I've made friends with a person in Guild Wars 2 who is autistic and has Down Syndrome. She's also epileptic. It's a strange and humbling experience. I get the opportunity to feed into her, to answer her questions, be patient with her confusion and be her friend. Video games are one of the few places where her physical hindrances don't hamper her ability to be normal as much. She always speaks in the third person, and only uses simple words.
Today, a friend in my guild (a system built into the game to allow a smaller, tighter community to be built around each other, with its own channels of communication and shared rewards) blocked all chat from her, so that he wouldn't have to listen to her or her simple English and lack of quick understanding. The best thing I could say to her was, “perhaps he just needs a break from Lilly for a while!”, and it felt like such a cop-out.
I am angry for this man's disregard of her – his rejection of her for her simple speech and lack of understanding. I understand, though: The eloquence in the words written here would confuse her. To help you understand, I will attempt to write the rest of this so that she can understand it.
Our brains all have problems. Nobody's brain is perfect. Big, important people say her brain has more problems than other people. I don't agree. A brain isn't more not-right because the person who owns it can't talk as well with other people. My ability to speak well means nothing. My brain's broken in other ways. I can't see into the mind of another person, but I know that every other mind is amazing. Every mind has the most amazing story inside. It doesn't make a difference whether one mind can speak its story to other minds. We all deal with very tough problems in our minds as well as our bodies.
But this doesn't change the fact that this friend of mine can tell she is less good at communication. She still finds herself confused at the humor in guild chat, still has trouble playing the game. The difficulty is in slowing down to her pace. I heard from a friend this past week about pacing. A father and his son are walking from their house to his first day of school. The father walks normally, and the son is breathing heavily. The dad looks at him and says, “What's wrong?”, to which the son replies, “Dad, I can't keep up with your walking!” The father slows down, because he knows his son needs to be at a slower pace then. With her, that slow pace is seemingly never-ending.
I heard from elsewhere that a person who is autistic, or with Down Syndrome, is simply a version of us that's more humble. That doesn't help her, to simply tell her she's humble – it's a suggestion that we should consider them to be so. To be kind. Again, this doesn't help to explain to her. And autism doesn't seem to have an explanation, or at least not a satisfactory one. It doesn't change our prerogative, to love justice, seek mercy and walk humbly. We don't know all the mind's natures: perhaps an autistic person has the most fantastic mind: the areas that are damaged in an autistic person leave room for the other areas to grow further.
I think of the three, humility is the most important part of communicating and relating to an autistic person. The communicative skills of a child remind us that we were once so low – and the fragility of our own, seemingly impregnable minds.