In this reading exercise, you are going to be asked questions that test your understanding of:
- stated information and details
- implication: unstated ideas
- the writer’s purpose
- text structure
You are going to read a newspaper article about a woman called Gunilla Gerland. First, look at this extract from the cover of her autobiography and discuss the questions in the exercise.
Plight of the Outsider
Gunilla Gerland is 34 and has always brushed her teeth twice a day. But every time, she has to think about what she’s doing. It has never become automatic - every contact with the toothbrush is like her first.
Gunilla is autistic, although this is hard to imagine when one starts talking to her. She writes, lectures, travels and has good friends. But her problems are there. “Skills that others take for granted, like brushing your teeth, will never come naturally to me. I would never be able to drive a car - I wouldn’t even try to learn. And if I am speaking on the phone I find it very hard to understand the person if there is any noise in the background,” she says.
She has many professional friends from the field of autism but relationships don’t come easily either: “I need to feel appreciated and useful, though I’m not sure that I can distinguish between that and being loved. I don’t think I need to actually feel loved.”
It was only at the age of 29 that she was diagnosed. “I read a book in the library about autism and recognised myself in the descriptions. I contacted the professor of child psychiatry who had written the book and after tests, evaluations and looking back through my old school records I was diagnosed. In a way it was a huge relief to me after all those years of knowing I was different without knowing why. I had always been labelled ‘naughty,’ ‘wayward,’ or ‘difficult’ and now it was as if my reputation was cleared. But the diagnosis also made me sad, because I spent my childhood desperately wanting to be the same as others and now I knew for sure that I wasn’t.
Gunilla could not have been an easy child to cope with. She had a deep fear of new foods, which stopped her chewing anything. She was thrown into panic by sudden noises. She had no memory for people, even familiar ones; when her father left home and later returned, she thought it was a new father. Starting playgroup, and later school, were terrifying experiences for her. She had no way of understanding that her mother would pick her up at the end of the day. She developed rituals and found small, enclosed hiding places to help her contain her panic.
She was bullied and exploited throughout her youth because of being different and also because of her inability to react to pain and misery in any outward way. At school, a group of older boys used to hit her every day. She never told anyone or reacted to the blows. Indeed, such was her need for routine that she would seek out the boys if a day went by and they forgot to hit her. She thought this was the way things had to be.
Her mother tried to console her when she was panicky or distraught but she had no idea of the depths of Gunilla’s despair: “It was like being consoled for having a graze on my nose when I had in fact broken both my legs.”
Gunilla eventually left home at 18 and had a succession of lost jobs and failed relationships. Then while she was randomly picking out books in the public library, she came across the description of autism that was eventually to answer the question of why she had always felt different. She now believes that autism is a biological condition and has written a moving autobiographical account of her experiences that she hopes will help others. She doesn’t want sympathy or any talk of her condition being “devastating”. Instead, she wants what most people with a disability want; tolerance and some understanding of what makes her different. “I want to feel good about myself, that’s all.”Plight of the Outsider, from mugsy.org.
Using what you have learned, complete the activity.