January 1, 2013

Dear George Lucas

Posted in AMT's Faves, Fun Stuff, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:08 pm by autismmommytherapist

star wars

Dear Mr. Lucas,

First of all, let me wish you the happiest of new years (I know you’ve been waiting to hear from me), with hopefully much peace and prosperity coming your way in the year to come. It may seem a little strange to hear from a housewife in Jersey who has absolutely no Hollywood connections, but in the event your assistant’s assistant’s assistant ever puts this into your hands, I felt I simply had to write. You see, over the past three days, the McCafferty family has been celebrating “moviepalooza”, watching episodes four through six of the Star Wars movies (sorry sir, the best ones). That is to say, all of us watched them.

I mean, all four of us.


No interruptions.

All the way from “Dah dah dah DAH da” to the credits.

I’m sure this doesn’t sound in any way miraculous to you, as apparently families all over the world watch movies together, but in this household, it is indeed worth taking note of the occasion. You see, my oldest son has moderate to severe autism, and part of his perseveration is to play the same clip of a movie over and over (and over) again, until frankly the film loses all meaning and anyone nearby who hasn’t become immune to the process over the years wants to pull out their hair.

It’s usually not much better in the theater either. Generally, getting Justin to remain seated for at least half the film is a Herculean effort requiring lots of popcorn, a lanyard, and begging. In the past few years I’ve had to walk out in the middle of countless movies, without knowing for sure what would happen to those fetching gnomes in Gnomeo and Juliette or if Arthur would save Christmas for us all (fingers were crossed on that one). I usually have to take Zach to get to the end, or wait until the title comes out on DVD.

Have I mentioned that I’m not really that patient a person?

I digress. Anyway, over the last three days I’ve witnessed my son snuggled up with us on the couch, following the storyline with fascination, rocking out to the light saber fights, and seemingly fascinated by Jabba the Hut (my husband particularly likes the scenes with Carrie Fisher and Jabba, can’t imagine why). As a family, we pretty much have just bowling and Great Adventure as events all of us can share together, and depending on Justin’s mood, even bowling can be dicey. Those six hours, where occasionally he even looked over to me with wonder in his face and smiled, are pretty big.

I’m still smiling back.

I’m not sure if this is the start of something new, or just a fluke not to be repeated. We’ll be borrowing the first three episodes of Star Wars for a repeat marathon soon. And as long as Justin is captivated by those special effects and those intense battles, and can ignore Jar-Jar Binks, I think we may be okay.

We’ll have to see on that last one.

On that note, I’ll end this missive, and just say thanks. Thanks for dreaming up characters and plotlines still as captivating to my son now as they were to me thirty-five years ago (dear God), when I was a ten-year-old brat who said she never wanted to see a science fiction movie.

Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford (and their collective “yumminess”) changed that forever.

So, thanks Mr. Lucas. Thanks, and from one cinephile to another, happy new year.

March 27, 2011


Posted in My Take on Autism tagged , , , , , at 10:37 am by autismmommytherapist

It’s not even 2:00 PM on this Saturday afternoon, and already I’m regretting that I didn’t refill my travel pack of “purse Tylenol” for the adventure me, Justin, Zach, and my aunt are about to embark upon. You see, Seussical is playing in my aunt’s school district, and I thought the kids might enjoy the theatrical arts for a change. Justin was going to miss his horseback riding lesson anyhow because the people who run the farm are getting certified for therapeutic riding this weekend, so I figured the play would give me and my oldest something to do that didn’t involve throwing quarters into fake slot machines at the beach. Unfortunately, Justin realized we weren’t schlepping out to his lesson the minute I made a left at a major intersection rather than going straight (he didn’t get his internal GPS from me), and he’s been whining and kicking the back of my seat ever since.

Better add a heating pad to that Tylenol when I get home.

Despite Justin’s angst at the aberration in his Saturday schedule, I’m excited for this afternoon. Zachary loves pretend play, would prefer to have me chase him around the house most days as Rexy-the-medium-sized-dinosaur, or Daddy-the-potato-chip-eating-man, rather than engage with his toys, and I’m pretty certain watching people dressed up in costume and acting out familiar stories on stage will blow his mind. That, coupled with the fact he can be fairly dramatic himself (can’t imagine where he got that from), leads me to believe at least one of my kids is going to get something out of this experience.

