Autism and the Planet

I attended a retreat this past weekend, Your Healing Retreat, which was designed to educate doctors, clinicians and parents of children with autism about often undisclosed information regarding potential causes of autism and effective nutritional approaches to the treatment of autistic patients. I was invited to teach workshops about relationships to parents struggling with the strains that dealing with autism imposes on their marriages.

The occurrence of diagnoses of children on the spectrum of autism has mushroomed at an alarming rate in the last decade. This seems to coincide with the increase in chemicals that are being put into our air, water, soil and food; waves coming out of computers, cell phones and other household technologies; as well as the number of vaccinations given to children. These doctors and scientists have much to share with the community of people who are treating and parenting these children. One of the doctors I with sat at lunch said, “I just wish I had known all of this 20 years ago.”

A perspective I did not hear, and do not feel ready to speak of in such an environment, but will mention here is a general diagnosis of our species that I heard from eco-theologian Thomas Berry 20 years ago. Berry believes that Western civilization is involved in a “profound cultural pathology” and that we have become autistic as a species due to our disconnection from nature. We no longer listen to the river, the trees, the wind – imagining the human brand of “intelligence” as superior that of the web of life we live in. Because of this humans are now unable to perceive much of anything but ourselves; we are only talking to each other, insensible to the world around us. We have broken what he calls the “great conversation” that is being carried on among every other thing in the world around us. Our sensibilities have become severed from the rest of life on the planet so profoundly that we are killing it, and thus ourselves, without even hearing the death cry. In just the last hundred years humans have destroyed planetary systems which took nature hundreds of millions of years to develop; yet we forge ahead in this pathological destruction somehow believing that we are sane.

I was struck those many years ago by his description of us as “autistic”. I got it, and dedicated myself and my life energy to the pursuit of re-entering the great conversation. I wrote a dissertation entitled “Reawakening Indigenous Sensibilities in the Western Psyche,” which I am still wanting to rework and publish. I moved to the wilderness to live alone, there to listen and participate more fully with nature, and bring others to the endeavor.

Scientist and author Brianne Swimme describes how the choices we make enter into our DNA. Horses decide to run and live in open fields, so their DNA selects over time the body types and skills that allow for that. Hippos decide to live in water, so their DNA develops creating capacity to survive in that environment. As humans, he emphasizes, the choices we make affect our DNA; we are selecting what we will become.

If, then, we are choosing not to listen to nature, we may now be re-creating our species as one who selects not to be a part of this web of life on the planet. If we are choosing “autism” – maybe that is why our species is now mushrooming in the birthing of children on the spectrum.

What can we do now as a species to recover, to switch the current? Each of us have to find that answer for ourselves, and live by it.


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