Desperate existential despair is not a grade on the autistic spectrum

by Luke Gittos

The portly nine year old nihilist hopped off the last step of the council bus and spent a moment staring at the ground.

‘Fattened by the Rhotis used to silence him at dinner,’ said Meera, my middle aged Goan colleague. ‘Indian families like his cannot handle any victory for despair over optimism.’ I nodded like I knew what she was talking about. Reg, the recently widowed bus driver shouted after the boy:

‘See you Raj.’

The boy looked up at him and then back at the centre, where we ushered him in. His file said he had lost his father in 2004 Tsunami.

Raj spent his days sighing every minute. While silenced by autism, the breath he pushed through his cheeks carried every word that had ever been said on misery. Too too sullied flesh melted between his teeth. The boy could not play. He would meet every suggestion with the same puff of his cheeks, the same desperately sad eyes.

Entertaining him became an initiation ritual for overly enthusiastic student staff members. Joyous young women desperate to spread their banal love of live would be reduced to a state resembling juvenile M.E within 20 minutes of encountering the boy’s trenchant gloom. Legend goes that his first support worker resorted to eating an entire Playstation, piece by piece, in the hope that his digitised burps and lacerated gut would break the child’s cycle of autistic indifference.

Eventually we had to mark on the sheet where it said ‘moderate risk of self harm’.

When we found the piece of paper which said the boy had an involuntary spasm which ‘had the appearance of a disappointed sigh’ we laughed and ruffled his short cropped hair. There was no misery, just muscles contracting around his face and gut, portraying sadness without content.

When I told Reg, the widowed bus driver, he was unconvinced:

‘That boy rides with me for three hours after the other kids have been dropped off, until his mum gets home. He’s never made that noise on my bus. Not once.’

Raj got on the bus, pushing his way past me.

‘Afternoon Raj,’ Reg said, and asked me to step off so he could start the drive home.

I saw in a flick in Reg’s cheek as he drove away, asking Raj how the day had panned out. An involuntary spasm of paternal solidarity, care flowing from the man like an unstoppable wave.

Luke Gittos is a writer from London

  1. #1 by madssukalikar on January 13, 2014 - 9:46 am

    Lovely! You have a fantastic way with words.

  2. #2 by Rhoda Greaves on January 13, 2014 - 12:39 pm


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