David Patten wants his memoir to teach others to find strength and value themselves
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 23, 2012
David Patten can't read or write, yet he's managed to hold high-level jobs, has been married for 30 years, raised two successful children and has published a book.
He's what you'd call functionally illiterate.
Patten, a Kailua resident, was born in the 1950s before anyone recognized autism as a developmental disorder. Growing up in Chicago, he didn't speak until he was 4 years old. He didn't like to be touched, made involuntary noises and movements, and was not able to read social cues from others.
"I could not look into people's eyes … could not make-believe play. Things were never consistent. Not having a voice was so difficult," he said. "I felt worthless and alienated. I wondered if there was any place to fit in the world since there was no place for me in the school system."
Eventually he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
He was good at math but was never able to grasp letters, and never graduated from high school. Patten said he never expected his future would include a job or family.
"I gave up lots of times. But I got some of my biggest strength from giving up," said Patten, 58. "Because I eventually gave up my attachments to what others expected."
Patten didn't expect to publish a book either, but with the support of technology, he began writing down thoughts about his childhood. What eventually resulted, with the help of a ghostwriter, was "Dummy: A Memoir" (Joslyn Press, $19.95), which tells the powerful story of Patten growing up in a world where he was misunderstood and labeled as lazy, stupid and a troublemaker.
Although his mother, a psychologist, assured him the labels meant nothing, Patten knew he was different and continually feared being institutionalized. At the age of 14, a suicide attempt landed him in a mental hospital.
The book follows his subsequent years as a drug dealer, the months he spent in an abusive psychiatric home, how meditation has helped him, and his ongoing search for identity.
"There's strength in facing what you don't know about yourself. Then you can deal with it and see that it's not personal," he said. "The book is full of stuff that I didn't want my family and kids to read. It's a deep look into the worst of the worst."
With government assistance that paid for his assignments and textbooks to be recorded, Patten earned an associate's degree in digital electronics in 1980 from Santa Rosa Junior College at the age of 26. His knack for understanding abstract mathematical concepts led him to a career as a successful businessman working on computer systems for large corporations and military installations.
Patten said he worked on his memoir for about seven years with the help of a computer program that read his words back to him. He enlisted a ghostwriter who conducted more than 20 hours of interviews with Patten and helped weave details of his life into the manuscript. Patten's daughter helped him develop a storyboard to organize the material.
Patten hopes his memoir will help others with autism and their caregivers to find ways to value themselves and gain a sense of belonging.
"It's more important to keep a connection with kids or anyone who is having difficulties. Treatment is always secondary."
"Dummy: A Memoir" was released in November and is available at Bookends Kailua and online.