It is important to listen to autistic children. They have much wisdom.

Listen to the Children

Thank you for your article on autism ("Failure to Cope," July 11). I am a moderately high-functioning 53-year-old with serious deficits from childhood in the areas of socialization and interpersonal communication.

I would place myself somewhere in the Asperger's or Autistic Spectrum syndromes. I know that there is a big difference between high-functioning and low-functioning autistics. I cringed, however, when I read in your article about the intense one-on-one therapies to which some parents and educators are subjecting their children. I believe that in my case such therapies would probably have accomplished little more than to intensify my already considerable feelings of isolation from mainstream activities.

I wish now that as a child I had had access to low-intensity help with such skills as social protocols, conversation, facial expressions, eye contact, and body language. Although it is highly unlikely that such help would have changed my emotional makeup in any way, I might have learned how to "get along" a little better with others. Above all, I wish that some adult in my life -- any adult -- had been able to say to me, "We can see that you're different and that you'll face some special challenges in your life. This doesn't mean that you're a bad person; it only means that you're different. You may even have some strengths that others don't have. That's the way it is. We love you and we'll help you in any way we can, but we can't change the fact that you're autistic." Even that short statement, which costs nothing, would have made me feel much better. I am calling here for more accurate, timely, and compassionate methods of diagnosis for developmentally disabled persons of all ages. Yes, even high-functioning autistics do require more resources than so-called normal individuals, but I firmly believe that we also have the capacity to give back more.

I now know that, unlike many other mental health problems, autism is not a disease that gets progressively worse (it is not even a disease). On the contrary, persons with developmental disorders such as autism can actually get better over time, within a narrow range. It is important to keep in mind, however, that they are unlikely at any age to progress as rapidly as their developmentally unchallenged peers are.

My criticism of the article is that, although the author does quote extensively from parents and other adults, she fails to directly quote even a single child. What a pity. It is important to listen to the children. They have much wisdom. From their perspective, perhaps a green (immature) apple is, in fact, fundamentally different from a red (mature) apple. And perhaps a (dead) picture of an apple is fundamentally different from the (living) apple it represents. These observations make sense to me, though I understand intellectually that they may not make much sense to the developmentally-abled community.

The important question is, how well will the majority culture treat those who are developmentally different? It is certain that autistic people need to make the effort to understand mainstream ways of thinking. By the same token, however, non-autistics must also make an effort to see the world as autistics do. Otherwise, no meaningful communication is possible. Ours is a different way of seeing, but different is not worse; it is only different. By their nature, efforts on the part of non-autistics to communicate with autistics will always be more difficult than efforts, such as the present article, to communicate only with other non-autistics. I promise you, however, that all parties will find these difficult efforts to be richly rewarding.


Climate of Hate

It looks as though the responses to the Express' new look have been overwhelmingly negative. Would it be possible to go back to the old format? I really hate the new look. Hate it, hate it, hate it, hate just everything about it. In fact, I am getting depressed just thinking about it.

Elizabeth Buchanan, San Francisco

We Fall to Pieces

During the last ten years after moving to the East Bay, I have looked forward in anticipation every week to opening the Express on Thursday, and reading almost every word of the club listings in all the categories of rock, jazz, folk, etc., to see who I might check out at the clubs. I depended on the excellent descriptions of the artists I wasn't familiar with. I wasn't looking for someone to tell me whether they were good or not, just the interesting and insightful words I always found about what was happening in my own community.

My reaction to your new format was to tear the paper to pieces. Thanks a lot for eliminating the best and most important part of the Express: "Billboard," the part that was responsible for getting people like myself out to support local musicians and local clubs. You guys sold out big-time to the out-of-town interests. Several pages of East Bay club listings with in-depth paragraphs for each artist have been reduced to a couple of columns of simply who is playing and where. And, you can no longer look at each day of the week. There are other places to find out about restaurants and movies in San Francisco, which take up most of the paper now. I know, they buy the advertising.

Dan Glassoff, El Cerrito

At Least We're American

Regarding last week's cover story ("Battling the Box," July 18): The Express has long been a critical voice against the corporate agenda, i.e., the proliferation of soulless flimflam at the expense of local concerns. My question is this: Now that you're owned by New Times, can you take issue with the IKEAs of the world? I welcome your response (and respect your willingness to publish letters from the disgruntled).

Paul Jenks, Berkeley

New Way of Talking

I like the new Express. It was time to move beyond the same-old, same-old, and you have done so creatively. I particularly appreciate Chris Thompson's cover story on Professor John McWhorter ("Talking the Talk," July 4).

My housemate and I have been almost the sole whites living in a largely Afro-American neighborhood as homeowners the past four years. Our experiences have caused us to revise our formerly glib left-liberal assumptions on race, welfare, civil rights, affirmative action, gun control, identity politics, rent control, ad nauseam.

Professor McWhorter, though still a liberal, has written boldly and refreshingly on the most untouchable of American intellectual taboos. I thank Chris Thompson for bringing out the nuances in his actual position. You will get mail from the old PC-left-fascist-KPFA-type cultists. All the old Oak-Berkeley stick-in-the-muds. Ignore it. They are, thankfully, a dying breed.

Michael P. Hardesty, Oakland


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