A sassy, crafty mama bird from Los Angeles
raising a very sweet little girl with Autism
and a new baby boy in the Midwest... and other stuff, too.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Autism: The Musical

Last weekend I went to a great event put on by the Jewish Federation's Alliance for Jewish Education in my area. This group does really awesome things for kids with special needs in the area. One of my favorite programs is called "opening the doors" and helps provide opportunities for kids with learning disabilities and "other special learning needs" to be included in classes with their typically developing peers in Jewish schools. They are currently serving 700 kids in metro Detroit. Yeah, I sit on the special education committee there (I have a problem saying no to volunteer opportunities!!).

They recently brought Elaine Hall out to talk about her experience raising her teenage son, Neal, who has Autism, and to show her award winning documentary called Autism: The Musical. It was a great event and there were tons of people there. If you haven't seen this film, I recommend it.

I'd never seen it before. People ask me all the time if I've seen this and/or the Temple Grandin movie with Claire Danes. No and No. It's kinda tough for me to watch a lot of Autism stuff. It's sad. If you don't have a kid with Autism and you watch this stuff and you think it's sad- imagine how I feel; I don't get to just turn the tv off. I might get there one day, but today it's still pretty tough. It's also extremely tough for me to watch anything with teens or adults with Autism. Can't I just remain in a state of ignorant bliss and imagine that my little girl will never grow up and that the problems I think we have won't get bigger and bigger??! I'm gonna try.

So, I watched this movie, which is great and I found myself laughing a lot as an insider, at little things about autism that are just funny. No one with a newly diagnosed kid would ever think this stuff is funny, nor would they ever think they could find humor in some of this stuff, but it's there and they'll get there. 
There were many people in the audience who were educators, social workers, therapists, etc, and there were parents, too. As the parent of a little girl with Autism, a lot of this stuff is hard to see and hear little things like: 
"I don't want her to think there's anything wrong with her, because there's not. She's different, but not wrong. Unfortunately, most people don't see it that way."
"If he wasn't autistic, you could just imagine the possibilities."
"My job is to do everything I can to keep him out of an institution." (that's the one that really got me)

Throughout the movie, there was a young man and his mother in front of me (she later described him as autistic) and at one point he turned to his mom and (loudly) asked, "mom, why are you crying?" I couldn't hear her response, but I saw her kiss him on the forehead. Sigh.

Elaine Hall spent a few moments sharing some insight and experience as well. Here were my favorites:
-How do we include all these kids in typical environments? 
  peer volunteers 
  get resources for the teachers
  include a child's interest
  celebrate who a kid is and what she can do
-It may take a village to raise a child, 
but it takes a child with special needs to raise the consciousness of a village. 
Amen, sister!

Elaine and I last November when she came for a book fair
She's shorter than I am, by the way

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