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By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 22, 2007

Many thanks to Rich Leonardi, for alerting us to this excellent Touchstone article by Anthony Esolen in which he reflects on life with his autistic son Davey. A brief excerpt:

Emotional detachment? Never have I met a child less able than Davey to understand, at a glance or after an hour of thinking about it, what someone else might be feeling. A sigh or a tear or a sad laugh or a peaceful smile comes to him hieroglyphically. Eventually, with encouragement, he can puzzle them out.

But it is disconcerting to know that, unless the Lord who made the deaf to hear and the mute to speak should will the miracle, it is not likely that Davey will ever really know what his father or his mother loved deeply, or feared, or longed for. That particular bond of understand ing which parents take for granted, we will miss.

Yet, as if by compensation, I have never met any one, child or adult, who so warmly loves people, even a grownup who is too important and busy to recognize the love. Whenever one of my former students comes to the house to visit, Davey will greet him and corral him up to the attic to show him the slaughter he has made of philistine computers. For the rest of the visit, hours or days as the case may be, he will tend to stray off unless we call him back into our world; yet when the time comes for the friend to leave, he will weep real tears.

It is a curious blessing, then, his limitation in the language of social intercourse; words break down no walls for him, nor build them up. "Davey is a profoundly good boy," said a priest and family friend. "It is impossible for him to lie." He was right; when it comes to lying, Davey's tongue is tied. He cannot do it. Therefore he cannot feign emotion. He cannot do what the rest of us more ordinary autists do all the time: stand at the door, bidding farewell, while counting the minutes, and reckoning up what we will do with the rest of the day once the friend has left.

Esolen is one of those rare writers who views the world through his own eyes rather than through the filtered spectacles his educators and entertainers have crafted for him. As a result he sees (and records) things other people miss, even people with a claim to expertise in a privileged area of study. After reading Esolen I always come away in possession of something I didn't have before.

Flannery O'Connor once wrote, "If other ages felt less, they saw more, even though they saw with the blind, prophetical, unsentimental eye of acceptance, which is to say, of faith." In Esolen the writer we find the flip side of this truth in operation: because he sees more -- in virtue of a rigorously unsentimental faith -- his readers are able to feel more deeply as well.

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