Background to my interest in teaching children with autism


            Felicity was not particularly pleased with Bart’s opening presentation. He felt offended that this offender didn’t know ‘his place’. Lulled by the conventional ‘hi’ greeting, Felicity forgot that the opening gambit almost always reveals something — this time it was impulsiveness. He grumbled under his breath: “Damn, I can’t use this man. Hell, he’s a raving manic. I’ll have to spend my time trying to arrange to get him treated instead of getting the help I wanted from him.” Felicity almost rebuked Bart with one of his favourite remarks that, “Self-centredness is a quality found in a person of low taste and narrow interests, more interested in himself than in me.” Instead, he chided himself as he noticed that the Biercian observation applied more aptly to himself than to Bart.

            He was still preoccupied with this train of thought when Bart dropped into a chair and asked what he could do for Felicity. The question and Bart’s impulsive action only served to confirm the diagnosis in Felicity’s mind, and so he responded to the question clinically rather than as a human being. He told Bart that he wanted him to undergo a series of tests to try to find out how he could help him. Bart chuckled and said: “Oh, so that’s the way you want to play it. OK, whatever you want.” He did have the sense to add that he had expected Felicity to do that, and that he had wondered what he could do to help Felicity while he was locked up there. Bart’s reaction reminded Felicity that there probably really are real people in the world. And he considered the possibility that Bart might just be a nice human being who saw no purpose to some of the conventions in social, and particularly institutional, interactions. He decided to see what playing it straight might get him. So he told Bart about his wish to extend the academic facilities available to the inmates to include some self‑help educational activities.

            To Felicity’s surprise, Bart listened without interruption to what Felicity had to say. The recitation over, Bart responded: “Right, I’ll start thinking about what we can do in that area, and I gather you’ll start finding out what’s the matter with me.” He added, “I know there’s got to be something wrong. You probably know what I’m in for, and I’ve just got to tell you that, yes, I did those things, but, no, that’s not the way I think of myself.” As Bart left the office, Felicity breathed a sigh of relief and decided he was just going to have to wait and see whether or not Bart was manic or simply a straight‑shooting, easy going guy.    

            It turned out that Bart was just a nice, friendly person. He was well‑behaved and civil on the ‘range’, and there was no evidence in his daily behaviour of any pressure of speech or other manic indications. Through the days of testing and interviews, which were standard admission procedures, he dropped in and out of Felicity’s office with questions and ideas about the plan he was writing up for the self‑help educational programme.

            When the assessment phase was completed, Felicity called Bart into his office to go over the results with him. When Bart was seated, Felicity looked into the file that had been assembled and opened his mouth to start telling Bart what had been found. He closed his mouth again and started to study the file contents in detail. He could find nothing of note by way of problems to tell Bart about. Could Bart be a reasonably normal, nice person, who just happened to be a genetically-determined homosexual paedophile? That would be an unusual discovery worth making. To find out, Felicity turned the interview into an inquiry.

            Instead of telling Bart about the one, apparently minor, test score elevation in the battery of tests, he asked Bart to tell him about the circumstances involved in his offenses. Bart said that he was a good teacher, even an exceptionally good teacher. He had been happily married and developing a good career in a school board whose administration liked him very well. In fact, his life was an unusually good one. Unfortunately, for reasons unknown to him, his wife started to drink, and rapidly became an alcoholic. As part of her own recovery she became actively involved in a religious group. When it seemed that she was stably recovered, he began to talk to her about starting a family. He wanted very much to have children, and he thought she did too. However, she was strangely reticent in talking about the subject. Finally, she said that, although she also wanted children, she doubted his religious convictions and whether he would be able to give the children a proper religious up‑bringing. She insisted that he consult her religious counsellor and join her religious group before she would consider the issue of children. He refused to become involved in her religious group, and he believed that her subsequent separation from him was at the instigation of its members.

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