**Companion Resources Newsletter**
edited by Paul D. Leichty
Volume 1, No. 9 September 1999
Greetings once again to community builders around the world!
Often we define community by the characteristics that are the same in each individual within that community. We talk about the black community or the Jewish community, the artistic community or the church community. By talking about communities like this, we assume a certain homogeneity, that all individuals within that community are pretty much the same in most ways.
What we sometimes forget is that even within those communities, there are significant differences. How do we deal with differences? The answer to that question is the real test of community.
This month, I want to talk about a group of people who are “different” in any community where they are. These people have some form of what is commonly known as autism. They are not only signficantly different than most people; they are also significantly different from each other. How do we understand people who are different? That is the real test of community.
“Oops…Wrong Planet!” That is how one mother describes what it is like to live and interact with a child with autism. Autism is a very complex condition in which the brain does not process information in the usual way. Therefore, people with autism experience the world in a completely different way. Because, in their perception of reality, they live in a “different world,” their actions to respond and cope with that world seem very “different” to the rest of us.
People with autism are very different than each other as well. Sometimes they are very intelligent. Many people have seen the movie “Rain Man” which portrays a “savant”, an autistic person who has amazing abilities, often having to do with numbers and mathematics. Other times autism co-exists with mental retardation and it’s hard to separate the conditions.
Autism is viewed today by researchers as a “spectrum disorder” meaning that there are a wide range of conditions which have some similar symptoms but with greater or lesser severity. Sometimes these conditions get labeled as Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD). The problem is that it has become fairly easy for physicians and educators today to slap the label PDD-NOS (Not Otherwise Specified) on any similar condition that they don’t understand. That can often be frustrating to parents trying to understand their child.
I have discovered a number of helpful sites on autism on the World Wide Web. They are listed on a new Companion Resources site at https://companionresources.org/Learning/Autism
I would particularly call your attention to an amazing site by the mother I referred to earlier at called “Oops…Wrong Planet! Syndrome: Autism Spectrum Disorders” (http://www.isn.net/~jypsy/) Janet Norman-Bain’s site illustrates to me the power of a creative usage of the web space provided along with her Internet account. On her site, she lists over 400 Autism and Autism related links from A to Z as well as what she calls “Accounts of life on the Spectrum,” stories that will encourage and inspire you. Many of the other links that I discovered, I owe to this site. However, be forewarned! It is very difficult to keep up with this many links, so some of them are dead-ends. Just use that “Back” button on your browser and try again! You will be well-rewarded!
The true test of community is how we incorporate those who are different into that community. Since autism so much affects the ability to communicate, it is up to those of us who can communicate well to make the effort to understand the “different planet” in which these friends live and to be companions who invite them into full participation in our communities.
From time to time, we can get some help through the mind of a person who who is able to communicate ways that are unusual for a person with autism. I commend to you an intriguing essay by Brad Rand entitled “How To Understand People Who Are Different” and located at http://www.autism-pdd.net/brad.htm on the web. Brad explains in very simple terms how it is to live in a “different world” and what people who are “not different” can do to understand and interact with persons who are “different.”
The measure of maturity of a community is its ability to reach out and incorporate those who are different. God bless you as you go about that task this coming month!
Paul D. Leichty
Fort Wayne, Indiana
“People Using Technology Building Community”