You laugh to show happiness. Your tears signify sorrow. You demonstrate compassion through your hugs and gentle touches. Society has constructed how we are expected to convey our emotions to others. These constructions are so ingrained in our society that the medical community uses emotional cues to detect the early signs of disability. The stories of Dr. Carl Bennett and Temple Grandin in Oliver Sacks’ book, An Anthropologist on Mars, introduce the idea that having a disability does not always inhibit one’s capability of expressing emotion, but can actually open up different avenues for communicating one’s thoughts and feelings.
One of Oliver Sacks’ first arguments in his book is that disease and defects can bring out “latent powers” and alternate expressions of emotions can trigger unparalleled creative potential.  When observing and working with a blind-to-sight man, he notices how the man claimed he was “watching television” when his eyes were closed. Sacks then immediately had to ask himself “What does seeing really mean to each individual?”  To understand disease, doctors must not only observe their patients in the office, but study their identity as well; take a look at their how their brains construct their own worlds. 
Dr. Carl Bennett, a surgeon, developed the first signs of Tourette’s syndrome when he was about seven years old. Ever since then he has twitched, compulsively touched both other people and inanimate objects, and has sudden outbursts of haphazard phrases. Bennett will often utter things such as “Hi Patty” (not his wife’s name) or “hideous” without any explanation or context.  While these tics could be seen as lacking emotion toward his wife or insensitive to his patients’ conditions, it does not mean that Carl cannot express feeling and show emotion; he just does it differently. Whenever Carl hears about a missing or hurt child on the news, his mind will immediately go to one of his own children and he will compulsively seek out and tap the nearest wall while whispering “I hope it won’t happen to mine.”  Sacks kept looking for an area of Bennett’s life that was truly suffering because of his unique way of expressing emotion, but found that he was respected by his colleagues and patients, had a pilot’s license, and a loving family. If Sacks had not have observed Bennett for himself within his own home, what would the neurological profession’s perception be of Bennett and others with Tourette’s? Subconscious tics and impulses can be both meaningless and loaded with emotion, but we wouldn’t know that just by looking at the medical textbooks or the rules of Miss Manners.
Another patient that Sacks worked with was Temple Grandin, a woman with Autism. There are three main “impairments” that those with Autism encounter: impairment of social interaction, impairment with verbal and non-verbal communication, and impairment of play and imaginative activities.  Two-thirds of the “core problems” that those with Autism deal with are issues with showing emotion and connecting with others. As early as six months old Temple was stiffening at the touch of her mother. Both Sacks and Temple’s doctors pinpoint this as the beginning of Temple’s Autism, because “who wouldn’t want to be held by their mother?”  As she grew older she would observe expressions of emotion and then decode them later, although not truly understanding them. She perceived none of the usual rules and codes for human relationship.  Temple may not feel overwhelming emotion toward other people, she may not understand sexual attraction, and she may dislike physical touch, but that does not mean that she is devoid of feeling. She has a great emotional understanding and connection to animals. She is famous for her ability to bond with livestock and her advocating of human animal treatment and slaughter. She explains, “When I’m with the cattle, it’s not all cognitive. I know what the cow’s feeling.” Temple experiences empathy, but through a different avenue.
Carl and Temple have both been taught that their inability to express emotion and feeling in a conventional way is a disability. Luckily they are part of the group of individuals that have become to look past the medical and social conceptions of disability. Even with Sacks’ innovative thinking and explanations of disability, he must always check himself when he attempts to find an explanation for a different avenue of emotion expression. When comparing medical and societal expectations with the differing ability of emotion, what standards should be set? Should there be any at all?
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