I belatedly heard about Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay’s newest book, Plankton Dreams: What I Learned in Special-Ed, which he wrote in 2015, so my review here is two years late. In my opinion, that’s no sin. We authors get lots of reviews in the beginning, but few later on. Since this book deserves your attention, it’s good to write about it later on too.
For those who have not heard of Tito, he is Soma’s son, the first recipient of RPM, or however she referred to teaching her son how to communicate at the time. While everyone else with autism got 1+1 and play-doh, he got physics and Socrates and a true classical education. This is home-schooling Soma style. When scientists heard about Tito and his erudition and independent skills typing in a very autistic looking exterior, they wanted to study him, test him, and so on. I first heard of him just before I learned to type. My experts said he was “one in a million,” and my ABA supervisor said he wasn’t really autistic because his typing proved he had been misdiagnosed. In other words, he has been knocking down their doors for a long time and each book pushes a bit harder.
This memoir “novella,” (it is a short book), is sad, funny and biting satire. When Soma and Tito moved to Austin, Texas from India so she could teach communication to autistic kids, Tito had to go someplace during the day while she worked. The system being what it is, this brilliant, educated young man who moved autistically, got sent to a special day low expectation autism class. He used this time to analyze, like an anthropologist or social scientist, the absurdity of his situation. He studies “scientifically,” how people react to him sniffing their heads, rummaging in their purses and spinning their chairs. All for the sake of science! He savages the system.
“I created my own learning goals…” he writes. “I analyzed the responses of people to these situations—what I call my social experiments. I became an empiricist. Why shouldn’t the autist study the neurotypical?”
Here he conducts a head sniffing experiment on his teacher, among others.“Mr. Gardener…did not want me to sniff his head. He would rather dodge my approaching nose or stand on his toes so that my nose could not do what it longed to do. Mr. Gardener was bending over his desk, providing a rather complete view of his head.” And like a scientist, he collected data. “He jumped higher than the bus attendant—I could tell. It was a perfect jump, his star like head antigravitating away from Planet Earth.”
He describes the people in his world in special-ed: the students, the teacher, the aide, the teaching assistant, the administrators, the bus driver, the do-gooders (“Mr. Goodness Gracious”), and also his own boredom in this environment. Tito conveys his surreal existence, bored and analyzing his boredom through his sensory lens of highly educated philosophy. Sometimes the book is laugh out loud funny. Sometimes it is tragic-comedy. This book is unique because Tito is fully into Autismland perspective as he writes.