HEALTH: A journey into the universe of Autism
Dieter Wieczorek
Wieczorek is a film critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: June 7, 2020


In times of catastrophe management, something which best describes our present days, even besides the Coronavirus or climate change, it’s specifically difficult to overpass the mental defense mechanism of causal solution research and to make a step beside the standard perception of reality.

The times which had opened up for a real interrogative look to other forms of perceptions, like the phenomenological research of schizophrenia offered by Ronald David Laing (1927-1989), or the social-political contextualization of «mental illness» by David Graham Cooper (1931-1986), or again the opening of clinics for the disordered in Italy by Franco Basaglia (1924 –1980) – someone who wanted to take patients back to the places where their troubles began – lies decades away. Today the commercial power of medical applications dominates the general treatment of the mentally handicapped. The pharmaceutical industry has won the battle.

In this context, it’s a rare change to see a documentary that goes back to the origins and puts the «the others» themselves, in this case, the so-called autistic ones, at the center of an inquiry.

Natural variation

The concept of Piotr Stasik’s Altered States of Consciousness (Odmienne stany świadomości) appears at its end. It’s a citation by Steve Silberman, carrier of the Journalism Award for Magazine Writing: «Neurological differences such as autism or ADHD are not a mistake of the nature or a by-product of living in the modern toxic world but a natural variation within the human genome».

So these people are not victims or disabled, but just different, and the best way to meet them is to talk with them. This is exactly what Piotr Stasik does in a very concentrated way in often darkened rooms with just a sidelight falling on the faces of those interviewed.

The challenge of such an approach, screened this year in the National Competition of the Krakow Film Festival, would be to present the autists and persons with Asperger’s syndrome as idealized, as sovereign representatives of other capacities, which definitely also isn’t the case.

autism-documentary-MTR-post
Altered States of Consciousness, a film by Piotr Stasik

In conversation

So again, the most appropriate way is to speak with them, not avoiding the difficult questions, which is something we all are concerned about. Their answers are often astonishing. How you would describe yourself? «I am like the wind…I cause damages, it would be better if I would subside,» answered a young girl. What is autism? «Its a state, which can cause communication and life problems,” a young man dryly answered, and an around twelve-year-old explained «At the beginning there was nothing and it turns out that when the primary particles were formed, their opposite or balance required to achieve zero was space itself», and as the interviewer couldn’t follow up he précised: «The energy balance of the particles is positive, thus it has to be counterbalanced, so space is the balance, space itself» and he added comfort to the still confused: «I know it’s hard to imagine this, to imagine many things. Seriously…»

Another interviewee, around 16 years old, after having talked about atom structures, answered one of the questions on whether there is more than physical reality to define human beings: «I don’t know. I can give you the physical, biological, scientific definition of human beings. But that’s it». This young man later confirmed that he wants be become a nuclear physicist, especially to work in quantum physics, because «…it’s unexamined, so there is a lot to discover». And an even younger interviewee, around 14 years old declared to be especially interested in aeronautics and mosquitoes. He warned the interviewer, «Please be wary of the aedes albopictus, sir… it was detected lately (also) in Poznan». Another youngster wants to study the still unknown radiation «…which can cause a breakthrough in medicine».

One of the early autism researchers, Johann «Hans» Friedrich Karl Asperger (1906-1980) noted: «It seems that for success in science and art a dash of autism is necessary in breaking away from down to earth thinking».

«I am like the wind…I cause damages, it would be better if I would subside»

Piotr Stasik also opens up his camera to capture the daily life of the autists. Most of them feel comfortable surrounded by music and even get completely absorbed in experimenting with an instrument. Stasik also makes sure he doesn’t leave out the cries and resistance crises, as well as the careful and tender work of teachers and therapists to create trust, for example with exercises in the swimming pool, to offer the experience to be held and protected.

A young man is asked how he would describe himself: «Disoriented in every situation, but in a positive way». The phenomenon of multi-mind track thinking is evoked, the capacity to follow different thinking movements at the same time (which indeed can cause confusion). A girl answers the question ‘What would you most like to do?’: «I would like to travel back in the time – next question».

And regarding love: «Yes there is somebody but I will not tell you whom…I am happy if he stands near to me». Stasik takes care of following the little movements of spontaneous acts of sympathy or tenderness between the autists, but often this remains unanswered. He quotes the US science fiction writer John W. Campbell (1910-1971), who pronounced a simple reflection, applicable also to autism: «Give me a creature that thinks as well as a human being or even better but thinks dissimilarly».

Genuine

Maybe the best way to finish a reflection on Stasik’s precious and sensitive view on outsiders is to again give the word to them. Questioned on what is most important in life, a young woman answers: «The most important thing is not to pretend. Be myself. To know what bother me, what make me happy, and finally stop pretending that I am strong.»


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