Wednesday, March 07, 2007

In My Language: Inside the Autistic Mind

The video begins with the sound of otherworldly singing, singing sans words, and the image of a woman poised in front of her apartment window, back to the camera, rocking back and forth, flailing her arms and fluttering her fingers. Next we witness the scraping together of two abrasive objects, plastic or metal things possibly. We watch as the woman’s hand repeatedly strokes some unidentified surface. She shakes a dangling necklace with one hand, hits it with the other, all the while chanting like some possessed shaman. The camera cuts to record the long spiral of an orange slinky from the inside, an aesthetically pleasing shot which recalls the neon tunnel of some amusement park ride. Stroking ridges with her fingernails, fondling the knob of a dresser–these are motions any of us might make in an idle moment, while on the phone or lost in thought. Yet Amanda Baggs is not like the rest of us; she is autistic, and she stopped making eye contact and using verbal communication a long time ago. She interacts with the world in a way most of us would regard as meaningless or non-sensical. For most of us, these moments are anomalies, not a way of life. We watch as she opens a book, not to read but to rub her face against its pages. Palms flat on the cover, she moves her head up and down and presses her nose into the binding, taking obvious pleasure in the texture and smell of the pages.

The second half the video, which was made entirely by Amanda herself, is titled “Translation.” Through the use of a special computer which vocalizes what she types, Amanda shares the following insight with respect to her behavior: “Far from being meaningless, the way that I move is an ongoing response to what is around me." Ironically, others describe this constant dialogue with the external world as being in a world of her own.. She explains that if she limits herself to responding to fewer stimuli, presumably other human beings and spoken language as is customary or “normal,” only then do people feel she is opening herself up to "true interaction with the world." Her thinking is only taken seriously if she learns the language of others. Only then is she said to be communicating, is she thought to be aware, intelligent, a person.

The video occurs to the viewer as something like performance art, a conceptual piece done by some member of the avant-garde. Yet what it offers is a rare glimpse into the austistic mind, and for many, it is simply life. Watch and be moved.

1 comment:

yb said...

Beautiful and sensitive. It grabbed me in my stomach. Her ‘translation’ amazingly shows that she understand us much better than we (“normal humans”) understand people with autism. One question that it raises is why are we incapable of communicating with the world the way she does, so sensitively. As she implied, I think that it is because we are too focused on one mode of communication and on trying to understand each other that we forget to feel around. Anyway, thanks!