Erik-Vision: A moment in time that defines… neurodiversity
Welcome back! It’s late September, and I sit at my desk, tea close by, inviting you to share a cuppa with me this stormy west coast afternoon.
I look out onto a day that is mostly green and grey. Through my study window, I spy three driftwood trees, weathered and wobbly in today’s brisk wind. I see a rhodo, emerald and undecided, part way between summer splendor and fall molt. Beyond the patio, I spy a wall of fir and further still, an ocean, whipped and white and spattered with sails: kite-boarders zipping and taking air, colourful arcs, reveling in this a day, a wet blustery west coaster.
My gaze tracks back, to my desk and to my iPad, bright with August memories—a screen of rectangles, mostly cottage vistas, sizzly and sultry, the hallmark of Ontario summers. Having passed the fall equinox, we slip into accountability: lists, structure and responsibility. I miss summer: to be time, me time and the space to think and puzzle things out. Here is one of those moments. Join me at the cottage, in the hammock, and discover what I see, but more to the point, what I have come to realize.
What Erik Saw and What I Missed
I love the hammock. To me, its soft droopy form represents all that I cherish about the cottage: Time out. Lazy time. Relax, recharge, re-calibrate, slow down and often, surrender. I read a bit, but mostly, I sleep away a sunny afternoon. It seems okay to do that in the hammock. In fact, I think you’re supposed to. Permission to be. Form? Your choice. Gotta love the hammock.
Context: we have made many lists and have flown 5000 kilometres from Vancouver Island to be here—Georgian Bay, north of Toronto. We have switched gears and pulled the plug on internet, WiFi, lists, cars and cares.
For three weeks we swim, we kayak, we read, we repair and we reap the pungent pine and the heated granite. I imagine it like this: we move around in a Group of Seven painting, and in it, I spy a swish of green, a hammock.
My son, Erik, and I use the same hammock. We both have the same view. And yet—as always—we see differently. I see what I see: my legs, my book, my painted toes, the sky, the pine tree beside me, the BBQ beyond.
I thought Erik saw the same, till I borrowed his phone and scrolled through his photos. Holy. He saw what I saw, and within that, he saw more. He always does.
Lessons from the Lens of Autism
I am often asked what autism has taught me, and I reply that I have grown “Erik-Vision” and that I see as Erik sees: shapes, shadows, reflections, spectrums and nuances that most miss. I thought I was on board, privy to new. But when I borrowed Erik’s phone, I realized that I’m not quite there yet.
You see, Erik doesn’t try to capture something unique. I do. Erik records his curiosity. His delight. I click for me, but also for others, to share. Erik is unaware that his photos are little masterpieces. As always, with Erik, there is no agenda. He clicks, framing what captivates him. I try too hard. He doesn’t try. He just keeps clicking.
So I thumb through his pictures, and I hear my own breath: an intake. He’s done it again. Through the strings which fan out and suspend one end of the hammock, he has captured a kaleidoscope. Between each wedge of string, he has noticed a deck item: chimes, a chair, a BBQ. He moves; the images change places. Incredible. How had I missed this?
I ask myself this a lot. Why don’t I see the way Erik sees? Maybe because I am looking for what I know. Erik does not.
And this is what Erik and autism have taught me: cast aside cliché and take time to notice.
Points to Ponder: We’ve all heard it: Those with autism are inclined to be captivated by details, and as such, often fail to grasp the big picture. It’s termed “weak central coherence” or “mind blind.” It’s packaged as a deficit. But is it always?
While the ability to form meaningful links and generalize is helpful, so, too, is laser-sharp attention to detail. Perhaps we need both sets of eyes.
Autism researcher and advocate, Dr. Dinah Murray*, saw this hyper-focus as a gift—”monotropism” she called it, and much like a laser, it is the ability to restrict one’s attention to one subject of interest at a time. Nothing else matters. Contrast to that, a neurotypical brain—”polytropic.” Like a broad beam from a lantern, the focus is wide and varied. Everything matters. The skill sets are different.
Each time I scroll through Erik’s camera roll, I am reminded of our perspectives: we see differently, and together, we see more.
What has the lens of autism revealed to you?
Wishing you all the best as you launch your fall. Thanks for joining me. . . Teresa