For more information about The Uncharted Path and to purchase the book ($17.95 paperback, $8.95 as a PDF), visit www.journeyswithautism.com. By way of disclosure, Cohen-Rottenberg has begun volunteering as a copy editor and proofreader for The Commons, and her husband, Bob, serves on the board of directors of Vermont Independent Media, the nonprofit that publishes the newspaper.
Originally published in The Commons issue #74 (Wednesday, November 3, 2010).
Cohen-Rottenberg describes the process of writing Path, which chronicles her struggles with autism from early childhood through her adult life, as “very healing.”
“To paraphrase Rilke, the feeling was one of weaving together the disparate strands of my life into a single cloth. I didn’t find it particularly difficult to narrate my own experience,” she says.
“I’d been doing it internally all my life, just to make sense of how I felt when I couldn’t find anyone who understood,” Cohen-Rottenberg noted.
While researching Asperger’s syndrome, Cohen-Rottenberg came across many outdated but still popular beliefs regarding the disorder. She herself does not identify with them, and hopes that her own account of life with Asperger’s will help to “dispel stereotypes.”
“There are so many dehumanizing stereotypes about autistic people: that we lack empathy, that we don’t understand different modes of thought, that we’re overly logical, that we don’t have feelings, that we’re not social beings, that we’re not imaginative, that we can’t be fully included in the world,” she says.
“It’s very painful to have people believe these kinds of things,” she continues. “Many misconceptions are based on outdated research, failures to ask the right questions, or overly simplistic interpretations of the answers.”
In the book, she devotes a chapter, “Our Deficits: Strengths in Disguise,” to the process of turning liabilities into assets or appreciating the different way through which people who are not “neurotypical” perceive the world.
So often, Cohen-Rottenberg says, “people talk about us without ever actually talking to us. I very much hope that my book helps to give people a clearer picture of what it means to be on the spectrum.”
Rottenberg offers plenty of advice for people who want to know how to relate to people with Asperger’s and other autism-spectrum disorders.
“The key to any good relationship is respect. It’s not enough to tolerate a person, or even to accept a person, with or without disabilities. You have to model respect,” she says.
“Be sensitive. Find out what the person needs. Listen to the answers. Don’t minimize or dismiss the person’s experience. Don’t look at the person as broken, impaired, abnormal, or wrong,” Cohen-Rottenberg adds.
Finally, she advises people to “see the person as a whole human being, just like you. And remember that human diversity is something to be celebrated, not feared.”
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