My siblings often ridiculed me for being unable, and perhaps, unwilling to speak. Frequently, this occurred at the evening meal.
As my mother sat at the pine dining table after serving my father, Luke complained, "Momma, why is it that he gets away with not talking?"
Edna Mae followed with her own comment. "Why does he always have to point at things?"
I understood their words, though they may not have realized this at the time. I could see their anger and frustration with me, but did not understand the source of it.
I was seven when my parents drove me to the trusted family physician for a diagnosis. The year was 1960, and relatively little was known about autism at that time. Many days, my mom would just look at me, with tears. One day, when my father came in from work, she met him at the door. "We still need to take little Dutchman to the doctor. I'm afraid there's something wrong with his throat."
My father shrugged. "Nah. He's just lazy, is all, but I'll take him to see Doctor Johnson, just so you'll quit pestering me."
We went the next day. The smell of antiseptic filled the doctor's office. The tile floor shone with brilliance. After asking me some questions, and getting no answer but a few grunts, Dr. Johnson studied me for a few minutes, a slight frown creased in his forehead. I glanced into his face momentarily.
He rubbed his hands together as he paced the floor, then finally he exhaled. "What I think we have here is a case of mild retardation."
"What do you mean?" my father asked as he tossed his head back, a wry smile curving his mouth.
Dr. Johnson's voice went flatter. "I mean that the child is too slow to know many words."
"Yep, and he's lazy too." my father commented. "Spare the rod and spoil the child. That cures almost everything."
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