Ron Fournier, whose son Tyler has autism, is compiling stories and reflections from readers on the spectrum and from their loved ones. Reach out to Ron here with your own experiences. And be on the lookout for his new book, Love That Boy.
Two readers responding to my note on autism reflect two disparate vantage points. The first is a 66-year-old Georgia man with Asperger’s Syndrome, a retired Army officer who has struggled socially his entire life. His subject line: “On the Spectrum.”
[B]oth parents and teachers must understand that not all young people are cut out to be “the leaders of tomorrow”—that some individuals will make their greatest contribution as tinkers or inventors or mechanics or engineers or programmers.
To quote Popeye the Sailor: “I am what I am and that’s all that I am!” And I’ve done okay.
The second is from an elementary school teacher who has taught children on the spectrum. Keith Bohlender of Toronto is neurotypical:
I read “My Little Dandelion,” as well as the Wildhood and Garcia articles, with great interest …. My wife is a speech therapist whose clientele is made up of pre-school children. Many of these children have very recently received diagnoses, or are facing the very real prospect that their beloved child may imminently be diagnosed with ASD [Autism Spectrum Disorder]. My wife is in the exceedingly difficult position of being able, after many years of experience, to expertly recognize the markers that are described in these articles.
She cannot, however, make a formal diagnosis—even when tearfully begged to do so by parents. So, she encourages the parents to seek an opinion from a medical professional.
I am sending all three of these articles to her, with the thought that she may be able to pass them on to some of the parents of her clientele. It may give them comfort and sustenance to read of how adults with ASD are able to cope, contribute and thrive.
Also worth checking out is the video seen above, on how creative expression can help kids with autism. And keep the emails coming—if you’re autistic or the parent of an autistic child and would like to share your story.
I used to dream my son would be an athlete. Now I enjoy watching Tyler chase his own dreams to be a history teacher or comedian. One thing I never considered my boy to be: a dandelion.
Not until I read a Forbes profile on a new acquaintance of mine, Thorkil Sonne, who uses the analogy to describe the brilliant uniqueness of autistic people—like his son and mine:
To most people, the dandelion is nothing more than an annoying weed – something to be rooted out of our lawns and flowerbeds. But what a lot of people don’t know is that, when cultivated, the dandelion is one of the most valuable and useful plants in nature. In many parts of the world, the dandelion is known for its nutritional, healing and medicinal properties. The value of a dandelion is very much dependent on our knowledge and perception of its value.
Most of us don’t want dandelions in our lawns – they don’t fit there. But if you place a dandelion plant in your kitchen garden, and cultivate it, it can turn out to be one of your most valuable plants. Dandelions are used to make beer, wine, salads, and natural medicines. Quite simply, if you choose to cultivate dandelions, you will reap their rewards. So, is a dandelion a weed or an herb? You decide. The same can be said for individuals with autism. The value of what you see depends on your level of understanding and accommodation.
The article describes Thorkil’s efforts to link autistic people with employers who need the distinctive skill sets that come with autism. Most employers don’t know what they’re missing. People with autism aren’t defective; they contribute a special sauce to the human experience. Steve Silberman puts it this way in his book NeuroTribes:
One of the most promising developments since the publication of “The Geek Syndrome” has been the emergence of the concept of neurodiversity: the notion that conditions like autism, dyslexia, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder [ADHD] should be regarded as naturally occurring cognitive variations with distinctive strengths that have contributed to the evolution of technology and culture, rather than mere checklists of deficits and dysfunctions.”
After my son’s diagnosis six years ago, I slowly came to the same conclusion and wrote about it here, here, and here. But there is only so much I can do to help the cause—to help neurotypical people understand what it’s like to be autistic and to realize the value autism offers society—because I’m not truly a part of it. Because I am not autistic.
The perspectives I have on people and the world I’ve interacted with thus far in my life are necessarily informed by my [Asperger’s], whether it looks like I’m an Aspie or not. Ultimately, when my friend told me I don’t look autistic, he was essentially affirming my constructed normalcy, my ability to fake it. In high school, I would have relished in this aptitude to appear “same,” and would have taken his remark as a compliment. But I’ve come to realize that each attempt to somehow make myself more “acceptable” to someone else, more lovable, has left me with what is, in the end, a false connection. I don’t want to be judged based on my [autism] alone, but nor do I want it to not matter. I may not “look autistic” from the outside, but if you see with my eyes, I do.
Please read the powerful stories by Wildhood and Garcia, and let me know what you think. And if you’re autistic or the parent of an autistic child and would like to share your story, I’d love to hear from you as well.
Tyler accept his autism far better than his father once did. “It’s a part of me but I don’t find that it’s a big deal, that I have to be talking about it every five seconds,” he says in a video for Autism Speaks that will be released next month with my parenting memoir, Love That Boy. “Like blue eyes: I don’t talk about how I have blue yes. I have autism, that’s it.”