I’m actually harboring hope that Justin will rise above this change in plan and give the show a chance, because he really seemed to enjoy the shenanigans of a bunch of elves at Christmas when I took him to his school play, and he is very familiar with the works of Dr. Seuss himself. We only made it to intermission then, and that was by the grace of Ms. M’s fabulous timer (half the school’s staff was in the audience, I felt absolutely NO PRESSURE  WHATSOEVER) for Justin to comply with it), but still, he made it to the halfway point with nary a complaint nor cry. Hell, because my aunt is an educator I know we’ll even get rock star seating today, so he’ll be able to see and hear every moment without his almost eight-year-old frame sitting on my lap, which bodes well for his future enjoyment.

Not that I don’t love to cuddle, but I’ve only got forty-five pounds on him now. Literally.

We finally make it to the high school, and my aunt and I luck into parking spots next to one another, Zachary waving wildly to me from the back seat of my aunt’s car, me making note of landmarks so I can find my own vehicle should Justin decline to participate in today’s extravaganza. After grabbing the twelve bags that accompany two small boys we make our way into the building, Justin kvetching in moderate fashion, Zachary excited beyond description. We arrive a bit early just so we could secure those “educator seats” the school had promised would be available, and after dumping our gear in the auditorium, we decide it would be prudent to walk Justin around a bit before the show began. He is decidedly unhappy with our plan, balking at the refreshment stand replete with chocolate but no chips (yes, those fertility doctors swear he is indeed my son), glancing with great disdain at the student artwork fastidiously displayed throughout the halls, annoyed beyond all reason that the girls’ bathroom is unavailable to him, even though I know he doesn’t need to go.

In short, if this production doesn’t have a horse for him to ride on stage, he is already over it.

With just two minutes to spare before showtime, we walk/I am dragged back to the auditorium, and I try desperately to convince my seven-year-old he will indeed enjoy an operatic Cat-in-the-Hat, but to no avail. I manage to coerce Justin into sitting down near the entrance, regard my youngest, and inform my aunt her oldest grand-nephew and I are on our way out. I tell Zach that his brother isn’t feeling well (nor is his mother) and that he’s going to stay here and watch the play while Mommy goes home, and I am grateful for the developmental miracle which is the age of four and not three, because he seems absolutely fine with that scenario. My aunt runs back in and grabs our bags for us, and as soon as Justin sees his familiar white-and-red traveling suitcase he relaxes his death grip on my hand, and smiles.

Little bugger.

It occurs to me as I watch my youngest son bounce happily back down the aisle to see his very first play, an event which I will now not get to witness, that perhaps I could have forced the issue. Although Justin will most likely mirror the height and stature of his 6’4”inch father he is at this moment technically seven years old, and for the next five minutes at least, I will remain taller than him. I could have given propelling this kid back to his seat a chance, perhaps bribed him with food or juice as I half-carried, half-pulled him back to the front row.

But I won’t, because kids’ families are here to see their progeny perform, and I sense a tantrum of outlandish proportions will ensue. There is no “autism showing” of Seussical, after all.

Justin is delightful all the way back to the SUV I still have trouble locating despite my chosen landmarks. His enthusiasm lasts all the way through my yelling at my husband that this afternoon “SUCKS” and “can’t he find the movie times a BIT faster”, because God forbid I should learn how to use a real phone with the internet on it. When I drive around the perimeter of the mall four consecutive times to kill the extra ten minutes I know I can’t fill in the theater prior to the second time we’ll be viewing Gnomeo and Juliette, I know for sure Justin’s happy with our destination, because he only complains on our last go-around. He is shaking with joy, an enthusiastic response he takes with him into the theater, one which is diminished neither by the fact he’s already seen the first fifty minutes of this film, nor that it’s in 3-D and giving his mother a migraine.

For once, I can’t even enjoy the genius of Elton John.

