Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Kim Peek and the World of Disabilities


But if I say "Rain Man" everyone will know who I'm referring to.

Initially, Kim Peek, who died December 19 at age 58, was diagnosed with a condition called Macrocephaly.  It was said he had autism, a developmental disability that my youngest brother in law also has.  But in recent years, that diagnosis was disputed.  It is possible that he had a rare syndrome called FG Syndrome.  What we knew was he was a genius in some ways, but unable to take care of himself.

No doubt though that the Rain Man character had autism.  That movie probably did more to advance the cause of dispelling prejudice about mental disabilities than anyone else. The character was sympathetic and believable.  We cheered for him.  When we think of autism, we think of Rain Man.

Kim Peek, as a result of the movie, also had a chance to become, if you will, an ambassador to break down the barriers between those with autism and those of us who people with autism call "neurotypical".  I've read that he traveled more than 60 million miles during his life, sharing his story and skills with students all over the world.  And now that the latest estimates of children who will develop autism are one in every 110 live births, we need all of the knowledge we can get.

We didn't feel sorry for Kim Peek.  We didn't feel sorry for Rain Man.  And that is how it should be.

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