Buddy: Did I ever tell you about the oysters?
Buddy: I didn’t tell you bout the oysters? Think about all the millions of oysters lying around on the bottom of the ocean. Then one day, God comes along and he says, “I think I’m gonna make that one different.” and you know what He does? He puts a little piece of sand in it. And guess what it can do that the others can’t.
Buddy: It can make a beautiful pearl.
Idgie: What if God made a mistake?
Buddy: Well, the way I figure it, He never makes mistakes.
~ Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe
I’ve been asked to present to a graduate level neurology class studying autism at M.I.T.
So, like, did I sound all, you know CASUAL when I just said that? Cause I’m like totally trying to sound like I’m all ‘Oh, I’ve so been there before. I mean, hey, it’s only like M.I.T. You know, like, whut – ever.’
All except NOT.
M.I.T. has asked me to speak. I mean, honestly? I can assure you that there would be a line of my former teachers and professors who would get a good hearty laugh out of that one. Or at the very least a good head scratching. And an even longer line of professors who would say, “Jess who? You say she was in my class? Are you sure?”
But as it turns out, a woman whose title is longer than my resume seems to think that I have something worthwhile to say. And you know what? It’s taken me a little while to come around to this, but I think she’s right.
I have a parent’s perspective to offer. I have experience to share. I have my beautiful, wondrous, amazing daughter to brag about.
The daily life of autism is not about the nuts and bolts of mirror neurons or serotonin levels or the intricate workings of neurotransmitters. For us, autism is about people. It’s about experience. Autism is a set of criteria that loosely links a group of people that represent an entire spectrum (pun intended) of the human condition. It is NOT a definition of a person or even a description of any one person’s set of behaviors or challenges. And this Assistant Professor of Visual and Computational Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at M.I.T. (Huh?) sees that. Thank God there are people out there who see that.
“The intention of the class,” she said, “is to try to distill some coherent threads from the somewhat heterogeneous research and clinical literature on autism. This will be very useful for the students as they try to identify research avenues that they might want to focus on in their careers.”
So I get the (daunting) privilege of helping to guide the next generation of researchers. Wow. I mean, WOW. I get to offer them the color commentary that can help direct or at least help to flesh out their reams of data. I get to thank them for committing their formidable brain power to this incredibly worthy and desperately pressing pursuit. I get to remind them why it all matters so much.
And, get this – I get to recommend reading. Seriously? I think that might be the coolest part. I briefly considered telling Professor Really Long Title that I’d like the class to read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Granted, it has nothing to do with autism, but I whole heartedly believe that no human being should go through life without at least once invoking Towanda, the Avenger. Certainly no mom. Absolutely, positively no special needs mom. If you don’t know Towanda, click thee to Amazon post haste.
But instead, I chose to stay on topic. I suggested, of course, that they start with Temple Grandin’s Emergence and John Elder Robison’s gripping tour d’Aspergia, Look Me In the Eye. Nothing beats a first hand account.
I was starting to feel pretty darn confident about this whole thing. And then Professor Really Long Title told me that the class would be eighty minutes long. So, um, hmm. Maybe I’ll include Fried Green Tomatoes after all.