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.

Gratitude Attitude

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 9:45 am by autismmommytherapist

Today, I just want to extend my gratitude to everyone who came out Saturday night to support both my play “Raising Autism”, and POAC Autism Services as well. POAC is one of the largest service providers for autism in the Garden State, and an organization consisting of some of the most determined and dedicated parents I’ve ever encountered. Special kudos go to Scott Craig, for working with the antiquated sound system of a high school auditorium, and bringing our words to life. Thanks to Abi Gardner and Colleen Earp for “giving us light”, and more importantly, talking me down from the ledge of “everything that can go wrong”. Major appreciation goes to Brick Township High School’s drama teacher Paul Bibelheimer, for setting up the stage and summoning the patience to explain “audio feed” to an ex-elementary school teacher. Thank-you to Duke Clement, our fabulous videographer who donated his professional services as a favor to a friend.

My appreciation goes to the Brick Township Board of Education both for approving and donating the space (thank you!), and to principal Dennis Filippone for hosting us. Major thanks to our “crew”, Tom, Sean and Al, who managed to make a high school stage look semi-professional. I thank Kerri Licini, Maureen Martino, and Kristin Maurer for handling the door, and for the kind words prior to our performance. Much love to my brother Erik Rutan for providing his lyrical notes, and some much-needed support. My respect and gratitude to all of POAC Autism Services, particularly Gary Weitzen and Simone Tellini, for their help, time and patience as I went over the details “just one more time”.

My most heartfelt appreciation to all of my actresses, Babette Zschiegner, Bobbie Gallagher, and Mary Craig. From figuring out the logistics of how to attend rehearsals, to pouring out everything you have onto that stage, I am so grateful. I literally (!) couldn’t have done it without you!

Finally, my love and appreciation to my husband Jeff, the “real theater guy”, and my boys, Justin and Zachary.  Thanks for your love (and patience!).

April 11, 2012

POAC Autism Services Walk-a-thon 2012

Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , at 8:57 am by autismmommytherapist

Yup. It’s that time of year again where I hit up people for money.

I know. I’m already asking people to come to my play to support POAC Autism Services, and really, I should just shut up now. The truth is however, while I hope my little artistic endeavor generates a veritable boatload of money for my favorite autism organization, there are a number of fundraising walk-a-thons coming up which traditionally provide the lion’s share of their income. Since POAC receives absolutely no state or federal grants, they rely predominantly on this handful of events so that they can continue to offer training, services, and recreational events at little or no cost to the autism community.

And even if you have no connection to anyone with a child with autism, it’s still a great way to exercise.

Due to the fact that I’m producing, directing and acting in a play I wrote just weeks before our local event (yup, insert second shameless plug here) I will not be putting together my own team this year. My lack of initiative to form one is also due to the fact that since we moved back to New Jersey, pretty much everyone we know has their own child with autism, and will be walking for him or her on their own team.

So this year I’m glomming onto the team of my friends Mary and Scott Craig, both of whom work tirelessly to support the efforts of POAC. Mary serves on the POAC Board, and both husband and wife spend tremendous amounts of time helping to put together fundraisers to keep the organization going. It’s an honor to walk with them, and for their son Will.

Plus, I just like them.

So, if you’re looking to make a donation to a fantastic organization, or wish to honor a child or family dealing with autism, please see the link below to my walk-a-thon web page. I’ll be participating in the Lakewood BlueClaws event on May 5th with Zach and my friend Cindy, who has also generously offered her time this year. And if contributing is not an option, please consider coming out to any of the five walks listed on the POAC website, and simply show your support.

Trust me, autism on any level is not an easy road. We’d really appreciate it.

I’ll get off my soapbox now, and go feed my hungry kids. Before I go I’d like to share one final thought- that POAC Autism Services has had a direct and profound influence on my children’s education, leisure time, and their happiness. They have done the same for numerous families throughout New Jersey as well. I am truly grateful for their existence, and for all the services they provide.

And for anyone who makes a contribution of any kind, I’d like to extend my heartfelt thanks and gratitude

My POAC walk-a-thon web page

March 23, 2012

“Raising Autism”- Gratitude Attitude

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:56 pm by autismmommytherapist

Today’s Gratitude Attitude goes out to my fabulous actresses and friends, Bobbie Gallagher, Babette Zschiegner, and Mary Craig, for a great rehearsal this morning.  I can’t believe our first show is in four weeks!  Major thanks to everyone who is helping to promote the play, I truly appreciate it!

November 28, 2011

My Autism Play (a.k.a. What I Did Over Summer Vacation)

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 11:50 am by autismmommytherapist

As I’ve mentioned before on this blog, since 2010 things have been going pretty well chez McCafferty (I had hoped the tide would turn with President Obama’s inauguration, but we had to wait another year). Everyone eats now, and for the most part everyone sleeps through the night as well (except for me). In general, that high-level angst we were enveloped in now seems only in evidence when Zach is not getting what he wants EXACTLY how, and when, he wants it. Fortunately, since I am a veteran teacher, this is a situation I usually feel extremely capable of dealing with on a daily basis.

