Susan's Blog

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Thinkin’ O Th’ Green

My husband Ned Batchelder has written a blog post on the use of the word retarded when people really mean “functioning in a a disappointed manner,” or “frustrating,” or “ridiculous,” inspired by a very thoughtful letter in the Sunday Boston Globe Magazine, which turned out to be written by a friend of ours. Her son plays basketball with Nat on most Saturdays in the winter.

She was also in my first support group with me, and she gave me one of my first insights into autism. She told a story about how she and her then four-year-old son were walking down a crowded corridor in a school, where the walls were covered with art and other items. He stopped and suddenly said, “Green.”

“Green?” she asked. Green? She looked and looked, running her eyes over the myriad hangings on the walls. Colors, words, everywhere.
Suddenly she saw it, amidst the massive confusion. A tiny green dot on the wall. Green.

To me this story explained how someone with autism might focus on something very different than what I might focus on. That there is something zenlike and calming about the idea of picking out one small dot on the crowded, colorful wall, and seeing only that; it is similar to when you are dancing and you have to “spot,” in order to spin properly. You have to focus on one thing and keep your eyes coming back to that one thing as soon as your head has turned, so as not to become dizzy.

Hers was among the first stories I ever heard about autism that was positive, without being over-the-top wild like some of the savant stories we have all heard, “stupid autism tricks,” as my friend Kim would say. No one here has anything against savants, needless to say; it is the media’s use of savantism to sensationalize autism and make it seem like just one thing, a really neat circus trick.

If this were an SAT question, it would go something like this: Autism is not to circus trick as retarded is not to ridiculous.

Take it from me, one who knows how to be ridiculous.

Now here is something else for you to read and think about, this amazing speech written by a high school senior (thanks to our friend Bob Congdon).


There was an article in this month’s Utne Reader about the word Retarded. Specifically, the writer was saying that if the people themselves used it to refer to themselves, then we shouldn’t shy away from it – that it’s being reclaimed like other words have been reclaimed. Interesting perspective – I don’t even know what the alternate PC term would be. I guess we would always say “a little slow”. But the article was about a lot more than that – it was about how most people don’t “see” retarded people, that they just ignore them.

— added by Shannon Brooke Davis on Monday, March 19, 2007 at 9:57 am

I have always felt Sam’s “zen” ways for as long as I can remember. I have loved how we can walk into a store, with thousands of light bulbs, and he has found the one that is burned out, far above our heads where no one else will notice. I have thought it a blessing for him to be able to notice the little things in life that us NT’s take for granted and think we are too busy to notice. Peace to your blog friend, hoping for lots of good reviews from your oped. I enjoyed it. Off to Sam’s kindergarten transition/IEP meeting, and hoping for the best!

— added by Laura Cottington on Monday, March 19, 2007 at 10:03 am

The story you related is the perfect example of “local coherence” vs. “general coherence.” People on the Spectrum, having a qualitative impairment in making sense of the full picture of any given situation, gravitate to one element to make the enviornment more coherent. My daughter, for example, in a really chaotic birthday party might decide that the chair next to a particular friend is where she MUST sit. An outsider might think it’s rigity, but I know that seat has become her “local coherence” the predictable and attainable thing or concept at that moment. That’s my 2 cents on the “green” thing.

— added by judith on Monday, March 19, 2007 at 11:09 am

I love those moments – perhaps we should call them ‘green moments’? They used to baffle me – didn’t notice the 10 foot brick wall that he just careened into, but would leap to one side to avoid stepping on a spider. Now I just enjoy them, especially as they become more frequent.
BEst wishes

— added by Maddy on Monday, March 19, 2007 at 12:18 pm