By Ron Sandison
As a young child autism made me feel different and like an endangered species. At age seven my speech was so delayed my brother Chuck would boast to his friends, “Meet my brother Ronnie. I think he’s from Norway since he speaks Norwegian.” Academically I was so delayed the school experts warned my parents I would probably never read beyond a seventh-grade level yet alone attend college.
My poor social skills in middle school caused me to feel like an outcast. I feared I would always be single like the Galápagos giant tortoise—nicknamed Lonesome George since he was the only known survivor of the Pinta Island species found in the Galápagos Island.
When I was six-years-old, I became obsessed with the book No Man’s Valley written by Laura McCarley, and the 1981 animated, special movie based on the book. After my mom’s nightly Bible stories she would read this short book to me. The storyline for No Man’s Valley is about a rare California condor named Elliot who goes on an adventure to find Utopia where extinct and endangered species can live safely away from the dangers of humans. I wished I could be part of this community.
Having autism I could relate with Elliot the condor. In my room, I built my own No Man’s Valley with a blanket covering a coffee table. On top of the table was a moving animal train and a watchtower composed of Legos. This utopia was complete with Prairie Pup (the mayor) and all my favorite critters. When I experienced fear or anxiety, I entered No Man’s Valley through its blanket door, and I felt calm. No Man’s Valley was a stress-free environment where I could hide away from the world and read and write my creative animal adventures. If anyone touched No Man’s Valley or moved the animals from their exact place, I would experience a meltdown.
My mom joked, “I kept having nightmares that Ronnie’s No Man’s Valley would move out from his room and take over the whole house.” It’s not uncommon for a child with autism to invent a device to relieve his or her stress and anxiety.
When Temple Grandin was in college, she invented a squeeze chute to help her overcome autism processing sensory issues. This human chute was designed based on the ones used for cattle. The squeeze chute provided pressure and relief from panic attacks. It stimulated her mind for thinking and studying.
My creation of No Man’s Valley enabled my imagination and creativity to blossom. The themes from the book and movie, No Man’s Valley, were concepts that helped me overcome my learning disabilities, social awkwardness, and enabled me to grow in faith.
As the dialog between the Elder/chief California condor with the younger condor, Elliot, encourages children:
There is a place far, far away where endangered and existent animals can go safe from the problems of the outside world. It’s called No Man’s Valley. All I know is to reach it. You must have faith and the will to survive, endurance beyond belief and the courage to overcome hardship, terror, and obstacles too horrible to describe. Only you can fly there and complete the journey.
The autism community has reminded me that I’m not alone and isolated from society like an endangered species. I am part of an amazing support group composed of people with great talents. I no longer need to dream of discovering a Utopia free from humans. I am a part of a loving network with other individuals who also struggle with sensory issues, anxiety, depression, and social interaction.
I am wonderfully created just as I am.
Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and Charisma House is publishing his book on 4/5/16, A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom. He has over 10,000 Scriptures memorized including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.
Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with their daughter, Makayla Marie, and pet rabbit, Babs, and cat, Frishma. Checkout his website Spectrum Inclusion at www.spectruminclusion.com. You can contact Ron on Facebook or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org