I once drove a friend to her psychologist appointment. While she was with her doctor, a man with a tri-cornered hat and ascot (think Ben Franklin-fashion) came into the waiting room and sat next to me on a sofa. He sat very close. Our legs were touching. I didn’t know this man, and plenty of seats were open nearby. Then he took out a baggie of granola and began eating it loudly. He was so close that I could smell it. He did not respond when I said hello. I was waiting for the “What Would You Do” crew to pop out and film my reaction. Instead, his Doctor appeared took him back to his office
Another time, I was sitting in my office chair, and a large 15 year old boy came and sat on my lap. I imagine that the two of us looked pretty funny, this 6 foot tall young man and me crammed onto chair. He continued to talk to me though, as if it was nothing unusual. In fact, he seemed pretty cuddly and content.
Many times when I work with children who have a diagnosis of autism, that child will use my hand and try to get it to do what they want. For example, once when playing with a wind up toy, a little guy took my hand and put it on the toy as if to tell me to wind it up again. Or another time, a little girl took my hand and put a crayon in it and tried to make my hand draw something. Parents ask me all the time, as a Speech-Language Pathologist about teaching the language of “me, you, we” to their children.
During all of these interactions, I felt no fear. I do not believe any of these people had any bad intent towards me. Yes, some of it was unusual. And I suppose if I did not spend a lot of time around folks with special needs, I probably would have been more shocked by these instances. But as far as I am concerned, I was always safe, and I KNOW that those interacting with me in these ways were safe. But what does it mean?
I believe it falls into the category of self development. Where do I start and you stop? What is the boundary between “you” and “me”? And why, in the above examples, did those people see it differently than most? And what can I learn from these people who do see it differently? I have been thinking about this topic for a while, reading about it, and learning from those mentors who know more than myself. Here is what I think:
We initially learn about ourselves through our existence in our bodies. Our body acts as our personal boundary between ourselves and others and the world. That information is carried in our sensory system, which delivers information from outside to our central nervous system and brain. Our brain filters and makes sense of the information and tells our body how to react. It is the first relationship we have with ourselves. Fire is hot, I won’t touch it. It feels good to cuddle, I will do that more. This relationship you have with your body, it shapes your experience, and your experience shapes your mind. Your beliefs, your interactions with the world and with others. If you are in a reliable body, your mind is free to explore and have more diverse experiences that sharpen your abilities to interact in increasingly more complex systems.
But what if you are not in a reliable body. What if your central nervous system is not delivering safe or reliable information to your brain? How are you supposed to innately know these boundaries? How can you learn the difference between “you” and “me”? And why would I take “you” into consideration when I do not know the boundaries?
I absolutely believe that we can work with people and teach the social rules. That at some point, you do not eat granola loudly while sitting way too close to someone. I even believe that we can work with body systems to improve the information getting to the brain. It is my work every single day to do these things. But today, I am wondering, what can we learn from the perspective of less boundaries between “me” vs “you”? Would that change how we view race? Class? Political affiliation? What if we opened up a little more and realized that while there is a “me” and there is a “you” but there is also a “we”? Maybe we have something to learn here.