Stephen Wilshire, an autistic savant from England has visited Israel this week. Being an autistic savant is a mental condition that describes an autistic person who is exceptionally gifted. The autistic savants comprise around 10 percent of people who are generally diagnosed with autism. Autistic savants often exhibit rare talent for numbers like in the famous movie “The Rain man”(1988), starring Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman. Studies also show that many autistic savants have a phenomenal memory.
Stephen Wilshire did not speak at all when he was a child. Instead, he used to draw. At young age, Stephen started to communicate with his surroundings through his drawings. Stephen is an internationally acclaimed artist since the age of 13. Indeed, the autistic savant syndrome proves that there is no apparent contradiction between intelligence and poor social skills.
While Autistic savants enjoy the media spotlight, most autistic people have to deal with a harsh social reality. Unfortunately, those of us who has a mental disability have to cope with social prejudice. This observation has been strongly supported by a recent survey compiled by The Israel Association of Community Centers (IACC). According to this distressing report, more than 50% of all businesses in Israel refuse to hire the mentally impaired. Those who do hire them, pay them a wage that is equivalent to half the minimum wage. Moreover, almost twenty percent of all Israelis have never talked to a mentally impaired person.
Are we the impaired ones? A society that treats its less fortunate members this way is not a healthy society. The education system must take the matter into its hands as soon as possible, in order to promote social integration in the near future.