On Autism, Motherhood and Tolerance

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Three years ago, when I told friends about my son’s diagnosis, a few of them told me about the movie “Temple Grandin.” I kept putting off watching it because I knew I would just cry, and I was tired of crying. I did read her book , Thinking in Pictures after a friend sent me a copy, and it was moving and eye-opening and encouraged me to help my son and believe he will be able to cope eventually.

My husband still has not watched the film and won’t. Like me, he thinks it will just be a painful experience. It was painful when I finally decided to watch it yesterday. It’s perhaps the only movie that had me crying from beginning to end, NOT because it was sentimental – far from being sentimental, I think the writers and director and Claire Dane’s portrayal of Ms. Grandin, achieved  a kind of objectivity in the story-telling – but because there are many details that I could relate to as a mother of an autistic child and as a person who self-identifies as autistic.

One of the most painful scenes for me was the mother’s conversation with the doctor who diagnosed Temple with autism. When the mother asked about the cause of autism, the doctor hesitantly answered it was a form of schizophrenia brought about by a lack of maternal affection. (This was in the 1950’s, and we can understand that back then not much was known about autism.) Temple’s mother cried saying her baby was born normal, and that Temple later changed; that she wanted to hug her, but Temple didn’t like to be hugged.

(I am just grateful that my son is very affectionate. That would’ve really made it worse for me if my son didn’t like to be hugged.)

The doctor also recommended that Temple be institutionalized, which her mother refused to do.

Temple is so blessed (lucky, if you don’t like the word “blessed”) that she had a mother who pushed her to do things that might have been uncomfortable for her but truly helped her to live independently. Had her mother let her be, she would have remained alone in her own world.

So many times I’ve read articles written by supposedly high functioning autistic people diagnosed in their adulthood, decrying the treatment they received from their parents or other carers  or teachers, when, as a child, they were forced to do things that they were uncomfortable with. And now as adults, they just want to be able to do whatever they want; they don’t care what others think about them; and they expect people to accept their autism (unusual behaviors, meltdowns, etc.). They expect, demand tolerance.

To me this is very unrealistic. You live in a society. You may not like the idea, but the truth is – you cannot live entirely on your own. You need people. You need society. Unless you go hide in a cave and live with the bats.

Temple’s mother knew this. Her science teacher, Mr. Carlock, knew this. Temple realized this later on — she had to change; she had to learn to adapt to society.

The world does not revolve around you. You are not special (though you may be to your parents). You are just one of the 7.5 billion people on this planet. Each person has his/her own personality, issues, problems. You cannot demand tolerance for your behavior when you are intolerant of their own. In this world, in our reality, you will meet all kinds of people – not everyone will accept you for who you are, yet you may have to sit next to them in class or at the cafeteria; work in the same office as them; serve them their coffee. You can’t just run away or be angry with these kind of people every time you have to deal them. You have to learn to adjust to different kinds of people because they too have to learn to adjust to people like you.

And this is one thing I hope my son will learn – how to live in society.

Perhaps I am like most parents of autistic children, I worry about how my son will live without me. I cannot watch over him forever. I sometimes wake up in the middle of the night thinking what if somebody hurts him at school, and he can’t tell anybody about it? What if as an adult, he will be taken advantage of, and he wouldn’t even know it?

Temple did not begin talking until she was 4, but her mother did not give up on trying to get her to speak. She did not want to go to college to talk with people, but her mother pushed her to do so, and she went on to pursue a Masters and a PhD.

There is only admiration on my part for Temple’s mom, her aunt and her science teacher – people who saw her potential, believed in her and pushed her to be the best she could be.

Not everyone has the financial capability that Temple’s family had, but I think every child can have at least one person who will not give up on them, who will not leave them to live in their own world, and push them to live more meaningful lives.

I have never been very ambitious. My best friend used to tell me I have a small brain because I want so little in this life. As a mother, I do not want much for my son either. I just want him to be able to live independently and be happy. And that’s my only goal.

That’s the only item on my bucket list that truly matters.

 

Film Review: Me Before You 


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I heard about Me Before You from my friend who thinks the romantic moments in the movie are “right up your alley.” I’m glad my friend thinks I am the romantic type instead of cold-hearted, but the most touching moments of the movie for me, have nothing to do with the love story but the ones in the background. I watched this movie while on a 2-hour flight, and my eyes were red by the time we landed.

