LOS ANGELES — I t-h-i-n-k …

Ido Kedar sits at the dining room table of his West Hills home. He fidgets in his chair, slouched over an iPad, typing. He hunts down each letter. Seconds pass between the connections.

… A-u-t-i-s-m-l-a-n-d …

He coined the word, his twist on Alice’s Wonderland.

“C’mon,” says his mother, Tracy. “Sit up and just finish it, Ido. Let’s go.”

He touches a few more keys, and then, with a slight robotic twang, the iPad reads the words he cannot speak.

I think Autismland is a surreal place.

For most of his life, Ido has listened to educators and experts explain what’s wrong with him.

Now he wants to tell them that they had it all wrong.

Last year, at the age of 16, he published “Ido in Autismland.” The book – part memoir, part protest – has made him a celebrity in the autism world, a young activist eager to defy popular assumptions about a disorder that is often associated with mental deficiency.

He hopes that the world will one day recognize the intelligence that lies behind the walls of his “silent prison,” behind the impulsivity and lack of self-control.

I want people to know that I have an intact mind.

Yet Ido gets nervous easily and likes to retreat to his room or to a cooking program on television. At one point, after answering a few questions, he steps outside to pace beside the family swimming pool.

He plucks a rose and puts its petals into his mouth.

Autism, Ido says, is like being on LSD, something he learned about in health class, and his experience in the world can be at times terrifying and overwhelming.

Sensory minutiae that in other people are filtered and organized, collide indiscriminately in his brain.

Feelings of anger, sadness, even silliness can escalate, and he can have difficulty calming down.

As unsettling and as unpredictable as autism is, it also brings a strange pleasure to Ido’s life.

Glints of sunshine, pockets of shade mesmerize him, and objects in motion reveal traces of acceleration, like stop-motion photography.

Ido has a speech to write. In almost two weeks, he will address graduates from the department of special education at Cal State Northridge. The invitation came from a professor who calls “Ido in Autismland” one of the most profound books he’s read.

As committed as Ido is to explaining his experience with autism, he is equally passionate about how to teach autistic children.

Some of his worst teachers have become his best teachers for what not to do, and he thinks he knows why.

They have to let go of their love of power.

Sitting in the living room, Tracy, Sharon and a friend, Adrienne Johnston, are helping Ido organize his thoughts. He is communicating with his letter board, a laminated piece of cardboard with the alphabet printed on it. His right hand dances among the letters, a blur of quick expression, far quicker than his iPad.

Johnston, who will be speaking at Northridge as well, works for the Los Angeles Unified School District and helps students with disabilities navigate from special education to general education classes. She met Ido in middle school and continues to help him at Canoga Park High School.

“When I first graduated, I thought I knew it all,” she says, thinking about new teachers. “We need to remind them that their attitudes must be open.”

The special education idea is to maintain and contain.

“What should they do, sweetie?” his mother asks.

I think they should all be kept mute one day and sit in a low autism class as a student, listening to baby talk and the weather.

Tracy and her husband laugh. Years of frustration and guilt have turned to pride. She’s 53 and works as a school social worker and private therapist, and he’s 50, a geophysicist at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

They recall one administrator at a former school who insisted that Ido wasn’t doing the classroom work, that his aide was answering the questions.

It’s a familiar and painful memory. His dependency on others is considered evidence of his inability to think for himself. After one of Ido’s presentations, Tracy was approached by an older man who asked if Ido really understood everything said to him.

“Eeeee, eeeee,” Ido interrupts.

“He was a bully,” Tracy says, remembering the administrator.

He told my teachers that I was not understanding the work. He would stand behind me taking notes on my behavior. He told me that I would never graduate.

As an infant, Ido seemed to hit all his developmental benchmarks. He even began to talk at an early age. But somewhere between 2 and 3, he suddenly felt as if he were standing at a divide in a road. Try as he might to join other children, he couldn’t.

Tracy remembers the day she got the phone call from the preschool.

“We have our concerns,” the administrator said.

Tracy and Sharon took Ido to a psychiatrist, who made the diagnosis in 20 minutes.

Ido was enrolled in Applied Behavior Analysis, the most popular and recognized treatment for the disorder.

For two years, aides set up school in his home and ran through daily drills to teach motor and social skills, such as how to eat with good manners and wash, how to recognize words and emotions, how to wave goodbye and point.

Rewards came in the form of tortilla chips, cookies and tickles.

The lessons frustrated him, and the aides seemed unaware of his discomfort. They wanted, for instance, to teach him to maintain eye contact, but light reflecting off eyes unsettles him, and because he was unable to speak or coordinate his hands to indicate comprehension, the drills were repeated.

“Very stimmy today,” wrote one aide in a log dated 2003, when Ido was 6. “Lots of jumping around the room @ the beginning of the session. Last 1/2 hour seemed tired & cranky. High frustration.”

As other children progressed with ABA – one even going into kindergarten – Ido fell more deeply into Autismland.

I felt kind of terrified when I was a kid that my life would be this way forever.

In class, Ido takes his favorite desk in a corner of Amber Tesh’s classroom. Tesh is reading a scene from “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

Ido has just come in from lunch, where he stimmed in a secluded corner of the crowded schoolyard out of the way of other students playing handball, making out or texting.

I’m a strange mixture. I am smart as a mind and dumb as a body. I can think of insights and my body ignores them.

This afternoon Tom Robinson is on trial, and Atticus is questioning Mayella in court.

“What do we know about Mayella?” Tesh asks.

“She’s dumb,” says one of the students.

“Yes, but what else?”

In the silence, Ido leans forward, rocking back and forth, smiling and laughing slightly to himself as if someone has just told him a joke.

He begins to point to the letter board his aide is holding in front of him.

She likes Tom.

“That’s right,” says Tesh, who is proud of Ido’s work. In the California High School Exit Exam, he scored 443 out of 450, missing one answer.

Of all his classes, Ido likes his honors English class most, especially because Tesh treats him like other students.

He knows that his behavior is unusual.

He envies his sister, and wishes he had her independence and friends. Unlike some autism advocates who champion the disorder as an emblem of diversity, Ido would prefer to be typical.

Can I visit Autismland instead of living here?

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.