From Feral, to Author to Screenwriter…
When I was a kid, words were sound, like the TV, like crumpled paper, like water, like gravel.
Words were a sensory material. They didn’t have a use. They were just there. You could map their strings, their shifts and replay them.
You could wrap yourself up in the feel of them as they had been from a good experience, or replay the nightmare feel of them from a bad one,
desensitising oneself. I was tested for deafness and my parents were told, no, I was not deaf. I went home with the word psychotic hovering over me. It was 1966 and I was two and a half years old.
Then, when I was about five, words evolved to be about pattern, theme and feel. Words had now become ways of expressing a theme, like going out, or being in trouble, or ‘this is good for you’, ‘regret’, ‘fear’, ‘happiness’, ‘anger’, ‘silliness’ and the language was advertisments, jingles, songs and noises.
When I was nine (when I was again being checked for deafness), I realised from the concern and sadness in the bodies of the teachers who listened to me read so fluently and skillfully the letters and words I could sound out, that I was ‘missing something’. In time, without words to describe this knowing or discuss it, I came to understand I had no idea of the meaning of words, spoken or written, and realised I was ‘meaning deaf’. I couldn’t interpret words, just intuit or get a feel for them. Unlike for many high functioning people with Autism, pictures couldn’t help me because they were flat and still and my world of meaning relied on a spatial experience, on tactile sense, on movement, smell or the sound something made when tapped. A flat picture didn’t do this and was never the size or physical feelable form of the real thing. So with the help of zinc, vitamin C, multivitamins, anti-anxiety medication, lots of use of gesture by my father and a picture sentence dictionary at school, I learned to see the picture for each word, translate it into gesture for the real lived experience and link it to the word. Meaning was finally born. By the age of ten I had the miracle of being able to understand 3 sentences in a row before my left brain capacity to process language for meaning shut down and it all because preconscious unknown knowing again. The meaning was happening, just not consciously, I was storing it, but couldn’t retrieve it. I thought I was stupid and ‘mind-less’ because I couldn’t think with conscious thought, just react and be. Over time I found things triggered the unknown knowing, things like typing. By the age of 20 I could understand the literal meaning of 50% of what was said to me or what I read, by 30 it was 50-70% for the first 10-20 minutes before it would fall away into ‘blah’. But by then I realised I was clever and could express myself, even if consciously I was still an empty mind and my words came out directly from soul without filtering. Mine was simply a different road, no less equal than anyone else’s.
As an adult my words travelled the world on paper. They lived on shelves in all kinds of homes where people spoke all kinds of languages. They lived on library shelves and in people’s minds and lived through their lives. Such is the world of the published writer. I wrote of my own history, a four book chronicle of my life with extreme Donna-ness intertwined with Autism, four text books that changed the face of the field of developmental disabilities, a poetry book that allowed me to use words as art. Last year I made a friend with a parent of an Autie, Bev Nero, a person as talented as she is bursting with spirit, integrity and heart. She is also a producer and became ‘our producer’. This year I received a black mug with gold print saying ‘screenwriter’ from Bev. I had written my first accepted screenplay, the screenplay to my book, Nobody Nowhere. I would be embarking on a life involved in the film industry. Of course, this was Donna in her office, at a computer. How would non-Auties manage working with someone as eccentric as me? How would a non-Autie actress really capture and speak my own language so naturally in the film? Most importantly for me was that the film would capture the personhood first, that I am first a person, that the condition is simply intertwined with that, like having blue eyes, being short, breathing. But the person is like a music of beingness and is more than one’s mood, anxiety, compulsive disorders, one’s form of information processing or its breakdowns, more than one’s ‘cat-person’ personality traits and their extremes, one’s Dietary Wheelchair in a world of people who don’t need one, more than alienation and its baggage in a world in which one is a minority on so many levels and constantly brainwashed there is only one supposed ‘normality’. Personhood is that unique thing that ironically is the thing we all without doubt share. And any film that involves Autism should never lose sight of personhood for it is that that, not my autism, I struggled so hard to stand up for and believe in. Autism was just along for the ride, sometimes making the bumps, sometimes saving me from them.
I’m hoping that the film, like the books, will also pave the way for opportunities and recognition of all kinds of writers on the Autistic Spectrum.
Writing, Art, Music, Design, Technology are all very important work and self discovery opportunities for many people on the spectrum as they can often be done in relative social isolation, a relatively controlled environment and provide people a chance to be creative, productive and expressive without running huge risks of overload and jeopardising their self management.
We are currently seeking investors interested in the film and information about that can be found on my website.
As always, thanks for listening and, hopefully, seeyou at the movies!
… Donna Williams *)