There are only two areas on which I would limit my review: character and themes.

(Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, then stop reading.) 

Character:

I find the character of Louisa Clark (Emilia Clarke) too nice, meaning not very credible. She is too likable. The audience are meant to like her, and I did like her and if she were a real person, I’d wish her infinite happiness. But a part of me is conscious of the manner in which her character is so contrived as to make viewers instantly like her. So, that’s one of the few things that didn’t impress me.

Her boyfriend, Patrick, is just as flat: self-absorbed to the end. There is nothing about the boyfriend that will make us like him even just a little bit. As a minor character, he serves a foil to the thoughtful character of Will.

The parents of Louisa and those of Will (Sam Claflin) on the other hand, though minor characters seem more real than the previous two mentioned.

As one of the two main characters, Will Traynor is fully developed as a character: from a fun-loving, adventurous, successful young man to an unhappy, helpless, hopeless quadriplegic, who finds a reason to smile in Clarke’s quirkiness.

Themes:

Selfishness/Selflessness 

As people we swing between the selfishness/selflessness pendulum. Louisa selflessly decided to keep a job in her hometown to help her parents. But later she selfishly asked Will to forego his plan to end his life in Switzerland, telling him confidently (to me, it’s more like overconfidently) that she could make her happy.

People may not view her offer as selfishness especially when she is willing to take care of him, but I do. She’s thinking of her own happiness, not his pain, not his daily struggle. I believe no one outside ourselves can truly make us happy or comfort us in our deepest sorrows. Sure, there are those who can make us smile for a while, but at the end of the day we deal with our own thoughts and feelings.

Choice

When told that it’s Will’s choice to end his life in Dignitas in Switzerland, Mrs. Clark says, “Some choices you don’t get to make. He [Will] is not in his right mind.” But Will is in his right mind; he made a choice after careful thought. He knows he’s never going to get better. He is in pain every single day. He cannot do anything by himself.

While I admire people with disability who are optimistic about life and fight to live despite all the pain and difficulties that come with it, I also respect those who choose to leave this world and end the pain that they have to bear daily, and no longer see how much those who love them suffer as much as they do in caring for them.

Louisa is confident that she’ll never regret being with Will and taking care of him, but Will is more realistic and says, “You don’t know that.” It is not easy to care for someone who is in terrible pain and who is never going to get better because they themselves do not find it the least bit easy to live on a daily basis.

Will Traynor’s parents at first don’t want to let him go. He is their son. Their only child. The natural cycle is for children to bury their parents, not the parents burying their child. But in the end they have to give in to his wish and let him die, with them by his side. That takes a lot of courage. This is the most touching moment in the movie for me –the parents being there for their son.

As a mother, I almost feel physical pain when I see my son in pain. When he cries because he’s hurt, it’s painful to watch. So I can only imagine how painful it must be for parents to watch their son/daughter in pain on a daily basis, and worse, to watch him die.

Me Before You is a romantic drama, and romantic souls will like this movie. However, the romance part didn’t move me at all. It’s the idea of having the right to end one’s life and parental love that made me think.

Have a relaxing weekend!
T 💕

P.S. One other thing I like about this movie is the soundtrack. I especially love Imagine Dragon’s “Not Today.” Click here for a link to the video.

Introspection thru “Predestination”

I got this photo from this site

I got this photo from this site.

Science-fiction is not really my favorite genre, but my friend was sure I would like Predestination because (1) It’s an Ethan Hawke movie, and (2) he thought it was a mind-blowing film.

I certainly do not regret watching this movie because there are a couple of things I like about it, apart from THE Ethan Hawke (who still looks as gorgeous as when he was in his 20’s! Dang!)

It may be an Ethan Hawke movie, and he is great in it (as he is always in his movies), but I find Sarah Snook’s performance impressive. My favorite scene in the movie is when she as the androgynous Unmarried Mother (looking like Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic) speaks with her young self, and her face is filled with emotions of love, understanding, compassion — all blending together in that facial expression of hers. Of course, I admit that part of that is merely my own perception. But in my humble opinion, she did a magnificent job in this movie.

The last movie I saw and wrote about was Interstellar, another science-fiction film I did not expect to like but ended up liking so much. I liked the interpersonal relationships present in Interstellar – the character’s relationship with his children and with his fellow astronauts. But, as a person fond of introspection, I liked the intrapersonal relationship the character of Predestination had with himself/herself at different periods in his/her life.

