How I learned to read and write and resist Procrustes' bed
Taxpayer spending on autism will reach 1 trillion by 2025, but only a few of us will be earners.
It was a particularly cold and windy winter for Southern California, and a three-foot-wide by one-foot-high gap in the 10-square-foot canvas bell tent blew in the icy cold while I hunched over my laptop day and night, finishing my online degree with only the steam from instant noodles to warm me.
I interviewed the New York Times bestselling author of Neurotribes, Steve Silberman, for my neurodiversity documentary, in that tent. At the start of the interview, Steve Silberman asked if I had read his book. I breezed past the question. That book introduced the idea of neurotribes to mainstream culture and helped people understand my tribe. Ironically, I cannot read it. I am unable to visually process well enough to read a lot of text. I taught myself early to scan for salient points to surmise an author's meaning.
I never learned to read and write in school, but taught myself to read on my own at eight years old with a dictionary and thesaurus.
In my thirties, I taught myself to write, so I could write a novel. I wrote every sentence of my book repeatedly over and over for a full decade. Never being understood and experiencing the world apparently completely differently than everyone, with the growing realization of how truly invisible and voiceless I am, was intolerable. I made it my purpose to write a novel that could be on a bookshelf in the Lima hub airport, where travelers would buy it and bring it all over the world with them. That I couldn’t read a book through because I am unable to process well enough did not occur to me. That it went on for years, writing over and over, so I could be sure the story I saw was conveyed, did not deter me.
Maybe it was that fierce certitude, which appeared at odds with my circumstances, that influenced the Department of Rehabilitation psychologist, after a fifteen-minute assessment, to write in her report that I had a cognitive decline from long-term drug use. When I laid out my plans for my novel in a hub airport, in response to a question about my five-year goal, she described it as a disconnect, of not having a grasp on my capabilities and limitations.
It was only a few years later when my novel was translated into Spanish by a publisher in Mexico and placed in 12 bookstores, including one in the Mexico City International hub airport.
You would think with all that fortitude, certitude, and attitude, that I wouldn’t be falling further into poverty every year. A master of science as a film director from one of the best film schools in the world, described by AFI as “a gifted…storyteller”.
I reached out to the Department of Rehabilitation several times over three decades, desperate to work or do something with my life. My experience with them was that they insisted I make myself smaller and contort or adjust who I am and my aspirations to fit a slot, like Procrustes’ bed.
Procrustes lived on the edge of a city in Ancient Greece and would invite weary travelers to eat and rest for the night, then cut off their limbs or stretch them to fit his bed. He lured them in with the promise of sustenance and rest, offering with feigned concern everything the travelers needed at that moment. Not unlike the Department of Rehabilitation, California state’s own Procrustes’ bed, a soul-devouring mechanism jacking up taxpayer dollars while 80% to 90% of the population they are meant to serve, degrees in hand, continue to be unable to work.