Cows, Bread and Autism

As many of you already know, our younger son, Jacob, now 25, is severely autistic: while he is quite intelligent, he has very limited speech capability, equivalent to about a typical three year old. Despite his disability, Jake is very outgoing, engaging, curious, and diligent about matters that engage him.

Two matters that definitely engage Jake: cows and baking. Our kids have spent a lot of time in and around dairy farms, and Jake seems to have a particular affinity with cows, and cows seem to respond well to him--hey, they don't even know that he has a speech handicap! As for baking, those who know Jacob know well his passion for mixing, kneading, baking and, most importantly, eating baked goods.

In my extensive collection of old dairy and farm books, there are many photos of people working on farms and in cheese factories, who appear to have one learning disability or another.

One photo that particularly comes to mind is of a young man in perhaps the 1950s, with biceps like Popeye's, operating a manual cheese press. His proud and smiling face belies the markers of Down syndrome, although there is no mention of it in the text. This young man had a good job and was proud of it. Nowadays, a Down kid or someone like Jacob is more likely to have a job raking leaves or putting parts in a bag on an assembly line.

Agriculture and food production, in simpler times, had more room for people with disabilities. As modernity has taken its toll on the quality and flavorfulness of our food, and eroded our helath, it has also eroded the opportunities for those of us who are different. So, wish us well as we set out to set it right!