March 23, 2013

Kick the Autism Bucket List

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , at 11:25 am by autismmommytherapist

light it up blue

As I approach fifty (more rapidly every day it seems), my mind has naturally begun to ponder what I’d like to see accomplished in the world of autism during the last half(?) of my existence as I shoot for that three-digit lifespan. I have personal goals of course (learn how to use my phone, drop those last baby pounds from 2007), but quite honestly I have my own “autism wish list” as well.

Some of these stem from personal experience, some are garnered from the news, and some, to me, just seem to make perfect sense. In honor of autism awareness month, which is coming in April, I’d like to share a few points from my autism bucket list with you, and invite you to respond with yours as well. As Ms. Clinton said it takes a village (or in our community’s case, a galaxy), and I’d love to know what changes you’d like to see in the autism landscape to come.

1) First, since Virginia didn’t recognize Justin’s autism diagnosis back in the day (which forced me to be his primary therapist thirty hours a week for almost a year-and-a-half), I’d love to see legislation in Virginia which requires that adequate Early Intervention therapies be offered to children under three who are diagnosed with autism.

2) Help introduce legislation requiring every state to require teachers to take an autism certification program prior to teaching children with autism so they are familiar with this population. Duh.

3) Have a viable, appropriate employment opportunity for every differently-abled adult out there who wants one. Amen.

4) Have a viable, appropriate residential opportunity for every differently-abled adult out there who wants one. Double amen.

5) Have Tina Fey and Amy Poehler star in my autism play (okay, this is the fantasy wish, but a girl can dream).

6) See the Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network sites become the go-to place for autism diagnosis and treatment in our country and Canada.

7) Get my books published and donate fabulous amount of money to Autism Speaks and Parents of Autistic Children (again, a girl can dream BIG).

8) Have Fairfax County Virginia schools adopt my anti-bullying program (and have the opportunity to travel down there to help implement it!).

9) See my beautiful eldest boy reside in a place he loves, and have access to riding those horses he adores.

10) Watch as Zachary is sworn in as President (or becomes a fireman, his newest passion, either way we’re good).

Thanks in advance for your contributions!

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April 23, 2012

The Show Must Go On- “Raising Autism”

Posted in Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 10:06 am by autismmommytherapist

I’m fidgeting, and as I stand in the wings with my actresses, preparing to take the stage for my autism play, I admonish myself to stop (using my own “teacher voice” no less). Gary Weitzen, Executive Director of POAC Autism Services, is wrapping up his introduction, and I’m anxious to be up there and get this show literally on the road. I take a few deep breaths, solicit the last remnants of saliva from their hiding places in my mouth, and attempt to clear my head.

I recall my “performance mantra”, which is SEL (“Slow down Jersey Girl/Emote, woman!/Look at people on occasion”), and feel my uncooperative stomach settle. I remember the trick I’m using to get through the play without bawling continuously, which is to conjure up clips with female comedians to my stressed-out brain. Melissa McCarthy during the bathroom scene in Bridesmaids easily comes to mind. Kristen Wiig holding a raw chicken on Saturday Night Live, and losing it, follows. An Amy Poehler and Tina Fey chaser in, well, anything, concludes my comedic quad.

Gary wraps up his speech, takes his seat, and I hear the strains of my brother’s music emanating from the sound board backstage. We reach the song’s first crescendo, I gently tap my friend in front of me, and we head for the stairs.

Ready or not, it’s showtime.

This past Saturday night, through the graciousness of POAC Autism Services,I had the great fortune to both act in and produce a play I wrote almost a year ago. It’s entitled “Raising Autism”, and its stories are shared through the medium of three mothers reading from faux diaries, laying their experiences with their children bare for the audience, and themselves. I came up with the idea last summer, and thinking that attempting fiction for the first time while entering middle-age might not be a realistic goal, I didn’t take it too seriously. I had a desire to create a fundraiser for POAC that could be easily replicated down the road, and an urge to divert a bit from my path of writing about my daily life with two boys on the autism spectrum, but truthfully, I didn’t really think I could do it. I’d wrench myself away from my pool every morning the boys were in summer school (the horror!) and write an entry or two, then leave it alone for a few days to write for my blog.

About six weeks into the summer I realized I had half a play, and my husband said it was pretty decent. Who knew.

Ten months, a lot of rewrites, (and a profound amount of begging for donated services later), we’re here, and I’m thrilled to say minus a few sound issues (there’s always something, it’s THEATER), the night went beautifully. My friend and mom of two on the spectrum Babette Zschiegner truly threw herself into her part, and got laughs in all the right places. My other friend and actress Bobbie Gallagher, also the mom to two with autism (I know, there’s a theme here) brought a raw emotion to a role I frankly am too chicken to play, and simply dominated the stage. Given the sniffles (and chuckles) I heard in the audience I think my slightly sarcastic college professor was well-received, even down to her anti-religious leanings and the difficulties of raising autistic twins with her partner back in the early nineties. Although I could only see a few legs from the front row (thank God for the black void of extinguished house lights), I’m told the audience was truly invested in the performance, and for that I am eternally grateful.