I quietly regard him as he munches his way happily through his butter-and-salt-laden concoction, really look at him as he bounces up and down slightly in his seat and concentrates on the plot as if we didn’t see this movie two weeks ago. In my mind I replay what we could have done differently to make the day more successful, but short of Donald Trump loaning us his helicopter for the afternoon so I wouldn’t have to make that left onto Rte. 88, I know his new aversion to the theatrical world could not have been thwarted. No social story, no picture schedule, no verbal explanation (nor begging) would have convinced this child to enter that theater once he decided it didn’t contain four-legged creatures with saddles on them. Yes, this stubbornness is most certainly part of autism’s fun accoutrement.

But the other part is simply that my son wants what he wants when he wants it.

Normally, I’d simply try to reframe the picture, be grateful I’d planned ahead with two separate modes of transportation which enabled my youngest to stay, and be thankful I found an alternative outing for my eldest, who after careful preparation might even make it through the entire film. In general, sucking it up on a daily basis is what I shoot for.

It’s a goal.

Today however, I’m just disgusted. Not with my child, because whatever disconnect is transpiring in his brain is not his fault. He certainly participates in many events which he also regards with mild to moderate disgust, but Seussical is not going to be one of them. No, I’m not angry at him.

But I am mad, not in that insane sense (although some days I wonder if that state-of-mind is on the horizon), but in a primal, pissed-off nothing-will-recover-this-day kind of way. Right now my youngest son is reveling in regarding his feline friend sport a cap of ridiculous proportions on his head, is perhaps cheering on a bird who needs a new tail in order to take wing. I have no doubt he is ensconced on my aunt’s lap with mouth ajar, eyes wide and wondrous at the spectacle, immersed in that world of fantasy he is so good at conjuring for himself. I remind myself that the important thing is that he was able to remain, that he’s enjoying the experience in all of his four-year-old glory.

But I’m missing that glory, and while there will be other productions, there will never again be the first. His first. My son’s first, of what I hope will be a long career at appreciating the fine arts.

And for once I immerse myself in my own disdain, and not-so-quietly in the dimly lit theater, during a spirited rendition of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting”, say aloud the words, “today, autism sucks”.

February 17, 2011


Posted in Life's Little Moments tagged , , , , at 11:57 am by autismmommytherapist

It’s showtime.

Justin and I have pulled into the parking lot of the closest movie theater to our home with an “autism showing”, and he is literally vibrating out of his seat with anticipation on this blustery Saturday morning. We’ve never frequented this venue before as this locale has just instituted AMC’s monthly tradition, and my son looked a little confused as we bypassed the mall mommy loves and swerved around to the theater instead. Once he saw the “divine Miss M” walking toward us all became clear however, and his litany of “eee sounds” accompanied his rhythmic rocking as he strained toward the front seat with delight. We quickly park as we are running a few minutes late, and we hurry toward the building as there are still tickets to acquire, a potty to visit, and most importantly to mommy, buttered popcorn to purchase before the prompt 10 AM showing.

If I have to sit through yet another animated movie, I’m getting something good out of it too.

AMC Theatres began incorporating this showing into their film schedule roughly a year ago, and I quickly found that the small changes they’ve instituted for families with autistic children have their benefits. Each month a kid’s film is unveiled on a Saturday morning at 10:00, which generally precludes a huge crowd due to its early showing. There are no previews (which since the chosen film is always a kid’s show, mommy likes), the lights are left dimly on, and unlike most everything else in my life, the event always starts on time. Best yet, it’s understood that kids are permitted to do almost anything in the theater, from throwing a tantrum to reciting every line from the show (or any movie for that matter) at high decibels, verbatim. For approximately an hour and a half, it is a safe zone for children with autism to just let loose and be who they really are.

Even if it’s loud, messy, and often highly irritating.

Ironically Justin’s behavior has generally been perfect in the movies, and until a year ago I took him to the “regular” showings, where he’d nurse his small, calorie-laden kernels for the better part of the show, sometimes sitting on my lap as I deftly maneuvered thin mints into my mouth, quickly followed by a Coke chaser. I actually enjoyed taking him as he always remained quiet during the show, stayed relatively calm, and gave me an excuse to consume candy without guilt. We never made it quite to the end of any story, but it was always close enough that I could anticipate the ending, and was never that upset about leaving early.

It doesn’t take much to make me happy.