My very limited understanding of physics (I didn’t really listen to my teacher), and science-fiction and the ideas of time-travel and the predestination paradox  perhaps limits my understanding of the movie, but I will not spend another night trying to reconstruct the sequence of events in the movie. I am content to focus on the ideas that caught my attention. I do not totally understand it, but there are certain things that like about it and that made me think.

Revenge

What if I could put him in front of you? The man that ruined your life? If I could guarantee that you’d get away with it, would you kill him?

Would you avenge yourself on the person that ruined your life, if you were assured it could be done with impunity? Hopefully none of my readers have their lives terribly ruined by somebody that they would want to end that somebody’s life, but how about revenge?

“Nemo me impune lacessit.” No one harms me with impunity.

An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. There is no such thing as throwing back a piece or bread (or mantou) to someone who threw stones at you.

Forgiveness, that abstraction that is quite easy to speak about (especially if the one speaking of it is not involved in the situation where it is being sought) is extremely difficult to translate into action. Hence, people often seek revenge for every pain that another person caused them.

But upon closer examination, what does one get from revenge? Is there joy that comes in having avenged oneself? Can one sleep better at night knowing another person is now suffering from one’s revenge?

The irony in the Unmarried Mother’s desire to avenge herself was that she was the transgressor herself. When she found out that it was herself all along that ruined her own life, then she felt compassion towards and even loved herself.

I would look at transgression in two ways: one can endeavor to be empathetic and see things from the point of view of the transgressor and understand why he did what he did. Or, one can accept the fact that no one can ever transgress anyone with impunity. Not even as an act of revenge. Countries have laws. People have conscience. When you hurt other people, you hurt yourself as well. (Or am I wrong? Are there “normal” or “typical” people who rejoice when others suffer, people who have nothing but Schadenfreude in their hearts?)

Jane/John as the bartender, however, could not forgive himself as the Fizzle Bomber and shot him. The same person who was able to understand and accept the one who ruined his/her life, could not forgive himself for killing other people.

Question for Introspection 1:

Is it easier to forgive the harm we brought upon ourselves, than it is to forgive the evil we brought upon others?

Narcissism

Growing up, Jane felt she was a freak, that she was ugly. She even stopped looking at herself in the mirror. This self-loathing became even worse when she found out she had the rare condition of having both male and female reproductive organs and was left with no choice but to undergo surgery to become male.

But when Jane who is now a man with the pseudonym Unmarried Mother goes back to her/his past and meets her/his young self, she/he says to her/him, “You’re beautiful.” She/he falls in love with herself/himself and even has a baby.

(Now this just came to mind as I was typing the previous sentence: isn’t that the same idea as the Divine Trinity? The Father , Son and Holy Ghost? Which came first?)

Question for Introspection 2:

If it were possible to see yourself from the eyes of someone from the opposite sex, do you think you would fall in love with yourself? Do you have the traits that you find attractive, enough to fall in love with another person?

We sometimes love ourselves and sometimes hate ourselves. But to fall in love with oneself, this is something I have only read about or seen in movies. I still have to meet somebody who admits he or she is in love with himself or herself.

Question for Introspection 3:

If you could meet with your 20-year old self (I’m assuming my readers are at least in their 30’s!) what would you say to him/her?

Would you be kind and perhaps encourage yourself? Or would you warn yourself of the many mistakes you would be making? Or would you tell yourself, “There’s nothing to look forward to.”

And what do you think your 20-year old self would say to you? “Nice job! I can’t wait to become you”? Or, “Uh-oh!”

Self-loathing

It is interesting how people can love and hate themselves at the same time. We love certain qualities about ourselves, and hate other qualities that we possess and wish we could change ourselves.

Through time-travel, John is able to meet with his future self, the Fizzle Bomber who has killed thousands of people. When John comes face to face with the Fizzle Bomber, he says with loathing, “I will never become you!” And shoots him.

We have no way of knowing what we will be like 20 years from now. But we can look back at our lives and see what we have become.

Question for Introspection 4:

What do you think a 20-year old you would say to the present you if he/she could speak to you now? Will he/she say: You’re doing a great job! Or will he/she say, “I will never become you” and….

Like I said, I do not totally understand this film, but it’s an Ethan Hawke movie that got me thinking, so I like it. This movie, perhaps, had an effect on me, and when you read what I’ve written, maybe it will have an effect on you, too. Hopefully a good one.

“When a butterfly flutters its wings in one part of the world, it can eventually cause a hurricane in another…” – Edward Lorenz

Interstellar and the Self

interstellar

Interstellar

 

(photo source)

First off, if you have not seen the movie yet, then stop reading.

Second, if you are a film enthusiast or a film critic, then pardon my own humble review of the movie. I am often told that I miss the point of a movie, to which I reply (but only in my head), so what? I see other things in a movie that move me, and to me that is what matters. I do not have to have the same analysis as everybody else. Our understanding and appreciation of a movie or even a book is ultimately shaped by our own individual experiences, our knowledge of the things around us,  our values, culture and many other factors.

That may have sounded like an attempt at apologetics, so I will move on.

I watched Interstellar a week ago, but waited until today to write about it because I had to give myself time to think and discuss with my husband (a physics major in university) about one of the ideas the movie presented that really fascinated me.

Cooper (not my dearest Bradley), Matthew McConaughey’s character, left earth and entered another galaxy through a wormhole. His travel with the other space explorers took, for them, just hours, but what was hours for them was years for the earthlings.

I cannot and will not even attempt to explain how the element of time was used in this story, but in my own simple understanding of what happened and in my humble second-language-learner English, let me say that Cooper was able to go back to a certain place in time, specifically that period when his daughter thought there was a ghost in her bedroom that was trying to tell her something. It turned out that that “ghost” was actually Cooper himself, from the future, (future Cooper)  trying to stop past Cooper from leaving his family. But then he was told he could not change the past.

Let me pause here to say something about Biblical allusions or religious undertones of which there is a prevalence in today’s science-fiction movies. Interstellar is definitely not an exception. the most obvious allusion is to the man Jesus raised from the dead, Lazarus. NASA’s mission in the film is called “Lazarus.”

The Bible contains a few stories about how lives had been sacrificed for something new or better to start. Death for some for the birth of new ones, like when God flooded the world and spared only Noah and his family and a few animals; or when innocent children were killed because King Herod was afraid that the child who had been prophesied to become king was born, and he wanted to be certain the child would not live to be king; or when Jesus had to die to save the people.

In the same way, Dr. Brand had concluded that it was impossible to evacuate the whole population from earth, so he formulated plan B which was to start a new population from the fertilized embryos. He was willing to abandon the living for the survival of the species. This is not new or uncommon. I think people are constantly sacrificing other people’s lives for a cause, be they good or bad.

One other thing that I was reminded of when I saw that scene where  Future Cooper was begging his daughter (who, of course could not hear him) not to let him, Past Cooper leave, was hell. Would it not be hell to be able to see our past selves making a decision that at present we know to be very wrong, but we have no way to correct it? The way we live our lives is not like how a movie is made where we do several takes. It is hell to watch ourselves making mistakes that affect not only our lives but also the lives of the ones we love  and knowing we cannot undo those mistakes.

That scene from the movie spoke to me the most — the father’s anguish at seeing his daughter again and wishing he had listened to her and not left her. I love Matthew McConaughey (not the same way I love Bradley Cooper, but yes) I think he is a great actor.

That scene also made me think of “conscience,” that tiny voice in the head that tells  one what is morally right or wrong, the guide to making decisions. I would like to think that our conscience is simply our “future selves” trying to guide us to the right direction. Sometimes we listen to our conscience, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we even feel it is absent. Maybe on a holiday.

I do not like movies about aliens, but somehow I am a little disappointed that in this movie, the human being seems to be alone in the universe, that there are no other creatures out there, that it is just us in the vastness of the universe. Are we truly this special? That we have such a huge place all to ourselves? I prefer the idea presented by Stephen Hawking that there are other creatures apart from us that are way more advanced  than our civilization. I would like to think that there are other beings out there, that it is not just us on this tiny planet in the infinite universe. This feeling is the same as when I stand on the shore facing the horizon and wondering if on the other side, there is also somebody standing on their shore wondering the same about the other side.

I have so many questions about our existence. I used to think the answer was in philosophy, and then in neuropsychology, but as years pass, I feel the answer can only be found not within ourselves, not within our planet, but out there in the universe, which means I may never know the answers to my questions. It is sad, but I am hopeful one day somebody will find those answers. And that hope and faith is enough to make me go on living my life, hopefully not disappointing my future self too much.