I loved that show growing up, and I still do. “Gilligan’s Island” was all first run episodes when I was in Elementary School, and then reruns when I was in Junior High and High School. For me, “Gilligan’s Island” was all about surviving and that’s what I wanted to do.
Autism wasn’t in the common vocabulary of the day back then. There was no being on the spectrum, no rainbow flag, no learning disability, no giftedness, no anything other than the happy, American, middle class life revealed in my “Dick and Jane” reading books.
But life on Gilligan’s Island was different. It was not ideal. There were bizarre, unexpected, and unexplainable things happening all of the time. That was how the real world around me seemed to operate, not with magnetic mines, or spacecraft landings, or mysterious boxes washed up on the beach, but with people saying and doing things that seemed so foreign to me and yet so ordinary to them.
That is perhaps the best analogy I can give for what it was like for me growing up and what it is still like for me now living on the spectrum. Every day is a new episode where something surreal is bound to happen when I step outside of my own space.
It won’t be radioactive seeds that grow into huge plants that give me special abilities. Instead it will be not having the exact change when I check out at the store and only having a twenty dollar bill and the cashier asking me, “Don’t you have anything smaller?”
It won’t be a beauty contest where the winner is a gorilla. Instead it will be agonizing over how to ask the person in the produce department if they have any more fresh kale for my chickens and then wondering if I had asked differently or not mentioned the chickens then maybe they would have gone in the back and checked and found some rather than just saying “No.” (Then I might spend the rest of the day wondering how I can grow enough kale in my small city yard to feed all six of my chickens for an entire year so I never have to ask about kale ever again. Most likely the solution would involve bamboo poles and coconuts!)
So I suppose in my own way, I figured out that if the seven castaways on Gilligan’s Island could survive, I could too. If they could handle mad scientists, headhunters, and giant spiders, I could survive feeling isolated from my classmates, being teased and bullied, and not knowing why I was treated differently from everyone else.
My two favorite characters were Gilligan and The Professor, and I studied them to see what they did to navigate their episodic challenges. Gilligan was goofy and always made everyone laugh even at his own expense. He messed things up terribly, but they never threw him off of the island. The Professor was smart and always had a good and logical answer. His ideas and inventions never got them off of the island, but they still had hope in his next new plan.
So this is how I generally face the challenges of life. Most often, I try to give everyone a good laugh, even at my own expense, just like Gilligan. At other times, I try to be the one who has analyzed the situation and has a brilliant though extravagant solution, just like the Professor. Occasionally I do both.
Neither of these characters seems to understand or to be understood by the other castaways, yet either would probably be most content alone on the island and would survive quite nicely.
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