Autism and The Urban Hermit- by izaakmak

Have you ever noticed how some people can just pick up new skills with amazing speed, while others have to work really hard to even come close to being good at the same things? And, of course, there are those who will never get it no matter how hard they try. Regardless of the particular skill you’re talking about, every human will fall into one of these three groups when it comes to acquiring it.

Like most people, I fall into the middle group when it comes to most skills. Unlike most people, I have to admit to falling into the last group when it comes to what you’d call the “social” skills. In fact, I’ve been referred to as everything from “socially inept” to “socially retarded” depending on how nice those doing the name-calling wanted to be. But I have noticed a very real link between my acquisition of skills and my being socially inept, and that link is tightly bound to my having become what I call an “urban hermit” today.

That link lies in the fact that I require almost total social isolation, what I think of as “the head over heals” approach, in order to learn a new skill. This has been the case for as long as I can remember. I first noticed this about myself in grade school. Try as I might, I couldn’t really get a handle on my subject lessons until I spent time alone with the materials. And as time progressed and the subjects became more difficult, the more deeply isolated I had to be just to have a chance at grasping them.

Now I personally don’t think that there is anything wrong with the parts of my brain that are used for learning technical skills. But obviously, whatever part(s) helps to manage my handling of social situations has been at least a little bit defective for a very long time. And that is why I’ve decided to talk a little about my fascination with, and apparent connection to, some of the other “social retards” amongst us.

When I was a small child, there was a guy that lived in my neighborhood who was “mentally retarded” in almost every way but one: he could look at the side of a brick building for a second and then tell you exactly how many bricks were in that wall. Being the “unbeliever” that I am, I took the time to actually do a count, including adding up those half-bricks you see on the ends, just to satisfy myself that he was right. Noting my fascination, others who had obviously done the same got a good laugh at the look of awe on my face when he turned out to be right.

Those other people called him an “idiot savant.” I’d never heard of such a thing, but the guy was no idiot by any definition I knew of. Although he avoided my attempts to get to know him, I learned enough to realize that there was an awesome brain hidden under that odd exterior. To this day, I believe that his “problems” had much more to do with a lack of social skills that with an inability to learn.

The other night I watched, once again, Discovery Science’s Memory Masters program. This incredible show is all about people, most of whom are considered “defective” by normal standards, who can perform amazing feats of memorization and calculation – far beyond what any so-called “normal” person can do. And earlier today I saw a section of PBS’s NovaScienceNow that dealt with new research into autism, the very “ailment” that most of those amazing people from Memory Masters had been diagnosed with.

Once again, I was left with the same impression I had of the amazing guy I met when I was a child: there is obviously nothing wrong with their brains ability to grasp – on a level most of us can only dream of – very profound and fundamental aspects of reality. Their “problems” all relate to their inability to behave in a manner that we “superior” beings find acceptable.

Frankly, as one who has always functioned better in the absence of other people, I have to admit that I admire the ability these people have to block out everything that isn’t essential to them. And the social misfit in me can’t help but feel anger at how they are viewed as being “broken” somehow.

But most importantly, I’m concerned by the twin facts that autism appears to be a disability that is somehow developed after a child has had time to be affected by the world around him, and that it also appears to be affecting more and more of our kids.

I can’t help but wonder if this is just another symptom of the much deeper disease transforming our world into a global asylum. The same asylum I attempt to avoid be being an urban hermit.

As usual, I have a song that I think is expressive of this “social” phenomena.

Rush – Subdivisions

Sprawling on the fringes of the city
In geometric order. An insulated border
In between the bright lights and the far unlit unknown

Growing up it all seems so one-sided
Opinions all provided. The future pre-decided
Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone

Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone

In the high school halls. In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out

In the basement bars. In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dream of youth

Drawn like moths we drift into the city
The timeless old attraction. Cruising for the action
Lit up like a firefly just to feel the living night

Well some will sell their dreams for small desires
Or lose the race to rats. Get caught in ticking traps
And start to dream of somewhere to relax their restless flight

Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights…

In the high school halls. In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out

In the basement bars. In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth
But the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dream of youth

Is it possible that there are those who are capable, at an age before they could even attempt to verbalize it, of grasping what this song implies about our society? Perhaps they simply decide, on some very deep level, not to involve themselves with us at all.

I want ice water.


About DigitalPlato

Poch is a Bookrix author and a freelance writer. He is a frequent contributor to TED Conversations.
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One Response to Autism and The Urban Hermit- by izaakmak

  1. Fascinating article. I also do find these topics extremely interesting. The concept that you talk about having to be alone to work, that is something that I am sure a lot of people need for concentration. I also have this with my writing; I like to have total space and non-interference. Deep thinking people do not mind to be alone so as to contemplate the world. I prefer to call people who like their own space, introverted and deep thinking. I would not see you as being socially retarded, just because you like to spend time alone thinking and learning. I like this myself and would not consider myself this way because when I am feeling social I also enjoy talking to others, just not as much as they do.

    A person who is considered an idiot savant has a lot more limitation socially than a person who is introverted. They are born with part of their own brain considered under-developed. However what is amazing is that the part of the brain that does develop becomes enhanced, or over stimulated for the fact that the other parts of the brain are not being utilized.

    A very fascinating topic! Thank you for sharing.

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