Unfortunately, for unknown reasons I’d like revealed to me before I die, since the beginning of 2010 Justin has decided that no event we attend should last more than twenty-seven consecutive minutes, and what with the economy and all, it just seemed a little wasteful to exit the theater after half an hour. There was one Saturday morning where the projectionist mistakenly aired the previews, which meant that Justin announced our imminent departure approximately four minutes after the film had started, and I knew something had to change before I’d return. If I was going to spend the equivalent of a night at Applebee’s, I’d like to get my money’s worth.

Yes, here I go with those extravagant dreams again.

So we took a hiatus from Hollywood for a time (I’m sure they missed us), but now that (by God!) we’ve conquered bowling as a complete family, I am determined to add at least one more activity to our repertoire. Miss “M”, to my delight, has agreed to accompany us to the theater and work with us at home several times, using her behavioral techniques to shape Justin’s behavior. I’m hopeful we’ll eventually be able to work him up to sitting through an entire show, which will allow the four of us to share yet one more fun activity together, as well as afford us the luxury of arriving and departing in one vehicle.

As with everything ABA it’s imperative to come to the table prepared, and of course Miss “M” has already thought our new desired routine through, and has brought the necessary materials with her for the morning. Justin always seems to make his desire for departure known after he’s finished his snack, so Miss “M” has purchased Ziplock baggies with which to divvy up his popcorn, the act of which will be conducted out of his sight while I take him to the bathroom. She has created another one of her wonderful visual strips, complete with tiny laminated photos of his preferred film food, a random toilet, an attempt at capturing a shot of the movie itself, and last, a photo of my car. By some miracle I have remembered to bring the timer, so in theory, our goal of getting him to sit through an extra fifteen minutes of Gnomeo and Juliette should be successful.

In theory.

We finally make it into the theater with child, plastic bags of popcorn, and goodie bag in hand, and settle into great seats center stage, with nobody directly around us in case of a mild skirmish. The movie has just begun, and as I help Justin off with his coat Miss “M” assists me on the other side. He slowly slides down into his seat, already searching around for the brightly-colored bag that signifies movie food mecca. There are the faintest rumblings of a low-grade whine just beginning in his throat as Miss “M” quickly intervenes, extending the “magic velcro strip” to him, cluing him into his visual cues. He is mollified, and the whining (to my intense happiness), desists.

Our BCBA gives his pointer finger a workout as she prompts him to indicate the photo of the film with a quick jab, then she quickly reveals to him the timer with its sliver of bold red, signifying minutes not yet elapsed. She then counts to ten, prompts him lightly to remove the laminated square and hand it to her, after which he rapidly points to the portrait of the “yellow tower of crap” on his own. She hands him a generously-filled baggie which elicits a mild protest as it’s not in its original receptacle, but the allure of consuming carbs wins out over its unacceptable packaging, and he munches his prize contentedly. With the exception of the RUDEST FAMILY ON EARTH attempting unsuccessfully to block my son’s view by claiming the row in front of us twenty minutes into our gnomish tale (really lady, given the way you’re staring at the more vocal children in the theater I’m quite certain your kids are “normal”, can’t you at least get here ON TIME), everything runs smoothly.

Miss “M” has me run time checks, and after Justin eats enough baggies of popcorn which, had I consumed them, would have forced me to go up a dress size, it becomes clear that he has had enough. My boy stands up and politely hands me his empty juice box as well as the white bag which always signifies departure, and at Miss “M’s” prompting, I look down at my timepiece for one last check.

We’ve remained here happily for almost fifty minutes.

I admit, I’m almost giddy as we leave the establishment (like I said, it doesn’t take much these days), hopeful that we can eventually stretch this out, fashion this event into an outing for everyone. Miss “M” will meet us here next month as well, and in the interim will practice having Justin watch long stretches of DVDs with her at home, which given his penchant for watching the same thirty-second clip over and over again, will prove interesting. If anyone can pull this off it will be her, and I find myself smiling as I strap Justin into his complicated contraption in the backseat, and finalize plans with our BCBA. The feeling I’m experiencing has lain dormant for a while, tantalizingly near on some days, but only recently making its welcome presence known into my life once more. I savor the moment, mark it, remind myself to recall it later for Jeff as the two of us slowly make our way through the grid of cars to the remainder of our day, and the highway beyond.

The feeling is that elusive emotion, called hope.