Over the past few months and amidst other topics, I've tried to make the case that some autistic children and adults have, can and may in the future make great contributions to society.
Newton discovered gravity, Jefferson helped draft the Declaration of Independence, Lawrence helped lead the Arab revolt and Einstein developed the general theory of relativity.
More recently, Jacob Barnett, an Asperger like me who started off unable to speak, was found to have an I.Q. of 170 and could become another Einstein.
And yet, just the other day, Anonymous of Ontario slipped a letter beneath the door of Karla Begley, mother of an autistic son called Max, and told Mrs Begley (among other things) that "you have a kid that is mentally handicapped ... they should take whatever non retarded body parts he possesses and donate it to science ... go live in a trailer in the woods with your wild animal kid ... do the right thing and move or euthanize him."
I'm supposed to be fair and even-handed, but today it's going to be difficult. I grew up around mentally-handicapped adults and autism is a different type of disability. In my experience, mental handicap basically means the person's I.Q is too low to cope with everyday life whereas many people with autism have high I.Qs. Mine is 120 and you've just read about Jacob's. There are also wild and dangerous people with mental issues from whom society should be protected. For many years I lived not that far from the State Hospital, Carstairs. That's its new name. Its old title - Carstairs State Penitentiary for the Criminally Insane - was much more no-nonsense and descriptive...
People with autism do have difficulty integrating into society, but we are not retards and we are not wild animals. I find Anonymous of Ontario's use of those words highly offensive and can only assume the author of this loathsome letter is a wilfully ignorant xenophobe.
The comment near the end of the letter, however, which suggests Mrs Begley either moves or has her own son killed, veers into territory once occupied by Hitler's Final Solution, and while I'm not going to waste everyone's time with some overwrought byline like "have we learnt nothing from the horrors of the Holocaust!" I feel the sour sense of reacquaintance with the fetid intolerance and parochialism which still, as this stinking missive confirms, lurks so near the surface of the so-called civilized carapace with which we cover ourselves.
In Nicholas Monsarrat's 1951 novel about the Royal Navy, The Cruel Sea, sub-lieutenant Lockhart sees a party of badly-burned RAF officers at the theatre, and hears a woman's comments about the way they look:
"The faces were all shattered in the same formless way, mutilated alike by wounds and by slap-dash surgical repair ... 'They oughtn't to allow them in,' whispered a woman sitting just behind him. 'What about decent people's feelings?' "
It seems to me the cruel sea is still kinder than some people can be.
James Christie is the author of Dear Miss Landau. He was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a mild form of autism, at the age of 37 in 2002. He lives and works in Glasgow.Suggest a correction