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Dispatches From The Front: Keep Austin Weird

Dispatch Ben HeadshotDispatches from the Front;  a series of sketches for parents of children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder their relatives, caregivers, and friends.

Chapter 6

Read Chapter 5 and click through to 4,3,2 and 1 here.  Stay tuned for a final post that has the entire series. We hope you've enjoyed Dispatches From the Front.

By Dan Burns

            I caught up with Zero on the Capitol building steps in Austin looking south toward Congress Avenue.  I asked him to pose for a picture and got out my iPhone.

            “Knock knock,” he said.

            “Who's there?”

            “Mmmm …” said Zero.  “Who do you want to be there?”

            I snapped the photo. It showed a tall awkward kid; knock kneed, head too small for his shoulders, with a goofy look on his face, clowning like a youngster.

            “It doesn’t look like you.”        

            “I can change my bone structure to look like I’m fourteen.”

            “How do you do that?”

            “Tai Chi.”

            While we walked down the steps and strolled toward downtown, Zero shared his secret: using a Tai Chi energy ball to reconfigure his facial features. He rubbed his hands together as if to warm them, then pulled them gently apart, expanding the energy connection.

            “Try it. Feel it?”

            I sensed something like a magnetic force or an invisible ball of warm cotton between my palms.

            “Now thwo the ball to your left hand, then back to your right.”

            It felt like rocking a slinky back and forth.

            “Bwing your hands up beside your head, but don’t touch.”

            I felt warmth in my head.

            “Enowgy,” said Zero. He took my picture and showed it to me.

            “I look like that?” I asked.

            “Mmmm … not weally,” said Zero. “That’s your Atman.”

            Interesting but it wouldn’t pay the mortgage. The ranch needed funds, and Zero needed work. His job search was not going well. He’d put in a few on line applications in the outer shopping malls– night shelf stocker at Sam’s Club, desk clerk at Embassy Suites – but there were no call backs. “Zero, you’ve got to follow up,” I’d advised him “Go there in person and apply.” “I pweach followup!” he’d exclaimed, but his heart wasn’t in it. Who could blame him? I thought of the bland suburban superstores of Cedar Park. Not exciting. Austin was a different story.

            “Now I’ll show you something,” I said.


            “The town.”

           The North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un had released a propaganda photo tracing the line of a missile path from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to Austin. Why, of all the targets in the world, would this small river city that calls itself a town rise to the top of a despot’s must-destroy list? My guess: freedom.

            If you are an aspiring musician, artist, writer, filmmaker, or techno-entrepreneur seeking to become your authentic self, and if you are anywhere near Texas, you will likely bring your dreams to Austin. It is the city of perpetual youth, fueled by live music, hormones, and hope. A good place for Zero and his Atman theory.

            We walked down Congress Avenue then turned left on 6th street toward the entertainment district. A young woman approached us in front of the landmark Driskell Hotel, soliciting funds for Time Out, an LGBT Youth Organization benefitting homeless gay kids. I fished out two dollars out of my billfold and dropped it in her can. Zero spotted a five dollar bill in my wallet. “Give her the five,” he said. I did. We walked on.

            “I wish I was homeless,” said Zero.


            “I’d be fwee.”

            “Ever been homeless?”

            “Ummm … sort of. When my dad found out I’m bi he kicked me out.”

            So Zero was coming out to me. I wasn’t surprised. Angela and I suspected that family dynamics were at the root of his problems. My church sheltered homeless GLBT kids. Fundamentalist father, gay son banished. Same story.

            We turned left of Brazos Street, walking north past the old-world Firehouse Lounge, the city’s oldest fire station, now a bar and youth hostel.

            “Knock knock, said Zero.

            “We already did that,” I said. I was tired of his juvenile prattle.
            “I know something we haven’t done,” said Zero.


            “We haven’t dated.”

            I was shocked. Wondered if I’d heard him right.

            “Did you date staff at the group homes in Missouri?”

            “Ummm … it’s complicated.”

            “I don’t date campers,” I said. His proposition was, to use the staff term, "inappropriate." Shocking.  Preposterous.

            Zero saw that he had gone too far and backed off. “I nevah dated an old guy like you.”

            Mutual rejection. Now we were even. But the proposition stuck in my mind. Zero had clearly signaled that he was available. I filed that away in a dark corner of my mind.  A very dark corner.

            We turned left on 8th Street, past the State Paramount Theater playing “The Dark Knight Rises,” then north on Congress Avenue, sweating. We stopped for soft drinks at the Hickory Street Bar and Grill, a cool cozy half-basement tucked into a hill behind a garden patio one block south of the Capitol. Zero made himself a large suicide soda, a combination of all the soft drinks in the machine. Braving the rising heat, which was approaching body temperature, we took our drinks to the patio and watched the tourists.

            “Well,” I asked Zero, “What do you think of our fair city?”

            “Where can I buy an AK-47?” he asked. He was grinning, conspiratorial. Was he joking? I flashed on the Aurora, Arizona, movie theater massacre just weeks before.

            “Zero,” I asked, “why were you institutionalized at age five?”

            He replied, sadly, “Nobody can wemember.”

            When I got back to Dallas I sent an email to Angela: “I spent the morning with Zero. He’s in and out of reality and boiling with suppressed rage. We still have not received his case file, long past due. If he stays unconditionally, I fear that Hope Ranch is in for a rough ride. Your thoughts?”

