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.

Together.

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.

February 17, 2011

Showtime

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.