When I was younger I used to go to church with a family who had a son with autism. My memories of him are vague at best. He was obsessed with space ships, trains and video games, and would often sit alone repeating the same phrases over and over.
As he got older, he began exhibiting more unruly types of behaviour. They started out small enough – a tendency to break things or overeat. His parents locked all their cupboards and kept him away from the kitchen. Things obviously worsened, however, as he entered early adulthood, because the last thing I heard was that his family had put him into full-time professional care.
“Why did they do that?” I asked my physio, who was a reliable source of church gossip.
“Well, he was becoming a little difficult to handle,” she replied, digging her knuckles into my abdomen.
“But what did he do?” I pressed.
“Oh he would just get upset easily and then do inappropriate things,” she said.
“Can you give me an example?” I asked. I was dying from curiosity. What did this boy do when he got mad? I was imagining physical violence, tantrums, or perhaps even some public masturbation for shock value. The truth, however, was even more spectacular.
“Okay, here’s one,” the physio said. “Last month their whole family went to Perth for somebody’s birthday. When they were due to come home, their flight was delayed for four hours. The boy got upset, and when they tried to calm him down, he became angry. So he bit his own arm until it started bleeding, then he went around wiping the blood on other people and screaming into their faces.”
“That’s fucked up,” I marvelled.
“Please don’t swear in my house,” she replied. “Now, roll over.”