            She replied, “We are still not completely breaking even each month and I am making up the difference. The awkward truth is that can we cannot afford to lose Zero.”

            That night I dream of fingers on the piano keys and I hear the slow heartbeat of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. On top of the old upright piano, a poster of Che Guevara and a human skull. A boy’s hand appears on the back of the pianist’s neck, my neck. I feel someone stroking my left earlobe. Before the final, somber Moonlight chord, a door opens, my bedroom door. The boy’s hand freezes. I stop playing. The door closes quietly. An adolescent voice whispers in my ear, “Finish it. Finish it. Finish it.”



Hera said, "Somebody in the past taught Zero that adult authoritarian friendship is linked with sexuality"

That came to my mind too - and I just cannot bear to go there and just shut it down.

that might be why he has fantasies of grouping adult authorities together as spawn.


Sorry to write a third comment here; here is one organizational view on the ethics of case histories

Dan Burns

Eileen, and everyone, Chapter 7, to be written and published later this summer, will deal with the dilemma I faced as Zero revealed himself. What was at stake for me, the ranch, the vision -- and Zero? I appreciate the thoughts you and others have shared.

On Tuesday, May 31, Age of Autism will combine the chapters serialized this week and publish them as a single post. I hope you and everyone else who reads these chapters will help me get the word out.

Our children are aging into a world ill-prepared for them. Watch for Tuesday’s “mashup” post. Then Facebook, Tweet, encourage more comments. We must tell our stories.


Here is a comedy act kind of making the point that some things should be personal ( warning they do use the F word)

Of course, Zero may be fine with all this and I may be completely off base.


Just wondering here; this is getting into some pretty personal stuff. Has Zero given full permission for this? Does he know that his sexual behaviors are going to be included in this?

There may be a time when this kind of deeply personal information isn't something he wants "out there" even under an assumed name. And our kids aren't as good as some at seeing potential social consequences anyway.

I know if this was my kid you were writing about, I'd be stopping it right there.
Of course, an adult can make their own choices, but an adult writing their own story will tend to self edit the things they find too embarrassing. An outsider may include things that the individual would have left out, and may be fairly embarrassed to know is included in their personal story on the web.
To be fair; I tend to be super aware of personal privacy; have known a couple of people whose very personal stuff ended out on the web, and who long term, were unhappy about it.

Re the story so far though; it seems likely that somebody in the past taught Zero that adult authoritarian friendship is linked with sexuality. I suspect the story there may be both too personal , and also very sad.

Patience (Eileen Nicole) Simon

Dan, What a beautiful plan you envisioned and have begun. Can you apply for funding from NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health)?

You envisioned this for people reaching adulthood who were diagnosed as autistic in early childhood. Dealing with people like Zero is something you never expected, and seems like a huge distraction, also scary if he is suicidal and/or homicidal.

My son's needs have been pushed aside by the mainstream mental health system, which does concern itself more with with people like Zero. You have the right to be very explicit about the clients you can serve. Places like Hope Ranch are needed for autistic adults.

The truth is so simple it hurts

wow. what a powerful piece.

Angus Files

Thanks Dan for the thought provoking article.For me it takes me back to the Linda Perry song very emotional song "Letter To God" around that time she was and probably still is doing lots of awareness for LGBT.

The lyrics go

"Dear God, I'm writing this letter to you
'Cause I don't have a clue, can you help me?
I'm sitting here, simply trying to figure out"

I cannot stop thinking how much of the LGBT ,and gayness is vaccine induced as I have read a few articles and if it weren't for estragon the females would be as autistic as the males.



IT amazes me that Dragon Ball Z , a cartoon show that had their characters mostly standing still in the sky having dialogues, mostly in their heads; before conjuring up energy balls to throw at each other - turned out to be such a powerful draw for my son, my son's friends, and apparently Zero. I had not thought about Zero being in and out of reality. I thought he is really into fantasy and playing, but if called on it would know the difference, he really would know that it was not true. But then again; he is on disability, so some one has evaluated him and knows like Dan Burns, Zero is serious .

My son thinks maybe he can touch where some one that is hurting, and he can make it go away. I don't thing he really believes it, but is willing to try, and if nothing else it shows concern for another human being. I would see him a lot, out by himself or in the house, making the motions of making a Dragon energy ball, but not in public. He knows the difference, but fantasy and daydreaming has a great pull on him.

Another thing is epilepsy. Seizures can fool a person. Seizures makes a person think they have been or done something before --- Da ja vu' . So, perhaps Da ja vu' feelings are always - seizures. How much of their reality is being distorted by seizures? Does seizures make you daydream, more? I think the immune system does.

Adding sex to the mix; the question that burned into me was; If a parent is willing to be very observant and watchful can they stop at the very beginning; very young children from associating sex and violence together, or is it just a matter of the ill luck of the brain injury, and nothing can be done? IF a parents is watchful enough can they teach a higher functioning child about how to behave when it comes to sex.

On top that; this generation has the internet. Wow!
Lots of young men are getting into trouble at work - watching porno, these days.
And Fox News has these segments almost every morning about these young men, not moving out from home, or getting married -- what is wrong with them, they say.

I wonder if Hartland has tried to institutionalize Zero; that would be interesting to know.

Dan Burns

Readers, what do you think of the was Zero's mind works. Are you surprised by his history? By the sexuality in this chapter?

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