By Jeff Lalli
As someone who has exhibited behaviors similar to those with autism since early childhood, I spent a large part of my youth trying to answer some big questions. Like “Who am I?” “Why am I different?” and “How can I learn to connect with other people?”
As a college sophomore this exploration took the form of a spiritual quest. I joined two Christian groups on campus, one rightist, the other more progressive. Although I felt accepted at both, the conservative group held a special attraction for me – specifically, a blonde, blue-eyed, Sicilian-American woman. We both were learning Italian and sometimes would meet to study together, which had me feeling euphoric. “This is it!” I thought. Unfortunately, it was soon clear that my attraction was unrequited.
The day my love interest totally shot me down, I attended a weekly dinner with the liberal church group. Before the meal I sought the Reverend’s advice on how to deal with my broken heart but he didn’t seem to have any answers.
Somehow, that night the emotional pain seemed just too much to bear. One minute I was sitting down to a communal dinner and in the next I was screaming obscenities over my plate of couscous and falafel. The Reverend took me to the back of the facility and asked me what was going on.
If only I could have told him! What I wanted to say, meant to say, was that no matter how hard I tried to be ‘normal’, somehow someone would make it clear that they thought something was “off” about me and abandon me. I knew the people at dinner would put my behavior down to an over-the-top reaction to being turned down for a date. But it was exactly those things that seemed trivial to others that led me to escapades of public self-mutilation.
Somehow I couldn’t seem to put these thoughts together, let alone the words. In the end, I replied, “I guess I’m having trouble seeing the big picture.”
The Reverend tried for his own explanation, “This, autism, I don’t know,” he said sympathetically.
I asked him why he saw me as autistic, and he said that there was nothing else that could explain my behavior. After this conversation an uncomfortable tension grew between us and I decided to leave the group.
A year later, about six months after I started Neurofeedback, I decided to join the Reverend’s Wednesday night prayer group. He welcomed me warmly but still I could feel a sense of apprehension on his part about what I might do. But as the dinner and prayer service progressed, he could see that I was more in control of myself than I had ever been. I talked with humor and animation, made eye contact with everyone and fitted in just like everyone else. After that, the Reverend and I enjoyed a cordial relationship again. It was like a spell had been broken.
The Reverend has never asked me what brought about the change in my behavior, but if he does, I’ll tell him. Neurofeedback. It gave me a chance not only to get in touch with my emotions but actually see that “big picture” that had so long eluded me before.