My story: the colors of autism


I have in fact, a fully functioning left brain controlling amazing insight, humor, compassion, and indescribable charm. I have in fact, a fully functioning right brain containing amazing networks of patterned data available at my neuron tips.

by Erik Wahl

We who are on the so-called autism spectrum. We are colorful folk indeed!

I am a color that nobody has ever seen before. Why?

Because half the time I seem to myself and others as normal and neuro-typical.

Erik Wahl "The Light"

Erik Wahl “The Light”

So looking back on my life:

My birth was problematic. My mother, missing one of the vital nerves that controls the opening of the uterus, was unable to birth me normally and I had to be removed by C-section.

For the first four months or so, I appeared to be a normal man-child; then, without warning, I began manifesting antisocial traits. There was no contented cooing, hugging, or smiling. But there was a lot of squirming, shrieking, and very little sleeping.

My mother could not nurse me or even hold me because I would billygoat-butt her chest with my head. This led to an embarrassing scene with my relatives at an exclusive restaurant. Mom had accumulated so much undrunk milk in her mammary glands that she began spontaneously dribbling it all over her dinner plate triggering a sardonic comment from my Great Aunt Wyvonne about Mom being a ‘Guernsey Cow”.

I read street-signs at 3.5 (or so I have been told) but never uttered a human sentence until I was 4.

And yet, even at these early years, I was never consistent in my autism. Although I have no coherent memories of any events before the age of 3.5, apparently I was a busy little beaver with remarkable social prowess and engineering skills. Stories abound–none of which I remember:

1. I hit on an attractive redhead at a Sears store: ‘Join me!’ I invited charmingly.

2. An obnoxious drunk was bothering my mother and the other women at our local laundromat. I walked up to him without uttering a sound, looked him squarely in the eye, and gave him a sharp kick in his shins.

3. We had a red Westinghouse canister vacuum-cleaner sitting out in the living-room. My mother paused in her cleaning to run another errand next-door. When she returned half-an-hour later, the vacuum was in pieces; I’d successfully removed all four recessed screws from the top of the machine!

The real disaster began when I was enrolled in a Roman Catholic day-school at the age of 3.5. During my 2-year tenure there, I engaged in random acts of inappropriateness. I was hyperactive, uncontrollable, and constantly providing entertainment for my neuro-typical classmates, what with my constant arm-flapping and arm-biting and talking to myself. Two of the teachers there were actually fired because they were unable to control my volatile behavior.

It was after the ‘Guernsey Cow’ incident that my aforementioned Great Aunt Wyvonne along with my Great Aunt Minette both of whom were nurses at the Portland Public Hospital, suggested strongly that, since I was obviously mentally and emotionally retarded, the only sane course of action was to place me in a mental institution in order to spare my parents heartbreak and hardship.

My father, having been a foil and victim of military psychologists during his stint in the Navy, had no confidence in them and had no intention of leaving his first-born son at their mercy. He took it upon himself to train me out of whatever social-emotional funk I was in. He constantly forced me to make eye- and physical-contact with him. If I got too repetitive with a favorite activity, he would intervene and force me to do something else.

As astonishing as it may be, I never knew how to crawl and never bothered to learn. I just belly-wiggled around until one day I pulled myself up and started walking. (I have been walking everywhere since then.) He actually taught me how to crawl when I was 12 and then, when I was 14, how to walk naturally. He taught me the principles of singing, acting, and humor. He taught me to appreciate poetry, art, and beautiful women. He and other gifted teachers fanned my interest in algebra and geometry. All of these gifts are with me to this very day.

He did such a good job that I was able to graduate from high school, complete 4 years of college, and independently support myself for almost 30 years after I left home.

So what happened? As society shifted into a less nurturing form and close friendships and relationships melted away, my Autism returned with a vengeance. I had at least 2 TPEs ( Temporal Psychotic episodes) and in 2009 was ‘awarded’ SSDI. In 2010 I became involved with other physically- and mentally-challenged individuals at the Lane Independent Living Alliance’s Peer Support Club in Oregon. I also met Mary-Minn and learned about KindTree and since then I have chosen to self-diagnose as an Autist.

I have in fact, a fully functioning left brain controlling amazing insight, humor, compassion, and indescribable charm.

I have in fact, a fully functioning right brain containing amazing networks of patterned data available at my neuron tips (except for certain names).

Getting these two pieces of the human computer to play well together–or at all, is what has earned me a diagnosed place on the Autism Spectrum.

Glad to be here! (as if I have a choice!)

Erik Wahl aka “The Brainpoet” has been helping keep Eugene, Oregon, weird for almost 8 years. He writes and performs poetry as well as creating digital art. This article was originally printed in the Kindtree newsletter.

Erik shares this poem:

The Child’s a Fool

the child’s a fool, the child’s a sage
born too soon; he may not die
too old- too young to act his age

calm blue marbles in a flesh-bone cage
squirt laser truth on each white lie
the child’s no fool, the child’s a sage

he stands aloof in a field of rage
in a vale of tears his mind stays dry
too old- too young to act his age

when boredom looms he flips the page
and shuts the book when others pry
the child’s a fool, the child’s no sage

luminous eyes take center stage
his face as wide as a northern sky
too old- too young to act his age

teach him now of what and why
all the wisdom life can buy
the child’s a fool, the child’s a sage
too old- too young to act his age

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