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Ari Ne’eman on autism

Posted May 16 2009 10:14pm

Ari has had a quite wonderful piece on him in Newsweek. It takes on the hard questions for Ari and he answers them with the aplomb that has come from years of hard work of learning to be an excellent networker:

Ne’eman battles a strange kind of image problem: his critics accuse him of not really being autistic. His mother, Rina, is particularly sensitive about this. “People who see Ari today have no idea where he’s been,” she says. As a young child, Ne’eman was verbally precocious but socially challenged. “I didn’t understand the people around me, and they didn’t understand me,” he says. He was bullied and ostracized—back then he didn’t look at people; he flapped his hands and paced incessantly (he still does both today); he brought newspapers to elementary school as leisure reading. “I think the word ‘freak’ may have come up,” he says. He was, at one point, segregated from his peers in a special-ed school. That led to struggles with depression and anxiety so severe he would pick at his face until it bled. I asked Ne’eman how he manages all the professional mingling he does today. Small talk makes him uncomfortable, but he’s learned to play along. Still, none of it is easy. “You come out of a meeting and you’ve put on a mask, which involves looking people in the eye, using certain mannerisms, certain phrases,” he says. “Even if you learn to do it in a very seamless sort of way, you’re still putting on an act. It’s a very ex-hausting act.”

This is a common attack tactic from people like Jake Crosy at AoA or Harold Doherty. They demean the efforts that autistic people such as Ari have needed and still need to put into their lives to advocate for their own beliefs in favour of the promotion of their own limited and limiting set of autism related beliefs. But as history has shown, its people like Ari – those who are willing to be openly challenged about what they think who will win the respect of people.

Well done Ari, I’m proud to think that you are representing all manner of people on the spectrum, from the very high functioning Jake Crosby to the very low functioning such as my daughter. Thank you.

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