Persistent hype around mRNA vaccine technology is now distracting us from other ways to end the pandemic.
At the end of January, reports that yet another COVID-19 vaccine had succeeded in its clinical trials—this one offering about 70 percent protection—were front-page news in the United States, and occasioned push alerts on millions of phones. But when the Maryland-based biotech firm Novavax announced its latest stunning trial results last week, and an efficacy rate of more than 90 percent even against coronavirus variants, the response from the same media outlets was muted in comparison. The difference, of course, was the timing: With three vaccines already authorized for emergency use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the nation is “awash in other shots” already, as the The New York Times put it.
The subscription service is Amazon’s greatest—and most terrifying—invention.
Today is Prime Day. Imagine trying to explain that to an alien or to a time traveler from the 20th century. “Amazon turned 20 and on the eve of its birthday, the company introduced Prime Day, a global shopping event,” reads Amazon’s formal telling of the ritual’s 2015 origins. “Our only goal? Offer a volume of deals greater than Black Friday, exclusively for Prime members.” The holiday was invented by a corporation in honor of itself, to enrich itself. It has existed for six years and is observed by tens of millions of people worldwide. I hope you are spending it with your loved ones.
Prime Day is a singular and strange artifact, but then again, so is Prime, Amazon’s $119-a-year membership service, which buys subscribers free one-day shipping, plus access to streaming media, discounts at the Amazon subsidiary Whole Foods, and a host of other perks. Prime is Amazon’s greatest and most terrifying invention: a product whose value proposition is to help you buy more products. With 200 million subscribers worldwide, it is the second-most-popular subscription service on Earth, poised to overtake Netflix in the not-so-distant future.
The pop star wants to live on her own terms. To do that, she had to give one more brutal performance.
When typed out in full, the chilling speech that Britney Spears gave to a Los Angeles judge yesterday afternoon comes to more than 4,500 words. Those words are now circulating online as quotations about how Spears lived in “denial” about the legal and medical arrangement that has given other people control over her life for 13 years. She says this “abusive” conservatorship forced her to take debilitating medications, smothered her daily life, and forbade her from marrying and getting pregnant. She now wants freedom.
To really understand what happened yesterday, though, you should watch a few minutes of video footage from outside the courtroom. You’ll see throngs of fans dressed in princess pink, rapt and crying as Spears’s speech crackled through a loudspeaker. You’ll hear a voice familiar to a huge swath of humankind—an upbeat squeak that over decades has been branded as the essence of girlishness, innocence, and even obliviousness. We’re used to that voice, but we’re not used to it doing this: desperately telling a story of survival and captivity, and pleading to be seen as the autonomous human being whom so much of the public has, thanks to the distorting logic of fame, never fully recognized.
Since its debut, the symbol has had several redesigns in the name of inclusion. But some fear that the changes are merely for the sake of branding, absent material steps toward real equality.
Since its first flight at 1978’s Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco, the rainbow flag has evolved multiple times. That earliest iteration included pink and turquoise stripes, symbolizing sex and art, respectively—parts of queer life that the designers thought were worth fighting for. Later that year, though, the flag lost its pink stripe because of fabric unavailability at the local manufacturer, and turquoise fell off the year after for the same reason. The now-familiar six-stripe flag is actually a redesign.
When I was young and newly out of the closet, around 2013, I saw LGBTQ flags for every community imaginable online, including esoteric variants, such as the green, black, white, and grey aromantic flag, and a pale pink and yellow flag for slim, hairless 20-something twinks. In 2017, Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs introduced black and brown stripes to the Pride flag to recognize queer and trans people of color. One year later, the Oregon-based graphic designer Daniel Quasar added the trans flag’s stripes as a horizontal chevron to make the Progress Pride Flag. And this year brought another version from Intersex Equality Rights UK, featuring a yellow triangle and purple circle to represent the intersex community, or people born with a reproductive anatomy that doesn’t fit typical male or female definitions.
Eight months after the 2020 election, Democrats don’t agree on what they’ve learned.
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell knew that winning reelection in her swingy Florida district would be difficult. But it wasn’t until one night in February last year that the 50-year-old Democratic representative started to worry. That was the evening when then-presidential-candidate Bernie Sanders, in a 60 Minutes interview, showered praise on Cuba’s literacy programs under the Castro regime. “Is that a bad thing? Even though Fidel Castro did it?” the senator asked Anderson Cooper. Watching at home, Mucarsel-Powell was aghast. “How ignorant can you be?” she remembers thinking. “It was a complete insult to the Cuban diaspora that had fled that country.” Right away, she condemned Sanders’s remarks, but in her South Florida district, which is home to thousands of Cuban and other Latin American immigrants, the damage had been done. Republicans used Sanders’s comments to raise money for her opponent, Carlos Gimenez, and to paint Mucarsel-Powell as an ally of the “Castro-loving socialist.” She lost her reelection bid by three points.
