About Us

Contact Us


The 21st Century

Hacktreks Travel

Hacktreks 2

First Chapters
Dreamscapes 1
Dreamscapes 2
Lifestyles 2

The International Writers Magazine
Reverend Father Antonio Hernández, O.M.D., A.B.F.
Founder of the Independent Order of American Buddhist Fathers


This will seem odd to the reader at first: this article is about me, the writer, the great guy in the by-line whom you all know and love. It always seems, or so I have been told, that I take everything and make it about myself. My answer to that is: How can we not, each of us? We do it all the time. The subject here, however, will make it abundantly clear why it has to be about me.

People are generally shocked by me. Sometimes I think it may be my Buddhist robes, sometimes my skullcap, sometimes the shiny bald head it covers, perhaps my insistence that I am a Jew, as well as a Buddhist priest, but then, perhaps people just don't like me. Friend-making comes easily, and so does socializing, when I feel equal to the tasks. I've been a Buddhist monk for a dozen years, founded my own order in America, and written some instructional materials about Buddhist practice.

I'm a linguist, fluent in thirteen languages and modestly capable in another four. For several years I have been prominent as an anthropologist: being uneducated in that field makes me unpopular, like my Welsh friend Elaine Morgan, who postulates that humans began as semi-aquatic apes. My practice as a doctor of Oriental medicine makes the on-again-off-again anthropological humiliations worthwhile.
My entire life has revolved around science, engineering, art, literature, poetry and music.

Accomplishment in all of those fields is a typical family gift: all my siblings have talent (some, notoriety) in each field. For me, as Einstein once said, "it's in the blood". As a lover of Einstein, I naturally have pursued his line of theoretical physics most of my life. Because of circumstances, I have also spent literally the whole of my life undergoing non-stop philosophical and theological training. Several of my pieces on metaphysics and natural theology are here at "Hackwriters", waiting for me to rope them together into yet another book (so far I've published two books).

After a lifetime of suffering, I was finally diagnosed in 1994 with Tourette Syndrome. That was helpful and revealing, but something else was happening. We didn't know what; we would not know until much later. In the interim, I had a nasty bout that was diagnosed as relapsing multiple sclerosis, and then in 1999 I almost died of the mumps.

In the year 2000 an almost magical thing occurred: I went to see a children's psychiatrist who specialized in autism. We had tossed around the possibility since 1998 that I might be autistic. Me, autistic? Several doctors had already told me, without even blinking, that there was no way I could be autistic. In February of 2000, this wonderful, skilled doctor tested me intensely for nearly an hour. After that she did not hesitate: in a detailed four-page document of notes, she diagnosed Asperger's Autism, also called Asperger's Syndrome. Finally, an answer!

Things incredible and magical have transpired in this realm. In the 1920s, a Russian physician named Luria wrote a slender book about a young man called "S" (we only know he was a young Jewish man whose real name was Solomon). This man, obviously autistic, was a medical wonder: he had the most perfect photographic memory in recorded medical history. Since its publication, Luria's book has been a sort of bible to the medical community. The book is The Mind of a Mnemonist: A Little Book About a Vast Memory by Dr. Alexandr Romanovich Luria, 1st English edition, 1968, published by New York Basic Books.

What Luria had found in Solomon was a staggering condition known as synesthesia, often spelt "synaesthesia". In the case of "S.", the condition helped his mnemonic devices function smoothly. Synesthesia is a rare condition, said to affect roughly one in a million people, that has to do with the senses. For a synesthete, as we are called, the senses are "crossed", we taste shapes, see sounds, literally feel thoughts with our hands, faces or fingertips. The condition is so difficult for people to understand that the layperson finds it spooky and the doctor finds it implausible. But it is real, and is common in high-functioning autistic people, people like me, and Einstein.

It was not until 1943 that an American doctor, Leo Kanner, had studied and named the condition in its severe form. At the very same time, another doctor, the Viennese Hans Asperger, studied the same condition in its highest-functioning state, and also named it autism. Though publishing roughly at the same time as Kanner in 1944, Asperger's work fell by the wayside until the late 1980s.
Autism was a death sentence diagnosis. First called "Kanner's Autism", and later, "Early Infantile Autism (EIA)", the condition, once confirmed, usually led to institutionalization. The children, though to be 'profoundly retarded' for lack of a better term, were pronounced untreatable, incurable, hopeless and useless. Dr. Asperger's children, all brilliant and talented, fit into the world well. They grew, Dr. Asperger followed them throughout their lives, and the world ignored them all.

In the early 1980's, American and British doctors began noticing a curious, unbelievable phenomenon. Treating profoundly autistic children, they noticed that the children's parents appeared to be suffering from a sort of mild form of the same thing. The doctors who noticed this wondered how it could have been missed for so long. What they were seeing, of course, was Asperger's Autism. They did not know that nearly forty years earlier, Asperger had said the condition runs through families, and is handed down the line.

Autismus, the original German term, was once applied to schizophrenics. It made reference to the isolation, social inadequacy, repetitive behavior, love of routine and tics found in schizophrenics. For a long time, autism was understood as an alternate term for schizophrenia. No one had the slightest clue that there could be autistic adults. But autism and schizophrenia are not the same thing, nor are they bedfellows.