After all, I gave up a ton of tanning hours for this little production. It’s nice to reap some reward.

There’s one performance left this coming Saturday April 28th, at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove, 8:00 PM. If you’re interested, you can purchase tickets off the POAC website www.poac.net, or pay in cash at the door (the theater seats 600, I promise you’ll get in). All proceeds go directly to POAC Autism Services. I promise, if you either have or teach a child on the autism spectrum you’ll find something in the play to relate to. If you don’t, I can guarantee you’ll learn something that evening.

And if you make it next weekend, on behalf of POAC and all the families it serves, and this mom/writer as well, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

January 4, 2012

Dear Diary…

Posted in Fun Stuff, My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , , , , , at 4:00 pm by autismmommytherapist

Dear Diary…

That’s how each segment of my play starts, a script I wrote this summer when I was able to summon the maturity to ignore my pool and whatever Game of Thrones novel I was reading at the time. It’s the story of three mothers and their experiences with their autistic children, all of whom hail from extremely diverse backgrounds, and all of whom are raising children with autism who reside on various parts of the spectrum. One woman is a young mother struggling with her marriage as well as her son’s diagnosis; one is a rather devout Jew and single parent; and one is a college professor raising adopted autistic twins with her life partner.

I’ll confess, the lesbian is my favorite. She’s quite sassy.

I’ll also divulge to you that this past summer nobody was more surprised than me that I could write fiction. My last foray into this genre was a rather pathetic short story penned so long ago (the 80’s) that it is most assuredly residing in a landfill rather than a recycling bin. The truth is, the idea to write the play at all was in part born out of a desire to create a fundraiser for Parents of Autistic Children (POAC), a local and fabulous autism organization, and in part to promote another endeavor I’ll be speaking about at a later time. Frankly, I was simply thrilled I could do it, and equally honored that POAC agreed to let me produce it for them.

I’ll be announcing dates soon, and there may be multiple venues (as to my non-faux-humble surprise a few “real” theaters actually seem to be interested) but I’ll wait to formally announce until everything’s set in stone. I’m hoping to put on a few shows here in Jersey, and a night or two in DC, the city I consider my second home. Of course, when Tina Fey and Amy Poehler beg me to be a part of such a monumental event, I’ll graciously concede, and I’m certain Broadway will open its arms to me as well.

Tina and Amy might have a small part in that too.

When the “tour” is over, if it turns out that someone other than my husband liked my play, I plan on making my script available to anyone who’d like to use it as a fundraiser as well. There will be some rules (it’s a play about autism, of course there will be rules). Any individual interested will have to show proof of where the money’s going (I don’t want to find out down the road my writing contributed to someone’s granite kitchen countertops). Said individual will have to promise to read my words as written (if you have some differing opinions to express, write your own play). Although this isn’t a deal-breaker, it would also be lovely if whomever appropriates the script mentions I wrote the thing, and informs me as to how much money they banked for their organization.

And if you’re thinking you don’t have time to put on a play to support your favorite autism organization, trust me, this little theatrical contraption couldn’t be easier to produce. There’s no memorization, no dialogue, and no sets. Hell, there’s really no movement required at all. If you have a living room, a few chairs, and three women who can read, you’ll have yourself a free fundraiser.

Coupled with my goal of relaxing more in 2012 is my desire to throw things out to the universe a bit more, and I’m so excited to give “the theater” a try. I’ve already begun to learn about important things like building permits, fire codes, and soundboards. I’ve acquired my fabulous autism-mom/actresses, Dr. Robyn Leitner, and Babette Zschiegner from Peace with Autism. Most importantly, I’ve begun shortlisting songs for us to walk onstage to (most of my husband’s suggestions were inappropriate, I sense a contest on Facebook in the imminent future). So join me in April (dates TBA), and support POAC, a wonderful autism organization.

I promise, you’ll laugh a little, and you’ll cry a little. Thanks in advance for your support!

December 29, 2010

Purge

Posted in AMT's Faves, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , , , , at 10:34 am by autismmommytherapist

I’ve become a technology queen this year, what with blogging, importing pictures from both our own files AND the internet, as well as mastering the art of the hyperlink (Mark Zuckerberg is running scared, mark my words). My husband has been a (mostly) patient instructor in all of these areas so that I might wear the crown rightfully, has generally ignored me as I’ve complained that the kids sucked out all my technology brain cells at their births, and has instead encouraged me to keep on trying no matter how seemingly insurmountable the task at hand. I’ve got a few skills under my belt now (watch breathlessly as Kim learns to download her own photos in 2011 AND send them to the right people), and have since felt a sense of confidence return to me that this old dog can learn a few tricks, and perhaps recapture those she enacted with ease before her sons permanently incapacitated her memory.

