In the 'Silent Prison' of Autism, Ido Kedar Speaks Out

By Curwen, Thomas | The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV), December 27, 2013 | Go to article overview

In the 'Silent Prison' of Autism, Ido Kedar Speaks Out


Curwen, Thomas, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV)


LOS ANGELES - I t-h-i-n-k .

Ido Kedar sits at the dining room table of his West Hills home. He fidgets in his chair, slouched over an iPad, typing. He hunts down each letter. Seconds pass between the connections.

... A-u-t-i-s-m-l-a-n-d ...

He coined the word, his twist on Alice's Wonderland.

"C'mon," says his mother, Tracy. "Sit up and just finish it, Ido. Let's go."

He touches a few more keys, and then, with a slight robotic twang, the iPad reads the words he cannot speak.

I think Autismland is a surreal place.

For most of his life, Ido has listened to educators and experts explain what's wrong with him. Now he wants to tell them that they had it all wrong.

Last year, at the age of 16, he published "Ido in Autismland." The book - part memoir, part protest - has made him a celebrity in the autism world, a young activist eager to defy popular assumptions about a disorder that is often associated with mental deficiency.

He hopes that the world will one day recognize the intelligence that lies behind the walls of his "silent prison," behind the impulsivity and lack of self-control.

I want people to know that I have an intact mind.

Yet Ido gets nervous easily and likes to retreat to his room or to a cooking program on television. At one point, after answering a few questions, he steps outside to pace beside the family swimming pool.

He plucks a rose and puts its petals into his mouth.

During summer, when temperatures in the San Fernando Valley push into triple digits, Ido's refrain is "osha, osha," and his father, Sharon, drives him over the mountains to the ocean.

Approaching Zuma Beach on a Sunday afternoon in September, Sharon repeats the rules: "Follow my instructions, and stay behind me at all times."

"Eee, num, num, num," Ido says with a laugh.

"You're happy now that we're going to the beach," Sharon says.

They drop their towels in the sand by Tower 12. Ido waves his arms and grabs Sharon's arm as they march into the waves.

Autism, Ido says, is like being on LSD, something he learned about in health class, and his experience in the world can be at times terrifying and overwhelming. Sensory minutiae that in other people are filtered and organized, collide indiscriminately in his brain. Feelings of anger, sadness, even silliness can escalate, and he can have difficulty calming down.

The water surges around them. The sound of the waves and sea gulls, the voices and screams of children and families, the surf, rising and falling, its ceaseless crescendo and diminuendo, rushes at Ido as a terrible cacophony like the buzzing of mosquitoes, loud and inescapable.

As unsettling and as unpredictable as autism is, it also brings a strange pleasure to Ido's life. Glints of sunshine, pockets of shade mesmerize him, and objects in motion reveal traces of acceleration, like stop-motion photography.

He grabs a strand of kelp, strips off the leaves and begins whipping it over and over in an S-pattern against the dissolving foam. Waves rise and fall against him, but he stays focused on the movement that he's created against the water's surface.

Like many of his repetitive behaviors - arm-flapping, finger- dancing, string-twirling - this gesture, referred to in the autistic community as a "stim" (for self-stimulation), enhances sensations around him and has a narcotic effect.

They take me to a sensory experience that is pretty intoxicating. I don't get lightheaded, but I can get so absorbed in a stim I sort of vanish from my personhood.

A half-hour later, Ido and Sharon are heading home. Ido cues the "Nutcracker Suite" on the CD player. Tchaikovsky is one of his favorite composers. Flutes and oboes, trumpets and tuba, triangle, celesta and glockenspiel begin to weave their complex melody.

Music is a beautiful gift. I see pretty images of moving light. Different composers have different patterns. …

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