In this striking book about the nature of autism and what it’s like to be the father of an autistic child, Paul Collins reminds us that the way “we” conventionally think may be just one very inaccurate take on the reality that surrounds us. The chronological view of things in particular may be only a way of organizing data so that we can keep track of it, a way to keep from driving ourselves nuts. It’s far more likely that everything is happening all over the place, and we may not understand any of it at all.
For instance: When Collins and his wife, Jennifer, took their 3-year-old son, Morgan, for a routine checkup, they “found out” he most probably had autism. But for at least a couple of years before that Collins had been working on a book about “Peter the Wild Boy,” a “nearly mute, feral child” who “was a mirror held up to the great men of his time.” Peter was discovered in the Black Forest outside Hamelin and ended up in the English royal court at Kensington Palace. Peter, says Collins, haunted the births of romanticism, zoology and even the theory of evolution.
Peter was a man of few, if any, words. He always gazed into the middle distance. He was interested in what he was interested in. Not like the rest of us, whoever we are. And Collins had been drawn to this material long before he knew of his son’s affliction.