The other side of autism
‘Post’ film critic Hannah Brown depicts highs and lows of developmental disorder from a mother’s perspective.
Photo by: Iris Nesher
Ever wondered what it’s like to be the parent of an autistic child? Ever thought about the brief transcendent moments that make all the effort and energy and heartache and sacrifice worthwhile? Hannah Brown shares one of those moments.
“I asked Danny if he had brushed his teeth, I hadn’t heard the teeth brushing so I knew he hadn’t done it, that’s not surprising, I mean that’s all parents…” Brown talks quickly, in long sentences that contort and divert but still somehow manage to arrive at the intended destination.
“So I said, ‘Danny, did you brush your teeth?’ And he said ‘yee-a-a-h,’ with, you know, such glee that he was deceiving me. It was the first time, it was such fun, and I hugged him and called Steven who runs the program to tell him that Danny had lied, he lied, he lied!”
Here’s one thing about autistic children: lying is very difficult for them. Lying requires – among other things – placing themselves in the position of the person one wishes to deceive. Psychologists refer to this as the theory of mind: the capacity to attribute thoughts, desires and intentions to others in order to predict or explain their actions. This is very difficult, if not impossible, for autistic children: Now one can grasp why Hannah Brown was so excited about the first time her son lied, at the age of 10.
BROWN, The Jerusalem Post’s long-time movie critic, has just published her first book, If I Could Tell You. It is a fictional story about the experience of autism, but not from the conventional perspective of trying to re-create the experience of an autistic child. Rather, it looks to the oft-invisible experiences of the parents and carers of children and young people with autism. Without distracting from the challenge of the disability, it’s not a stretch to describe parents as the overlooked support actors in the more potent drama of their children’s lives. They live the experience of their children but also encounter other personal challenges with family, friends, career, life itself. Fissures are inevitable, but empathy is hard to come by. Not because people don’t care but because people don’t know.