There are no positives to autism

1 Dec

Well you know – except when there are:

As Charlene Sawyer, a bespectacled young woman in jeans and pink Nikes, sings “Danny Boy,” they stand still. They don’t sip their beers or talk among themselves or puff on their cigarettes. They just listen.

Sawyer sings the old Irish ballad like they’ve never heard it before, delivering it in a spine-tingling, operatic style, her specialty.

When she finishes, the crowd fills the bar with applause. Sawyer grins and scoops up her orange notebook of sheet music. She knows she nailed it.

What most of the patrons in the bar don’t know is that Sawyer is autistic.

The Centre for Disabilities this young lady attends describes her as ‘an exceptional talent’. But what is also clear – as the article mentions is that her autism plays more than a passing role in her singing:

Because of her disability, Sawyer will probably never sing in a great performance hall. But if she didn’t have autism, she likely wouldn’t have cultivated her voice to such a degree in the first place. Many high-functioning autistics such as herself nurse obsessions, and Sawyer’s obsession is music.

I’m not so sure this young lady might not ever sing in a ‘great performance hall’. She might have trouble and need help, but I bet she could. What is beyond doubt is the fact that her autism’s insistence of attention to detail and perseverance is what made her voice the beautiful thing it is now.

I’d say from reading the rest of the article that she might have a thing or two to learn about other autistic people but what is beyond doubt that autism has helped make her who she is. Without autism, her gift for singing would’ve been lessened or not be actualised at all.

There are people in this life who will tell you everything about autism is bad, that it contains no positives. Do not trust these people because – as the story Charlene Sawyer shows – they are wrong. Life is never so black and white.

9 Responses to “There are no positives to autism”

  1. Niksmom December 1, 2008 at 13:55 #


  2. HoxtonPaul. December 1, 2008 at 14:02 #

    My first wedding anniversary is next week. Both of us have Aspergers. We bond and relate in a unique way. We are very lucky to have each other, and to have Autism in common. It really makes it work, and we are both in on a big secret we never knew we had until 4 years ago.

    Love it. I work for the National Autistic Society in the UK and have 3 roles for them. I love my career and I am having a bit of a ‘golden age’ in my life. For me, things have turned out well. P.

  3. Ruth December 1, 2008 at 14:54 #

    Glen Gould, anyone?

  4. Bev December 1, 2008 at 16:06 #

    Let me see if I’ve got this right…she became a great singer partly because of her disability? So without autism, she might not have become so great? Yet, somehow, because she is autistic “she will probably never” (sigh) sing in a great performance hall? The logic of this escapes me somehow. Even when we succeed, somehow autism keeps us from greater success, and is thus to be scorned and lamented? How ridiculous.

    Congratulations, Charlene. You are a winner already. Wishing you continued success, along with the recognition you deserve!

  5. Joseph December 1, 2008 at 17:01 #

    Of course, some people might think that without autism, she would’ve been great anyway, and could have even done so much more.

    I don’t think it’s that simple. But what I find interesting is that the same people who would speculate that way would have no problem in attributing a negative outcome 100% to autism.

  6. Melody December 1, 2008 at 17:05 #

    I went to an arts high school, and there were a fair few autistic students there. One person’s area of interest was in sci-fi, and he would draw elaborate, detailed drawings of machines and stuff that would go to his stories.

  7. bullet December 1, 2008 at 23:45 #

    I love Tom’s perspective on things, how he can be so excited at walking up a differet flight of stairs on a day when the school photographer comes in.
    I love how he loves counting and numbers, how the shopping centre is “number 20”, how people are referred to what their house number is.
    I love how he has no concept of being mean or manipulating someone.
    I love how he falls about the place laughing at the word “flippers”.
    I love how he concentrates when he draws, putting in a fair amount of detail for his age.

  8. Bev December 2, 2008 at 03:40 #

    I haven’t been able to get this story out of my head. I find it so unfathomably sad that she believes, as quoted in the last line of the story:

    “Most autistic people can’t feel or express emotion,” Sawyer says. “I do.”

  9. The Gonzo Girl December 2, 2008 at 13:46 #

    “Most autistic people can’t feel or express emotion,”



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