Driving home alone tonight i listened, as usual, to NPR. They were doing a story on a woman whom i could tell, from the first few words, was autistic. She described the horrors of family and school which she was able to excape by leaving home at age 15. One interesting comment she made was that by standing outside her house, looking at her family through a window, she could feel a much closer connection to them than when she was in the house with them. She also decribed her senses as being very intense and chaotic so that the "normal" sounds, sights, smells, etc, of the modern world were impossible to deal with. She even thought, cleverly, that she would pretend to be a dog and bark and "wag her tail" in a friendly way in order to obtain acceptance from other people. This got her punished in school and misunderstood at home. What was the problem? People like dogs, don't they?
She left home without a plan and without resources so she became homeless living in the alleys between buildings and on the steps of churches. Finally she ended up in Seattle, sleeping under the steps of a Church on Capirtal Hill. She frequented a place (The Quad?) where the rythym of the music seemed to soothe her. She had a natural talent as a dancer and someone suggested that she could make a living at it. So she got her first job as an exotic dancer. This worked out because she was performing for people and not interacting with them.*
However, the sensory overload continued, and she (instinctively?) sought contact with nature; so she undertook the challenge of the bus system** to get to the Zoo. There she met the Gorillas and felt an immediate connection to them. She would go there every chance she got and look at them for hours at a time. For the first time glass windows formed, not a protective barrier between herself and others, but a block to the intimacy she felt toward these animals. (At this point i had to leave the radio for a few minutes so i missed how she must have somehow been able to get inside the cage.) She cried as she was consoled by a large male Gorilla, feeling real "human" contact for the first time. She was like a person who had always known war arriving home for the first time. Later she somehow aquired a college education and a PhD in Antropology. At age 38 she was diagnosed as autistic. I did not learn her name. After googling variations of "autistic anthropologist" I have one good candidate - Dawn Eddings Prince - whom i may research further.
* Now i think i know why i was a teacher, and why i was the kind of teacher i was. I knew that interaction was an important part of teaching -- but i acted like the teachers i most disliked, aloof and pedantic.
** For an excellent description of the challenge presented to an autistic person by a bus system, read The Curious Case of the Dog in the Nighttime