Autism is a severe developmental disorder that has been afflicting a growing number or students, frequently appearing in children as young as one year, but often not demonstrating severe symptoms until near age 5. Symptoms of the disorder include severe social problems — often complete noncommunication or impaired verbal and nonverbal communication skills — and patterns of repetitive behavior within very narrow interests.
Regarded as a form of autism, Asperger's Syndrome has similar but less severe features. Gradually, school systems and schools have developed facilities to deal with Asperger's sufferers, but the disorder itself was not identified until after 1940, so the adoption of appropriate education practices and help facilities for such students has been very slow.
A part of the reason, of course, is that Asperger's sufferers tend to disappear into the woodwork and let no one sense their problem — except others of their age group who abuse, bully and tease them incessantly, unless stopped by teachers or school staff. Unlike more severe autism sufferers, Asperger's patients, such as my own son, stay within the regular public school system but often suffer mistreatment by students and teachers alike. Asperger's is becoming epidemic, so hopefully schools will adapt.
Of possible interest to those concerned with or aware of sufferers from Asperger's is a new publication edited by Bill Thackeray, senior professor emeritus at Montana State University-Northern, titled "Valley of Shadows."
Now 36 years old, the author of "Valley of Shadows" is a sufferer of Asperger's, who has been able to marry successfully, have a fit and robustly healthy son and live a very productive life as an artist, both a writer and a painter.
The book is written in poetic form by Mindy D., using a pseudonym since Mindy hopes to keep her identity a secret. She was a writing and literature student in some of Thackeray's classes, and he became aware of her talent at that time. Now she has completed a fast-moving story-poem of her life and experiences as an Asperger's sufferer. It is not always a pretty picture and should probably be kept from younger readers, but others may find it of considerable interest.