December 17, 2012

Thank- you to the Staff of Sandy Hook Elementary School

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:15 pm by autismmommytherapist

candlelight vigil

It’s 5:15 on Saturday morning, and I know there’s not a chance in hell I’ll fall back asleep. I throw on my robe and make my way to my keyboard and wait for the blinking cursor to arrive, that pulsing strobe I know will mock me as I struggle for words.

For once, I don’t even know where to begin.

This won’t be a post about autism, although I will remind everyone reading this that whether or not Adam Lanza had Asperger’s or not, autism did not incite him to his murderous rampage. Mental illness did. The fact that he may have been on the spectrum is no more important than the color of his eyes, or the fact that he was male, or white. Autism, in all its many forms, is not a mental illness.

Hopefully, I am preaching to the choir.

Like many people I try to make some sense of this tragedy by comparing it to others in the past, and by seeing it through the lens of many different roles, specifically those of child, parent and teacher. As I weeded my way through various media commentary on Friday afternoon I couldn’t help but think of Columbine. I can remember my reactions to the event; disbelief, horror, and eventually just a deep sadness which remained for the children, parents, and school staff who endured such terror. When Columbine occurred I was not yet a mother, and could only imagine the devastation that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold wreaked on that terrible day. Now I am a mother, one whose youngest child turns six in a few short weeks, just like many of those lost to us forever.

Trust me, like many of you, the “what- ifs” running around my head regarding my children are without doubt my early morning wake-up culprits, and I don’t imagine they’re going anywhere very soon.

As I sit here in the wee hours of the morn I find I can’t stop thinking about those kids, yet I can’t write about them either. Perhaps it’s too close, too soon, but I can see them through the lenses of both mother and teacher, and it’s just too much. I am so, so sorry for their parents, grandparents, and siblings. I am so sorry for that entire community, who will be permanently marked by this loss, who can never fully recover from such a tragedy. I am even deeply sorry for those children who survived, because they are not only old enough to remember the horrific events of this infamous day, they are also old enough to understand what happened. Their innocence has been robbed. Their childhoods have been stolen.

And yet, that’s nothing compared to all of those little lives lost.

No, as I sit here struggling with what to say that hasn’t already been said I know I’ll focus on the teachers, because although I’m no longer “practicing”, I’ll always be an educator. I hope I would have acquitted myself with the smarts and grace of the teachers and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, but I don’t think any of us can ever know how we’ll behave in a situation where the world has been turned upside down, where any semblance of sanity no longer exists. I do know that the teachers and administrators who perished on Friday were the absolute heart of education. Each one demonstrated undeniable heroism, from the teacher who shielded her students with her own body, to the teacher who told her students she loved them in case those were the last words they ever heard, to the no-nonsense principal and school psychologist who rushed a madman with a gun.

I will be so bold as to say perhaps they wouldn’t even see themselves that way, because to many of us, their actions were just part of the job, a sacred trust. It’s one in which these days we are constantly called upon to protect the hearts and minds of our charges, thankfully in a setting usually not rife with violence. On Friday, December 14th, that sacred trust was put into the extreme for six staff members who honored that covenant: Rachel Davino, Dawn Hocksprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Russeau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto. They were selfless. They willingly made the ultimate sacrifice.

They were heroes.

From me and my family, to their families and those who loved them, we send our prayers, and our love.

And one last thought for those who have fallen.

Thank you.

April 6, 2010

Parenthood

Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , , at 9:33 am by autismmommytherapist

Have you seen Parenthood yet?  That’s the question I’ve been asked most frequently in the past few weeks, that is after “Are you really blowing off American Idol this year?” (yes, sorry Ellen), and “Have you mentally prepared for spring break with your two young autistic children?” (no, sorry kids). By the way, good luck over the next week to my stay-at-home mom brethren, and Godspeed.

When I’ve had a moment to respond to the first query, the answer has been in the affirmative. Frankly, even if the son’s portrayal of Asperger’s was as jarring as Mary McDonnell’s on Grey’s Anatomy (sorry Mary, but I almost depleted my entire wine stash, even the good bottles,  watching those episodes) I’d be forced to view it. My boy Peter Krause is in it, and while he’s not on my “list” (my husband and I in honoring Friends will only allow each other three fantasy people to potentially sleep with), we do have a long history together. I’m brave enough to announce I’ve loved his work as far back as Sports Night (why did you ditch them ABC, why?) and more recently adored him in Six Feet Under. He’s entertained me for many hours of my life, the least I can do is support him. I’m certain he’s deeply appreciative.

I’ve read complaints on the internet that the show is highlighting only the high-functioning side of the disorder, and I agree that Max, the child of Adam and Kristina Braverman, resides on the milder side of autismland. While it would be lovely to see a child depicted on the small screen who is resting solidly in the middle of the autism spectrum, I’m not really sure how any actor would pull that off. Frankly, it would be a Herculean feat for any director to instruct a child on how to accurately depict the stimming, impulsivity, and perseveration that often accompanies the disorder. To the best of my knowledge, none of the Fannings are in age range.

I thought they did a nice job showcasing a differing array of responses to the news that the couple’s son might have Asperger’s, with one parent already embracing the diagnosis and moving on to conquer, and the other still fumbling toward acceptance, needing the words to come from the mouth of a professional before truly incorporating it into the framework of the family. I also appreciated the way the writers revealed the other character’s responses to the news, particularly that of the old-school grandfather. I am also envious of how many family members live within a short radius of Adam and Kristina’s characters. No matter where your child falls on the spectrum, every family needs assistance. In a perfect universe, we would all hail from the Waltons.

My sole issue so far stems from the speed in which the Bravermans were able to secure an out-of-district placement for Max, and the manner in which acquiring it was conducted. This could have been a fabulous opportunity to showcase the myriad IEP meetings needed before such a placement would have been enacted, or the research that would have been conducted by both the family, and the school system. It would have been nice to convey to the public more of the panic that generally ensues for families realizing their child needs another facility, and what finding the appropriate program entails. After all, these days appropriate programs with openings are as rare as women who stay married after winning the best actress Oscar.

However, I will take this opportunity to remind the current naysayers of the show of one incontrovertible truth. This is TEL-EEE-VI-ZUN (I’ve capitalized it and spelled it phonetically for emphasis.)  It is impossible to get it completely “right”, to capture every nuance of what a family goes through upon learning their child is the bearer of a permanent neurological disorder. Besides, there are really four storylines being portrayed in this show, and between the number of characters and commercials, that leaves about eleven and a half minutes to address the issues and emotions surrounding post-diagnosis turmoil. I, for one, will be patient, as one of the producers himself has a son with Asperger’s, and I’m certain he’ll at least endeavor to do justice to the pain, exhaustion, and sheer irritation that comes with an ASD diagnosis, and hopefully further address such issues as the financial implications, and the effect on siblings.

Whether Parenthood is a completely accurate rendition or not, it has already raised awareness amongst the general public. Evidently, immediately following the end of the pilot, as well as the morning after, Asperger’s syndrome  was one of the top Google searches (the fact that this technologically illiterate writer understands what a ‘top Google search’ entails should be celebrated by a parade, by the way.)  If people are intrigued by the show they will do research, research will lead to a broader knowledge base, and knowledge leads to an improved and gentler understanding of autism spectrum disorders, and their effect on families as a whole.

Besides, I get to see Peter Krause again on a regular basis. I, for one, am rooting for the show.