Always blame the kids when feasible.

I’ve been on a roll lately, and since I had some time left before my little one came home one day, I decided to knock one more technological item off my list in my remaining minutes of freedom before I donned the mommy mantle once again. It seems I’ve ignored my bookmarked links, which had subsequently mutinied against me and become an unwieldy mess (it takes me three full minutes to scroll down to my own blog, something has to go). So, I decided in the spirit of year’s end to downsize, a skill I’d actually managed to retain all these years (after Jeff reminded me right-clicking was NOT a fast-track to erasing my entire hard-drive). I grabbed the good chocolate and got down to business, reminding myself this couldn’t take THAT long as I had employed the delete button on numerous occasions since Justin graced us with his presence (okay, I’d done this twice since he’s been born, but who’s counting).

As it turns out, when you haven’t conducted more than a light weeding in seven years, and there’s several hundred bookmarks mocking you, you should really prepare for quite a walk down memory lane. In my own defense, I did leave a lot of these sites as visual prompts for when I was writing my manuscript, but since I finished my tome almost a year ago I don’t really have a lot of excuses left for my laziness. So I encouraged myself to indeed let go, and then I got down to business, deciding to go in chronological order for old time’s sake.

We’re just a bastion of spontaneity chez McCafferty.

As I banished each site to the etherworld, I briefly placed myself back in the time period where I had felt it necessary to have that information, perhaps even deemed it vital. With hesitation, I recalled the fear I’d felt in those last few months before Justin’s diagnosis as I clicked to that first excellent site I’d discovered, the one regaling me with early signs of autism that seemed to embody so much of my oldest’s son’s behavior.

Delete.

I recalled the desperation I’d felt when searching for words to reveal to me the mysteries of autism’s causes, and my frustration as the word “unknown” seemed to mock me at every turn.

Still annoyed delete.

I smiled ruefully as I perused the half-dozen screens promising refuge from the scourge of colic, none of which alleviated a single symptom in my boy.

Vengeful delete.

I didn’t even bother opening the myriad pages describing different therapeutic approaches all touting progress, because we’ve immersed ourselves in ABA, and it’s made a profound effect upon my child’s behavior.

Confident delete.

I right-clicked on numerous sites promising the best party supplies EVER for a one-year-old’s under-the-sea theme birthday party, and remembered how I knew in my soul this would be the only party Justin would ever have where he was just a difficult child, not one with a diagnosis as well.

Sigh, and delete.

I laughed as I purged the site revealing the caloric content of Starbuck’s lighter liquid fare, both for my idiocy for caring, and my remembrance that for many months that walk down that long hill with Justin for a break from ABA was my (and truly, our), single daily saving grace.

Joyful delete.

I briefly opened a few of my bookmarks related to the “autism diet” to see if anything new would hit me, recalling how I concocted homemade chicken nuggets from scratch for my reluctant eater for over a year, despite my cooking disability. I remembered my despair when it became apparent Justin was not a “responder” to his new food repertoire, and my elation when the removal of gluten and dairy seemed to appeal to Zachary’s troubled tummy.

Somewhat grateful delete.

I had to pinch myself from rereading all of Doc Jensen’s insightful LOST missives, reminding myself I had a kid getting off a bus in ten minutes and that this iconic show was indeed, despite my devastation, over.

Wistful, soul-sucking delete.

I brutally purged the sites where we ordered the pH strips we used to discern if Justin had left even a drop of urine in our toilet bowl during our year-long potty training debacle, the flimsy papers we’d used in our hopes we’d one day reward him for a single success before he turned fifty.

Exhausted delete.

Next to go, sites which for a small fee would absolutely GUARANTEE our son’s recovery.

Pissed-off, magnificent eye-rolling delete.

And last, but not least, the site with the fabulous review of Speed-the-Plow, the Broadway play we used as a brief escape from our youngest’s regression last year, only to be told upon arrival our boy, Jeremy Piven, was not available to play his role due to illness from mercury poisoning.

For this one, I used the Tina Fey/Amy Poehler SNL “REALLY?!?!?” delete.

The entire activity was as therapeutic as I imagine a good cleanse to be (nope, not old enough for that colonoscopy yet, thank God), and I managed to conduct it in enough time to finish that chocolate and prevent those bus drivers from returning my kid to school. It’s done. Those reminders of the past are gone. Those issues from our past are gone. The only thing remaining is both my gratefulness at having surpassed these problems, and my glee at having remembered how to scourge my bookmarks ALL BY MYSELF.

And for those of you looking to purge, to relieve yourselves of at least some unnecessary worries as we near year’s end, I’ve got one small encouragement for everyone out there.

Just hit delete.