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I had not been warned.
Within seconds of being introduced to my new charge for the school year, the boy dug his ragged nails through my shirt and wrenched my nipple with all of his strength. Then he flew forward to bite my arm, and my supervisor laughed weakly. I held the boy back from sinking his teeth in, and he nailed me in the shin with his shoe.
He was a beautiful child, with the face and tousled hair of a French Recoco cherub. He also had the most severe case of autism I had seen, or would ever see. Unable to speak, he’d mastered only two signs, more and swing. That was the extent of his language, and he was six years old. His behavior was so unmanageable that he required a one-on-one aide at all times. In addition to being violent both against himself and others, he was an escape artist and a nudist at heart. In the seconds it took me to get a tissue for his nose, he’d transform from clothed to bare and be streaking away to attack someone.
He was not deaf, but he could not understand words. He was not blind, but he could not understand to duck from a ball flying at his face. He would not eat except from a strict menu, one that unfortunately included glue sticks. Often he would take my hands and press them hard to the sides of his head, desperate for me to quell some internal disarray that he could not elucidate. His sensory processing difficulties rendered the world a freewheeling kaleidoscope of nonsense to his eyes and ears and skin, to his senses of smell and taste, and he lived in chaos.
I wrote the science fiction short story Grayscale with this boy in mind. To not be able to trust that your senses are feeding the right information, for color to be an assault, voices and tastes an agitation turns the world into an enemy. Machinist Dalton Rawling has long managed his sensory dysfunction by shutting out all that which he cannot cope. He eats the same meals day to day and keeps his house quiet and sparsely decorated, and when his wife divorces him for being unwilling to leave Alaska, he closes down more. Thinking that the Moon will have even less to agitate his skewed senses, he accepts a four-month rotation to work on their paving machines. But there he has to confront a painful truth that the best memories of his life have been with the one person who put some color into it.