When handling Zach, the fabulous Tina Fey quote from Prayer for a Daughter, “I will not have that Shit. I will not have it”, often comes to mind.

Even with the impending end of the world (again!), and the fact that scarves are the style and I still can’t figure out how to wear them, we seem to have reached a lovely little détente with autism in this house, an acknowledgment that it still lives and breathes amongst us, but perhaps isn’t the main things we talk about anymore. I believe last Tuesday, for thirty-seven consecutive seconds while I was making dinner, I actually forgot my kids had it.

Then Justin asked me to rearrange his book shelf for the five thousandth time that day, and I remembered.

The truth is, I’ve slowly realized over the past two years that I’m truly enjoying myself and having fun again, which was pretty much my main goal in life for thirty-six years before I became a mother. I’ve had to take some baby steps to return there, fought off a few mild panic attacks after having a good time for more than five minutes, until I realized my progeny were actually happy too. For me at least, it took a while to claw my way out of what Susan Senator so aptly named “siege mode”, a not-so-fun way of life within which the McCaffertys dwelled for a good half decade or so.

Trust me, I am much more pleasant to be around now. Just ask my husband.

Back in what I lovingly refer to as “good times” (or that year-and-a-half in Virginia where I crawled around after my autistic toddler six hours a day trying to get him to sign “ball” because our Early Intervention services sucked), I found myself working side-by-side both with my son, and that famous cycle of grief. I can clearly remember one particularly chill fall day, where I’d spent an hour with Justin building a ball “thingy”, soliciting great signs and extreme enthusiasm from him with ease, a double coup. When we completed our masterpiece Justin went to attach the final ramp to the tippy-top, and when he couldn’t make it click he became immediately distraught. Before I could intervene he simply smashed the whole thing to the ground, looked at me with what I swore was unbridled outrage, and threw himself to the ground in a tantrum I’m certain they could hear at the White House.

Through the caterwauling I recall thinking I’d missed Oprah’s Favorite Things for this. I admit, I was bitter.

I remember, as I tried to scoop up all the tiny plastic pieces I would certainly step on later, that I knew a year into the “therapy wars” that this wasn’t enough for me anymore. It had been twelve months since Justin’s diagnosis, and although he’d actually made a lot of progress in a number of areas, it was clear to me he wouldn’t be one of those kids who “recovered”. I also realized over the course of that year I’d made a mental shift, perhaps out of necessity, or to save my sanity. I was no longer striving to completely eliminate Justin’s layers of autism, banish them from sight.

I simply wanted the kid to find his damn happy place. Was that too much to ask?

So, I returned to that famous grief cycle and struck a bargain with the universe (nothing specific mind you, I like to keep my options open), one I will honestly confess was nothing but a win-win for me, which is how I like things. I made a promise to myself that if my child ever smiled more than he cried I’d move beyond therapy and folding laundry, and actually do something for myself, and the autism community as well. These things included (but are not limited to) writing a book/blog, creating some kind of fundraiser that could easily be schlepped around, and finally, a project me and my mom could implement within the public schools. So far, I’ve accomplished step one (at least five people RAVE about my unpublished “back-story”), and the blog is simply a joy. So, in an effort to keep true to my promise this summer I moved on to step two, and in my “free time”, I wrote an autism play.

Which, in case you weren’t aware, is exactly the next logical step for an ex-French major/housewife with one publishing credit to her name to undertake.

It’s a simple little endeavor, one which requires the actresses just to sit and read a script out loud, because at this point in middle age, I’m pretty certain I’ll never memorize anything again. I’m shooting for putting it on in April during Autism Awareness Month, even if it ends up being in my house (and trust me, that’s a serious possibility). I’ve had the great fortune of finding out last week that POAC, Parents of Autistic Children, has agreed to let me “produce” it for them as a fundraiser. If we can get people other than my mommy to show up to this play (she really liked it!), perhaps we can generate a little revenue for a great organization, and a great cause.

I’ll be writing about this periodically, so for now I’ll be keeping more details under wraps (I know, how will you survive the suspense?), but I look forward to taking you on my journey of securing actresses, begging people to use social media/witchcraft to promote this thing, and finding a venue bigger than my living room. Trust me, I’ll need help with a title (I suck at those), and a great song for us to walk on stage to (thinking “Lady Marmalade” from Moulin Rouge is fun, but perhaps a song about prostitutes might be a wee bit inappropriate). In advance, I am grateful for all the suggestions and support I know you will show me.

But most of all, I’m simply grateful for my sons’ smiles, and for enjoying the absolute luxury of trying to fulfill a bargain.