“How to Build a Life” is a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness.
“The roots of vegetables … attach them fatally to the ground,” the philosopher George Santayana wrote in his 1964 essay “The Philosophy of Travel.” “They are condemned like leeches to suck up whatever sustenance may flow to them at the particular spot where they happen to be stuck.” I don’t know why Santayana was so hateful toward vegetables, but I understand what he means: that to travel is to be fully human.
Clearly, millions of Americans agree: Nearly a quarter say what they miss most from before the pandemic is travel. Now that COVID-19 case numbers remain low and more than half of American adults are fully vaccinated, the country is looking to the summer travel season with great gusto. In a survey of 2,000 Americans fielded by Motel 6 this spring, 60 percent of respondents said they have a stronger desire to take a trip this year than in previous years. Nearly everyone I meet asks if I have summer vacation plans, a question that just a couple of years ago would have sounded quaintly European.
The American Guides were unusual not only for their shaggy opulence and Americana maximalism, but also for their source of funding: the federal government.
Imagine stopping someone on a Manhattan street and asking for directions to Times Square. If that person launched into a monologue beginning, “It is the district of glorified dancing girls and millionaire playboys and, on a different plane, of dime-a-dance hostesses and pleasure-seeking clerks. Here, too, in a permanent moralizing tableau, appear the extremes of success and failure characteristic of Broadway’s spectacular professions: gangsters and racketeers, panhandlers and derelicts, youthful stage stars and aging burlesque comedians, world heavyweight champions and once-acclaimed beggars,” and then that person recounted the history of every theater and club, the development of the area’s rapid public transit, and the origin of the phrase “the Great White Way” (coined, supposedly, in 1901 by the adman O. J. Gude), all in a tone both disdainful and celebratory of the famed intersection that “lights the clouds above Manhattan with a glow like that of a dry timber fire”—you would know what it was like to read the American Guides, a curious series of books that appeared during the last years of the Great Depression. Specifically, you’d know what it was like to read the New York City Guide, which was published in 1939. And you’d be no closer to Times Square.
Democrats are racing to revive their voting-rights bill.
The battle over access to the ballot is entering a precarious new stage. Democrats and civil-rights groups are pursuing a two-track strategy to preserve their embattled hopes of passing federal legislation establishing a nationwide floor of voting rights. What happens next will likely determine whether Congress can act at all.
Advocates are betting that a combination of what might be called inside proof and outside pressure will yield their best chance of persuading the last Democratic holdouts to restrict use of the filibuster that Republicans employed on Tuesday to block consideration of the Democrats’ sweeping voting-rights and political-reform legislation.
The inside proof is a sustained effort to demonstrate to those reluctant Democrats, particularly Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, that no federal voting-rights bill can attract the 10 Republicans currently required to break a filibuster. Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon, a lead sponsor of the legislation that Republicans filibustered Tuesday, told me that Democrats intend to quickly negotiate a new, slimmed-down bill based on the compromise principles Manchin offered last week—and to task him and Sinema with assessing whether any, much less 10, Republicans will sign on.
The sea snot blanketing Turkey’s coastline isn’t just gross—it’s also smothering animals underwater.
Divers who have seen the phenomenon firsthand describe many types of underwater sea snot. There are the “stringers,” which most resemble the sticky goo that might actually come out of your nose. But there are also floating “clouds,” white and ethereal, so delicate that they break apart in your fingers. Then there are the tiny flakes of “marine snow,” which begin as drops of mucus and accumulate organic debris as they drift slowly, slowly down to the bottom of the sea.
Then there is whatever is happening off the coast of Turkey—a downright “mucilage calamity,” in the words of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan. The sea snot there has surfaced and turned monstrous, gelling into a thick layer of yellowing slime atop the water. For months, this foul mucus has blanketed the Sea of Marmara, which connects the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea in the Mediterranean. It’s smothering shellfish, clogging nets, and destroying the fishing industry.
One fact of long-term relationships is that humans often take their partner for granted. Think of gratitude as a buffer against that.
It’s so simple that it can be easy to overlook: In the commotion of daily life, people forget to thank their partner for the myriad things they do. During the pandemic, significant others have made even more sacrifices, picked up the slack, or gone outside their comfort zone, putting plenty of romantic relationships through the wringer. Now could be the ideal moment to step back and reassess how you show gratitude for it all.
This might be harder than it sounds. One fact of long-term relationships, in research terms, is habituation—the diminished response to your significant other’s actions over time. In other words: taking your partner for granted. Another challenge is the common inability to notice the everyday ways that loved ones make our life smoother. “We tend to overestimate our efforts [in] a relationship and underestimate the amount of work our partner is contributing,” Allen Barton, assistant professor in the department of human development and family studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told me via email.