Last December, I ended a post with the following question: If there is indeed a heaven, and our autistic children go there when they die, will they still be autistic? The answer, according to the writers of the CBS show Ghost Whisperer is an unambiguous “NO.”
In case you’re not familiar with the show, it is about a woman – Melinda – who helps the troubled spirits of those who die “cross over” into the light. Last Friday’s show (13 October) was about an autistic man who died but was not ready to leave. About half way through the episode, Melinda and her husband – Jim – realize that the man is autistic and that that is why they are having a hard time communicating with him and trying to figure out why he won’t cross over. Here’s the conversation they had (paraphrased to the best of my recollection) :
Jim: But if he’s dead, why is he still autistic? Shouldn’t he be cured?
Melinda: Yes, every soul is perfect. Maybe he has to cross over first.
I’m sure many of you started sputtering at Jim’s question, I can only imagine the reaction to Melinda’s response. At the same time, I know that there are just as many people who agree with what these two characters said and believed, who can’t imagine that these ‘damaged’ people would remain damaged for eternity.
To be fair to the show, it was actually presented a decent portrayal of the issues and challenges around autism. A group home for autistics was shown, with the ‘director’ of the home explaining autism a bit to Melinda. Though she touched on some common characteristics, she did not stereotype autism. The (dead) autistic man was living with an autistic woman and died accidentally. He was trying to reunite his girlfriend with her mother – who had institutionalized her many years earlier when doctors blamed the autism on her (refrigerator mother) – before he could cross over.
But that one little statement, that I’m sure the writers didn’t even think about beyond “where’s a good place for him to ask this question,” pointed out a – THE – fundamental divide between people when they talk about autism: is it something bad to be feared and eradicated; or is it something to be understood and accepted?
— Note: In case you’re wondering, they didn’t explcitly show the man being ‘cured,’ but his mannerisms and demeanor changed as he was crossing over in a way that could only mean that he was, indeed, becoming a ‘perfect’ soul.