CAMLAW: Complementary and Alternative Medicine Law Blog

Autism video describes language of the soul

A woman with autism has made a remarkable video that speaks to the soul.

She was featured on Anderson Cooper CNN:

Amanda Baggs, a 26-year-old woman with autism, became a bit of an Internet sensation after she posted videos she made about how someone with autism experiences reality.

What is remarkable about the video is the way Amanda first shows what might appear to be a series of random, repetitive movements. In the second half of the video, she tells us what those movements mean to her, and reminds us that it is we - the not-too-silent majority - that define for her, and for everyone, what behavior signifies, and which behaviors are considered 'normal' or 'adaptive,' and which are considered false or unreal.

The 8-minute video is also posted on MedSpa MD, which remarks:

Amanda Baggs is a 26-year-old woman with autism. She's also human.

The line? I'll leave that up to you.

Amanda made her video, "In My Language" to challenge the general notions of what makes us human. Then she posted her video on YouTube.

The first three minutes won't make much sense until Amanda starts her narration using the only level of communication in which she can express herself so that we can make meaning, a synthesized voice from a computer. But watch the video. It's worth eight minutes of your life to learn this.

"It's like being bilingual," she types. "A lot of the way I naturally communicate is just through direct response to what is around me in a very physical sort of way. It's dealing with patterns and colors rather than with symbolic words."

Amanda's narration is like a cross between an Oxford philosophy dissertation and a Zen koan. It is totally compelling. She differentiates between "my" language and the language of everyone else. It reminds me of psychologist Charles Tart's notion of "consensus trance." The consensus trance defines normality and gives psychotropic drugs to modulate those considered abnormal. Amanda's narration points out that we judge people whose behavior we don't understand, and divide the world into them and us; a lot of evil has come from judging others as 'non-persons.' Just because we do not understand their language.

As I watch the video, Amanda's movements do not appear random to me. Rather, she is engaged in her senses in an extraordinary way. She is not "tuned out" to her surroundings--a characterization often made of those given the autism diagnostic label. Rather, she is "tuned in" to extraordinary subtle detail: sounds, kinesthetic feelings, sights. The video shows us this. She is as connected to the feeling of water running from the tap as one can be to the sounds of nature. If anything, she is extra-conscious, not below the level of consciousness we typically ascribe to 'normality.'

I ask rhetorically: If your ears are plugged with an Ipod, your kinesthetic sense limited to typing emails, your heart chakra connected to a screen, your taste limited to diet soft drinks, and your smell dulled by the chronic whine of an air conditioning unit, how can you sense anything, or judge someone who senses reality with a particular intensity?

Amanda's sensing and movements appear more akin to shamanism and ritual (not in the negative psychiatric label of 'ritualistic', but in the spiritual sense of healing rituals) and anything but random. It is, perhaps, our interpretation that is askew.

Amanda's website (http://ballastexistenz.autistics.org/) offers immense resources as well as reflections on her own experience.

Here is one interesting reflection, which resonates a lot with things that were said when I studied energy healing:

A few people were putting me on the kind of spiritual pedestal that actually demeans my real spiritual life by reducing it to a thing about a person instead of a thing about God. Some people were actually saying I should pray for healing from autism, when actually I think God made me autistic (and made other people non-autistic, and that's fine too) and that I don't need to be healed from something I'm supposed to be.

Amanda subverts our consensus labels and expectations. She rightly points out: "I didn't bang my head because I'm intelligent and trapped (which isn't a construct I use for viewing myself)." She is, of necessity, in a constant struggle against the imposition of others' constructs of who she is.

Her quote at the top of her blog says a lot: "I am one of the forgotten ones who refuses to be forgotten."
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Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen offers general corporate legal services, litigation consultation, and expertise in health law with a unique focus on alternative, complementary, and integrative medical therapies.

Michael H. Cohen is Principal in Law Offices of Michael H. Cohen and also President of the Institute for Integrative and Energy Medicine (also known as the Institute for Health, Ethics, Law, Policy & Society), a forum for exploration of legal, regulatory, ethical, and health policy issues involved in the judicious integration of complementary and alternative medical therapies (such as acupuncture and traditional oriental medicine, chiropractic, massage therapy, herbal medicine) and conventional clinical care. The most recent published book by Michael H. Cohen on health care law, regulation, ethics and policy pertaining to complementary, alternative and integrative medicine and related fields is Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion. This is the fourth book in a series, following Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998), Beyond Complementary Medicine: Legal and Ethical Perspectives on Health Care and Human Evolution (2000), and Future Medicine: Ethical Dilemmas, Regulatory Challenges, and Therapeutic Pathways to Health Care and Healing in Human Transformation (2003).

Health care and corporate lawyer Michael H. Cohen has also been admitted to the Bar of England and Wales as a Solicitor (non-practicing), adding to Bar membership in four U.S. states.
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