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Th e P l an

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“I don’t know,” she says, a little louder. “Can I ever have kids and a family?” “I don’t know!” Her voice is sharp and irritated now. “Can I ever get married?” “I—don’t—know!” She drops the pot she’s been scrubbing into the sink with a loud clatter, grabs the front of the sink with both hands, and stands staring down, her body quivering. She is crying, but she still doesn’t turn around. Then she speaks in a firm, measured voice, pausing for emphasis throughout, “David, I’m going to say this just once. And don’t ever—ask—me—about—this— again! You may have to be institutionalized when you’re eighteen.” I lay awake all that night, churning in anxiety over my future. My family was smart and successful. My dad managed a medical clinic. My mom was a school psychologist. My grandfather, aunts, and uncles were doctors, pharmacists, lawyers, and accountants. But I was different from them. I would never learn the things they’d learned. I’d never have a job or a family. Who would marry me? I was going to end up in a mental hospital. That was how it was. My mother said so, and my whole family probably believed it. I lay there imagining my dismal, lonely future life in a mental institution. Back then, the autistic and “retarded” were put into mental institutions with the insane. I didn’t know about autism but knew my mother didn’t think I was insane, so she must think I was retarded. I’d seen mental institutions in movies and TV shows. They were dark, dirty places where crazy and retarded people sat silently all day, or walked around mumbling to themselves, or screamed and acted out until men in white coats came and dragged them away. There was nothing to do there but play checkers and walk up and down the halls. And once you were sent there, you never got out. My mother told us stories about her psychology training at a teaching hospital. One story was about a small, unusual-looking child she’d done developmental testing on. After passing the low results on to her instructor, she was given the child’s records. The child was older than she was! It wasn’t a child at all! From the way she told the story I knew it had profoundly affected her. This story came back to me now

Dummy: a Memoir  

David Patten was born in 1954 with a cognitive disorder (later diagnosed in the Autism Spectrum) that profoundly challenged his ability to p...

Dummy: a Memoir  

David Patten was born in 1954 with a cognitive disorder (later diagnosed in the Autism Spectrum) that profoundly challenged his ability to p...

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