journey.
Most autistic persons may never marry or have children. No one will dwell in their shadow as they measure this earth, searching for their identity and safety. They may never go into a forest to guide others, nor will anyone see fear in their eyes as they are impervious to evil. Hardly anyone would think that they are made of the mountains and lakes and of oceans far and wide. None would think that they are made of the winter's white snow or of the summer's red sun. Autistic persons may never have their child telling them that together we shook the roots of the tree of life to the barest twigs and found our togetherness..
When Autumn comes to them would it be Wordsworth's - where forest and meadow dream, mist wreathed, under an unchanging sky? Will they ever know Keats’ mellow fruitfulness? Will they wander the windswept lanes of uncertainty? Would Autumn be to them just a season where Summer and Winter meet in a day's decline? Would they only find solace in their restive sleep, when darkness falls and all light is gone, where darkness keeps all secrets safe?
They should not be alone when they weep. They should be able to at least dream, like some of us do, of walking through tender meadows of sunshine and warmth.
There are no answers. No good, no evil. Only a million promises to hush the cries of helpless children. Life should not be just an illusion of gentle faces in cracking mirrors. Through tears of remorse and the smiles we share, we should not lose the comfort of the ordinary miracles in our lives, which come in the form of our autistic children.