Zero Dark Minds

My wife has been the major contributor to this blog.  I haven’t posted anything here in quite a while but we all need to stand up and be counted – Atypicaldad.


I recently had the opportunity to take an IQ test – not one of those things advertised on internet banner ads with dancing emoticons, but a real, in-person, insurance-covered neuropsychological evaluation. While the final results are not complete, it is safe to draw two conclusions: A.) I’m not crazy (determining this was not the point of the exercise, but it’s still good to know). B. I am significantly below average in certain intellectual functioning. Significantly. As in, put all 360 million Americans in a room together, ask all the people who scored below me to leave, and there’d still be more than 300 million people in that room (even assuming the people scoring lower were able to follow directions).

I’m sharing this information out of solidarity with my son. I’ve made it through my life without people knowing such a deficit exists and even those closest to me would be shocked by its degree.

Strangely enough, I found the results reassuring. I knew I sucked at puzzles; that I have trouble with names and faces; that I find it impossible to do math in my head and keeps sets of numbers straight; that I don’t recall sequences correctly (which results in a warped understanding of consequences), but it had never been quantified or explored in any systemic way. While it’s possible a forgotten childhood fall short-circuited some neurons, the likeliest explanation is I was born this way. The die was cast at the moment of conception.

Now I know.

And now you know only because I told you. Yet you already knew these things, or at least suspected them, about my son. His face and other features act as a code, apparent and plain: There Are Concerns About This Person. We immediately place people into the context of Other People I Have Known Who Look Like That. For people with Down syndrome it’s a highly specific context. We all think we have a good understanding what those concerns are. It’s not the typical first impression.

All of this was rattling in the back of my brain as I perused the comments on a story about the investigation into Robert Ethan Saylor’s death.

Robert Ethan Saylor

Robert Ethan Saylor

Among the outpouring of anger grief and regret, there was one person – a troll you might say – with an ax to grind. Her personal context placed Robert in what I describe as the Master-Blaster Down syndrome archetype, dueling Mad Max (a cop!) inside Thunderdome; a “mind of a child” unable to control its impulses at the helm of a body capable of enormous violence. His death was the fault of his indulgent parents mostly, who let him grow so big and see R-rated movies accompanied by a caretaker physically outmatched by the hulking mongoloid monster on a hair trigger.

Lovely woman, I’m sure.

But this ugliness lays bare the subtext of the investigation’s explicit conclusions: Robert would not have died if didn’t have Down syndrome. It’s nobody’s fault, except maybe his parents. It’s a strange conclusion and I wonder if it would have been the same if three men jumped on an elderly woman, confused in a theater, threw her face down and cuffed her hands behind her back. Of course the conclusion would have been different. The decision to make a tense scene hostile and a hostile scene violent would have been viewed as wholly unnecessary – unless you’re dealing with Master-Blaster without his master.

It’s the “mind of a child thing” that gets me the most. My son has the mind of a child, an observation based entirely on the fact that he’s a six-year-old. However that mind grows and develops in the years ahead, one thing will remain constant: It will always, always be a human mind. It will be the mind of a 16-year-old person and a 28-year-old person and a 67-year-old person. He doesn’t exist in your frame of reference alone.

I worry that people will refuse to see it that way. This talk of feeble mindedness and superhuman strength diminishes their humanity, which diminishes their divinity. People in positions of authority take advantage of them; hurt them; make them do things they wouldn’t normally do. It is a tragically typical human flaw, to subordinate morality to authority.

People do this because they can, sadly. Who’s going to know what happens in the middle of the night in a halfway house? What could be said? Who would be believed? They’re accommodating punching bags and screens onto whom we project our own flaws, frustrations and lack of power.

When my test is compiled and the elements weighted and averaged, we’ll see where I end up on the Bell curve. My guess is somewhere in the really fat middle. That’s for me to know. No one tries to guess and few people would consider it anything but a piece of personal trivia. I’m skinny and tall, too.

To too many people, it’s my son’s defining characteristic, even if they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about.

It’s not my son’s intellectual capacity that worries me, it’s other people’s capacity to deny his humanity. Robert Saylor deserved more than he got because he has treated as less than he was. That’s not his fault. It’s ours.