Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mind Blind

One of the characteristics attributed to people on the spectrum is so-called mindblindness — the incapacity to imagine the thoughts, motivations, and state of mind of someone other than oneself. I think it's a terrible mistake to attribute this characteristic to people on the spectrum when it's so readily available to all of us.

Not long ago I had a most challenging experience of mindblindness myself — blinded as I was by the outrage that I felt at the way Sweet M's school had proceeded in their attempts to persuade us that they were not an appropriate setting for her.

Some of these ways of persuading us included taking away the behavior plan that had worked brilliantly for her last year, switching her back to a reading program that had not worked in the least, and sending her home on Halloween when she'd done nothing more than express no interest in joining in the spooky activities. This decision meant that I lost a full day of worktime when I was on a critical deadline for a consulting project. Each and every one of these moves on their part escalated my rage and indignation until I was nearly blinded by rage at what I experienced as their harassment of her, and of us.

So angry was I that I was not only blind, but also fairly immobilized, as I oscillated between rage and despair — an emotional back and forth that is almost guaranteed to produce exhaustion. In the midst of this, I saw my doctor, who curiously enough recommended that I take a medication recently approved by the FDA for use with autistic children to help with meltdowns and self-injurious behaviors.

She didn't think it prudent for me to take this medication longterm, as I'm not typically enraged. She thought it might be useful as a way of more or less breaking the fever of my rage, allowing me to retain my sense of righteous indignation while returning to me the focus, energy, and presence of mind to proceed creatively and constructively on Sweet M's behalf. As I'm always willing to give something new a try — especially when I'm at the end of my proverbial rope — I took the prescription and off I went.

And I have to report that it was amazing. With twenty-four hours I was clear and focused — still cognizant that what has happened is terribly wrong — but able to think about what might be helpful to move us forward. I was able to understand the school's point of view, even if I adamantly objected to it and to their actions. I was relieved of my child-avenging rage — which had been blinding — and restored to some sense of equanimity. Chemically-enduced equanimty, but equanimity nonetheless.

My Buddha-in-a-bottle adventure was short-lived, as side effects from the medication became worrisome. But the good news is that my doctor was right: in my case it was as though a fever had left me temporarily impaired, and a short course of medication restored my sense of perspective.

During that same week, Sweet M made this drawing: the earth from outer space, with a satellite inbetween.

No lack of perspective from her — no mindblindness here.


Anonymous said...

i love that drawing. and i'm glad you got relief. sounds like, in this case, the doctor was right on!

Maddy said...

Insightful. Amazing what we learn from our children. Best wishes

Joe said...

I ran across this while searching for some info on ASD's. I'm not sure that what you experienced could be classified as mind blindness. Admittedly my knowledge of this aspect/feature of Autism is extremely limited. However from what I gather it seems it would be more accurate to say you were emotion blinded (for lack of a better term). I'm not trying to diss you, just sharing how I see it.

Anonymous said...

I like M's picture.

Anonymous said...

I like M's picture.