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Online Extra
March 2005



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Mind Tree Poems

Beyond the Brain Online Extra
Photograph by Cary Wolinsky


Severely autistic at 15, Tito Mukhopadhyay—with special care from his mother, Soma—finds eloquent expression through writing.




Foreword from The Mind Tree:

Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, known as Tito, together with his mother, Soma, spent a day at Elliot House (The Centre for Social and Communication Disorders run by The National Autistic Society) in December 1999. The house was full that day. As well as the Elliot House staff, there was Dr. Beate Hermelin, an expert in the field of autism and autistic savants, and a team from BBC television who were making a program about Tito.
 
Before Tito's visit, we had heard about him from Richard Mills, The National Autistic Society's Director of Services, who had met him and his family in India. We had also read some of his writings. We were intrigued, but inclined to be skeptical. There was no doubt that some individuals with autism have one or more remarkable talents far ahead of the rest of their abilities. However, these talents usually involve visuospatial or rote memory skills such as calendar calculations, numbers, drawing, remembering train timetables, and so on.
 
But Tito was apparently able to use long words in complex sentences and to express philosophical thoughts about life. This would not be too surprising in an adult with the pattern of behavior described by Asperger, with good expressive language and a high level of general ability. The remarkable point about Tito was that, at 11 years old, he could make only a few sounds that approximated to words. He had a few basic practical skills but was completely dependent on his parents, especially his mother. He had to be closely supervised and guided in social situations to make sure that his behavior was socially acceptable. His mother had taught him to read and write by using an alphabet board. From the age of six years he has written by himself using a pencil. [In addition to this book, he has written many others, often in verse, in his own handwriting.] He sometimes uses an alphabet board when interviewed, pointing to the letters while the words he spells are read out by his mother. The family speak both Bengali and English, and Tito spells his words in English.
 
When he arrived at Elliot House, Tito's observable behavior was exactly like that of a mute child with classic autism, ignoring people but exploring the objects that took his attention. Soma settled him down and wrote the alphabet on a piece of paper. We asked questions and Tito pointed to the letters to spell his replies. He did this independently, without any physical guidance from his mother. He replied to questions in full sentences, including long words used appropriately. He also spontaneously told us, in handwriting, that he wanted the book he had written to be published and demanded a promise that this would happen. Dr Judith Gould asked him to do the British Picture Vocabulary Scale, which requires the person doing the test to demonstrate the meaning of individual words or phrases by pointing to one of four possible pictures for each one. Tito reached the level achieved by people aged 19 years!
 
The contrast between Tito's overt, typically autistic behavior—at one point he grabbed my hand to use it as a mechanical tool to turn a stiff door handle—and the sophistication of the language expressed through his alphabet board was truly amazing. Soma had taught him intensively from the time he was about 2 1/2 years old. She used the technique, familiar to parents and teachers of children with autism, of moving his limbs through the motions needed for each task, including pointing, until he learnt the feel of the muscle movements. Tito himself has described his inability to initiate movements without such guidance. This seems to support the proponents of facilitated communication, who believe that all children with autistic disorders, however severely learning disabled they appear to be, are potentially capable of understanding and expressing complex ideas if helped by appropriate physical guidance.
 
It is important to emphasize that Tito showed, very early on, clear signs of good cognitive ability through his recognition of and ability to match numbers, letters and shapes. This encouraged his mother to work with him, using her truly remarkable intelligence, ingenuity and dedication, with the results we have seen. Children who do not exhibit any signs of good cognitive ability are very unlikely indeed to develop skills through any method of teaching, including facilitated communication. The fact that Tito began to write for himself at the age of six is corroboration of the fact that the ideas he expresses are his own.
 
Tito's writings are characteristic of someone with an autistic disorder in that they basically revolve around himself and his personal experiences. When one considers the physical and psychological disabilities he has to overcome, this self absorption is perhaps not so surprising. Despite this, his writing provides a vivid description of what it is like to be autistic and his thoughts about the meaning of life. It is essential reading for anyone wanting to understand the nature of autism.
 
Individuals with autistic disorders are endlessly fascinating. Those like Tito, with remarkable skills in contrast to their general level of disability, arouse feelings of wonder, astonishment and intellectual curiosity, which are among the many rewards experienced by those working in this field.
 
All of us who met Tito and Soma on that unforgettable day wish them both, for the future, every happiness and fulfillment of their ambitions.
 
Lorna Wing
Consultant Psychiatrist



Poem 1
 
Men and women are puzzled by everything I do
Doctors use different terminologies to describe me
I just wonder
The thoughts are bigger than I can express
Every move that I make shows how trapped I feel
Under the continuous flow of happenings
The effect of a cause becomes the cause of another effect
And I wonder
I think about the times when I change the environment around me
With the help of my imagination
I can go places that do not exist
And they are like beautiful dreams.
But it is a world full of improbabilities
Racing towards uncertainty.


Poem 4
 
When you are trying to think blue
And end up thinking black
You can be sure to be frustrated
Time and again it happens to me
And I get quite helpless
Otherwise why should I get up and spin myself
Spinning my body
Brings some sort of harmony to my thoughts
So that I can centrifuge away all the black thoughts
I realise that the faster I spin
The faster I drive away the black
When I am sure that even the last speck of black
Has gone away from me
Then I spin back in the opposite direction
And pull the blue thoughts into myself
It depends on how much blue I want
If I want more blue I have to spin faster
Otherwise not so fast
It's just like being a fan
The trouble is when I stop spinning
My body scatters
And it's so difficult to collect it together again


Poem 5

Long long ago
When nothing was there
And God got bored with himself
He made everything
Then he got bored
With everything that was perfect
And so planned to make some distortions
So he made some like me
Who as they say have lost their minds
As I sat on the swing in the playground
The teachers words tossed in the air
Like bubbles of soap all around me
I did not play with them by waving them away
But I tried to feel them by waving them in and out
When I walked out of the classroom
The tail of words followed me
Words made of letters
Crawling like ants
In a disciplined row


Poem 7

The Mind Tree

Maybe it is night
Maybe it is day
I can't be sure
Because I'm not yet feeling the heat of the sun
I am the mind tree
When I had been gifted this mind of mine
I recall his voice very clearly
To you I have given this mind
And you shall be the only kind
No one ever will like you be
And I name you the mind tree
I can't see or talk
Yet I can imagine
I can hope and I can expect
I am able to feel pain but I cannot cry
So I just be and wait for the pain to subside
I can do nothing but wait
My concerns and worries
Are trapped within me somewhere in my depths
Maybe in my roots
Maybe in my bark
When he comes next who gifted me my mind
I shall ask him for the gift of sight
I doubt his return and
Yet hope for it
Maybe he will
Maybe he will not
 

Poem 8

In a place called Somewhere
There lived happiness
Somewhere was a place of Paradise
But one day from Nowhere
Came Sorrow to the place called Somewhere
Happiness asked Sorrow to leave
The place called Somewhere
Sorrow went back to Nowhere
And then occupied the hearts of people
Who are kind and compassionate
As they never refused anybody a place to stay
So if you feel the pain
Which a person who has lost his mind bears
If your heart aches when you see a tear in someone's eyes
If you are ready to accept such a person and help him
You can be sure
That you have sheltered sorrow in your heart.
 

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