This past weekend I went to see The Social Network with friends. Interestingly, the friends who went to the movie with me had met my cousin over the summer while she was visiting (this will play itself out in this blog).
By the end of the movie I was almost in tears, feeling a great deal of angst against so many characters – the girlfriend who didn’t interpret intelligence correctly and extrapolated it to mean ‘obnoxious’, the college classmates who wanted to victimize some one who really did not understand the manipulation, the predatory nature of silicon valley where people are everything from prey seeking next- next idea thing developers to genuinely dedicated about pursuits of the mind, the public who saw the movie and could do nothing but castigate the character of Mark Zuckerberg. What I saw was my cousin, as an adult……extremely bright and creative and completely misunderstood.
I saw my cousin in Mark Zuckerberg. I have been the advocate in her corner, with her parents, as they deal with a public school system not remotely interested in serving the needs of an intelligent, socially awkward teenager since she ‘looks normal’. My cousin has autism and is somewhere on the spectrum, as identified by some of the best at UCLA. The first time I met her when she was two years old, I knew what it was – the look and the interactions were clear. The reason I glommed onto it had more to do with my professional background and how I have worked with a variety of students being mainstreamed into a science classroom. My undergraduate background is in communicative disorders – what is going on in the brain when some one is not somewhere on the bell curve of normal.
Mark Zuckerberg is portrayed as a jerk – uncaring, lacking compassion and easily seduced by people. Sadly, this is the fate of people with degrees of autism. I don’t know if Mark is or is not in some way autistic – I do know he is brilliant and I know autism and brillance band together in some way……quite possibly the fact that if some one is so inwardly focused on what intersts them, they don’t have time for the ridiculous nuance of the social world, think Einstein.
My cousin is not understood by her classmates, teachers, own family at times. She is an oddity and outside our standards of normal on a bell curve – AND she is very smart and creative. My cousin lacks any close friends, she is easily taken in by others who perceive her as a person ripe for being taken advantage of, in all types of situations. My greatest fear is that the adult world, which I exist in currently, is so cruel and heartless my cousin will be destroyed by people who don’t even realize what they do not know. It kills me as my cousin does the most amazing art work and has said some hilarious things which bear out her ability to focus and study behavior, yet she does not have a context of how others perceive her. Whatever my cousin will choose to do in her life, she will do well due to immense focus and her intrinsic desire for knowledge – she will never be accepted for what she achieves as she will most likely never be able to rise above the crictical masses who perceive some one not normal, not one of us, not quite ready for prime time.
As my friends and myself discussed the movie, they realized exactly what I did – my cousin is possibly the childhood version of Mark Zuckerberg. He may well have been like her at the age of 12. It was both deeply saddening to realize how Mark’s life had been, at least in college, and to reflect on the potential of what my cousins life might be if others do not understand autism.
The real @$$h—-in the movie and in the real world are those who see some one as a person to take advantage of for their intelligence and naivete’. The real winners are the rest of us who have the capacity to know some one with autism and not manipulate the situation. If you have the opportunity to see the movie and then discuss it with a teacher, psychologist, psychiatrist or family member of some one with autism, I am quite sure they will be able to point out all the tell tale signs of autism – the very same signs which others read as arrogance and lack of caring. Mark and my cousin came into the world with very few friends who understand them…..wouldn’t it be nice if this movie helped us rise above our preconceptions.