I spend time as a volunteer hanging out with learning disability people in the town where I live. It’s not work, I just show up when I feel like it at the center where they are, and there’s very little structure, no classes or learning to speak of, just playing games and other activities. I don’t know which among them are diagnosed with what because it’s confidential; I do know there are autists in the group, and I would guess (after a few weeks spending time with them) that at least half of them are. The ones I get on best with tend to be the lower-functioning ones, as they are more childlike and this brings out a softer, warmer, and more playful side of me, since there’s no need to try and be socially normal, small talk etc. (Overall I find it more difficult to interact with the “norms” than the “tards.”) Today, we all went to the pool. I was in the hot tub with several of the group, and a couple of caregivers, and I started playing “Paper, Scissors, Rock” with one of the more high-functioning of the group. I expected he wouldn’t be into it, because he’s more or less normal level of functioning, but to my surprise he seemed to enjoy it and was laughing at the end of each round of the game. As I’d hoped, this got the attention of some of the others and so I played it with a lower-functioning girl in the group.
I got out of the hot tub and sat next to another of the group, a young guy I like a lot but who is quite introverted and even a bit surly. He likes to wear army gear sometimes, and his first name is the same as the Robert de Niro character in Taxi Driver. My impression of him is that he is not nearly so “dysfunctional” as he seems, or tries to seem. He hadn’t wanted to play the game but I tried one more time, moving my fist up and down three times, ending on scissors. When he didn’t respond I poked the scissors towards him, as if to say, “you’re dead.” He shook his head and I went to swim some laps. While I was swimming I thought that I ought to be more careful about planting violent imagery in their minds.
The group left and I stayed on to swim more laps. While I was in the changing rooms, a young boy (about 8) called Thor, who I know from previous encounters, came in. I was getting ready to leave, he had just arrived. I said hello and asked him how his Christmas had been and if he’d received a magic hammer. He didn’t seem to understand the question, but then he asked me his own:
“Do you ever bring knives into public places?” he said.
“Do you ever bring knives into public places and kill people?”
I asked him if I looked like someone who killed people with knives in public places. He made a “cuckoo” sound and tapped his head, laughing. I asked him if he knew anyone who killed people with knives. He said that he didn’t do that, but that he was “just a child.” Then he added that his parents didn’t do that (kill people with knives) either. I tried to determine where the question had come from, but wasn’t able to.
After wielding the imaginary scissors in a violent way with the young guy, and in the midst of writing this series of posts about autism and public shootings, the timing of this strange exchange seems highly significant.