A list of people said to be affected by Asperger's is impressive indeed. From Einstein to the late Pope John Paul II; from Bill Gates to Ludwig Wittgenstein. To list them all would require dozens of pages.

Not having much of a chapter on synesthesia in my book about Tourette Syndrome and autism, I thought I would include that here. Dr. Richard Cytowic, a Washington, D.C. , neurologist, is a foremost expert on this phenomenon. In his book, The Man Who Tasted Shapes, Cytowic gives a rather torturous but fascinating glimpse into the details of synesthetic experiences. It is a fine textbook, but here I wish to give a highly personal angle.

First I have to say that two things have dulled my synesthesia: age and multiple sclerosis. The senses just don't work as they formerly did and I've always suspected that a great deal of it vanished as I grew into adolescence. But I still have the basic core of it, and that much, I can describe.
People's voices are most powerful stimuli for me, second only to classical music (Bach, actually). My auditory senses are the most powerful of the synesthesia, followed by my vision. The vision is a tricky thing to describe, because not only voices but words on a page or in my mind create different senses. The best I can do is state that voices have a marvelous, varied texture to them that cannot be outdone by any other sense. Written words, and even languages, create entire landscapes that I can almost reach out and touch mentally. Rarely do I actually feel such texture with my fingers.

Sometimes there is color and sometimes there is what I call "synestheticolor", in which a non-visual sense stimulus creates synesthetic "colors" of its own. This is the case with languages and the written word: these have dimensions to them that I cannot describe, and their own colors which do not exist in nature. For example, things must be considered by the Buddhist term "formations", viz., a build-up to a concept or idea. This can begin with a word. In this case, let it be the Gaelic language. "GAELIC" itself stimulates multiple synesthetic reactions. Whether I read it or say it, or hear it said, it is always the same, a round but pitted, pale blue, glowing, "garlicky-sweet" word.

But reading or speaking Gaelic words means a transition. No longer am I dealing with the sensations of the word "Gaelic" exclusively. Here I am fully in my synesthetic landscape. Reading Gaelic can be painful, because the tangle of vowels is difficult for me to process. It is much better for me to know the words I am reading before I read them. Seeing Gaelic on the page, I am overwhelmed with things I cannot describe.

The sound of the language, on the other hand, varies with the speaker and the speaker's accent. There is the synesthetic response to the voice first, of course. That is separate. The language itself varies a little bit: spoken by a Scot, it is very liquid but nearly solid, very orange in color, with sharp peaks and a sharp-sweet taste. Very pleasant and reminiscent of Spanish. Gaelic spoken by a typical Irish, such as Enya, is very loose, runny, much less orange, pungent and distasteful. So much for comparative philology!

Obviously there is much with which to deal, and in a rapid sequence that would shame a supercomputer. I have always had the same feeling Dr. Luria had: synesthesia is both the origin of, and primary serving-tool for, memory. Though doctors once scoffed at the idea of synesthesia, chalking it up to artistic whimsy, today I am often rebuked for claiming that I can dull or sharpen my synesthesia at will. Well, why not? All my life I trained to this: controlling my senses and emotions.

According to my grade school records, which I researched as an adult, my I.Q. was listed in my second grade year as 111. In the sixth grade, it came out at 122. At the last test I ever had, aged 17, it was averaged out to be 164. A normal I.Q. ranges between 95 and 105. Gifted begins at 125; "severely" or "profoundly" gifted begins at 132. Though I personally believe these numbers mean nothing, they certainly mean something. They mean capacity. They mean potential. They mean the difference between an eccentric genius and a retarded savant. But they can also represent no more than a different way of thinking, or mere laziness.

Armed with multiple talents and such an I.Q., my life had never been simple to defend or even maintain. Social blunders of galactic proportions used to afflict me. People seemed angry at me, and I never knew why. Certainly I was conscious of blurting out things that were supposed to remain in my thoughts. But then, I had always believed everyone was exactly like me. How wrong I was.
Emotions always meant little to me. Definitely I felt, very likely as much as anyone else. It was problematic at best to express how I felt, so I didn't bother. Once when I was about seven, I was playing with some friends in the alley. One of the other kids was swinging a large metal squeegee and it accidentally struck me on the head, full force. Never had I felt such pain.

Yet I stood, silently, unmoving, then turned on my heel and went home. I told my mother what had happened, and she carefully examined the large bump on my head. I was annoyed, as usual, about the alarmed fuss being made over me. The entire time I hardly blinked, but I did finally cry about it... much, much later. It took all the accumulated pain and humiliation to finally make me cry a few tears. Though I had severe tantrums as a child, they were usually for good reason. But the sting of that injury prevented me from ever striking anyone.
Tiny as that memory is, it is autism at its worst.
My form of autism, at its best, can be glorious.
Never striking anyone as a child or as an adult is actually part of that glorious aspect. Autism helps me understand the world in a scientific, logical way, also a magical, progressive way that I think is blocked to normal people. It helps me feel and experience the poetry in film, the music in literature, the incredible gustatory tastes to be savored in music. It helps me literally feel the written word in my hands. It helps me think, speak and write.
Sometimes it occurs to me that without autism, I might indeed be hopeless.

Rev. Dr. Antonio Hernández May 23rd 2005

More Comment and Lifestyles


© Hackwriters 1999-2005 all rights reserved