On July 12, 2019 The Urban Shaman's Aimee Shaw spent some time with Lori Shayew, Founder of The Gifts of Autism and seasoned autism specialist.
This interview was a little different than previous TUS interviews, as video imaging wasn't available and both Aimee and Lori share an equal passion for humans on the autism spectrum. Aimee shares that long after the record button was turned off she and Lori continued in relevant discussion about the wonders of autism and their deeply profound experiences connecting with people on the spectrum. But we tried to keep it around an hour, and unlike our other practitioner interviews, we're not transcribing any of this interview, and are offering the entire interview in a video/audio format.
One of the interesting things Lori shared was that she believes she is "like a bridge" between people on the spectrum and their caretakers and the larger community. Readers of The Urban Shaman likely know that shamans are considered to be bridges as well- between the Spirit realm and the material realm. Another thing Aimee and Lori discussed is the possibility of people with autistic experiences also being shamanic.
Consider Martin Prechtel's recounting of a young man in the Mayan village he lived in:
Though he was well known to all his people, most of the village considered him to be a nicamic, or simpleton. Some of us, especially the shamans, considered this strange man to be a "child of the wind." The wind was a god to us, the Lord of the Dry Season. Having grown enamored of Machayal's mother while in the forest, the wind had magically impregnated her. When it came time for Machayal to be born, his mother was caught out in the wilds again and gave birth to him under the very trees in the jungle he'd grow to love as an adult. This made him half-human, half-divine. Without village midwives or helpers, his mother has thrown the umbilical cord and afterbirth into the river which, as anybody in the village could tell you, made a child into a restless wanderer, never content to stay in one place.
Machayal did indeed appear to act very clumsy among humans, with no desire for the endless complexities of village life. But in the wilds he excelled, spending most of his days and nights there, vanishing out of the sight of humans just like his father, the wind. About every three weeks, Machayal would return to visit his old mother, but the monkeys and rivers would quickly call him back to the forest-covered volcanoes that form the high, breathtaking walls of Lake Atitlan.
What he did out there, nobody really knew. He had no food, no machete, and no water, and yet time after time he'd return fat and healthy after weeks of absence, loaded down with live animals and flowers.
No animal ever ran from Machayal. He'd simply walk up, touch them, then pick them up and put them in his little bag or carry them in his arms like a little kid with a big puppy, walking fifteen to thirty miles to our village. Then he'd walk into somebody's house and give these wild creatures to the occupants and go back to the bushes. That's how he was.
Once he delivered a pair of spider monkeys to my house. Once he brought an anteater, and another time he left me a pair of supposedly extinct horned guans. I knew people who got giant lizards, kinkajous, trogons, or coatimundis. Some of the creatures he brought were very rare, and some were dangerous to most humans. But all the animals were shy, and nobody knew why they went along with Machayal's plan. There was something divine about it.
(Secrets of The Talking Jaguar, 1998)
Prechtel makes distinction between the shamans, as a social order that's highly regulated within the Tzutujil culture and Machayal, whom he refers to as "nicamic", or a socially odd and simple, but deeply connected being. He equates this connection to divinity. But there does seem to be traits attributed to Machayal that lend themselves to autism or some similar type of developmental disability, as per psychiatric diagnostic criteria. Prechtel goes on to share an incident when Machayal brings him two newly born jaguar kits, and tells him they are "two of yours" and "you're the same kind." So it seems that as out of sorts as Machayal seemed to be, he was a soul whisperer of some kind. In many shamanic cultures Machayal would be groomed from early childhood to become a village shaman. But perhaps within the Tzutujil culture his aloofness and wild nature made him unsuited for the role of shamanism.
We'd like to invite you into the exclusive conversation with Lori Shayew as she discusses the spiritual gifts that many individuals with autism possess and their valuable contributions to our communities.
You can find Lori through the links below and we're also offering various links to things discussed in this interview: