All Muddled Up

Waiting for the fog to lift, literally and figuratively.

Waiting for the fog to lift, literally and figuratively.

More than the diets, more than the structure, more than the cognitive delays, I am flummoxed and frustrated by the sensory and auditory processing issues that come with our version of ASD. I was raised in a house full of voices and conversations, laughter and bickering, a barrage opinions trivial and and nontrivial.

While I require long stretches of silence I also crave conversation, and there are times when animated voices are something my boy truly cannot tolerate. Even conversation in muted tones can upset him if my sentences are not complete and he becomes furious with my “muddled up” speech at the merest hesitation mid-sentence. Go ahead, try it, try to talk in complete sentences all the time without pausing or correcting yourself partway through. It’s not always a problem for him, but it seems to happen a lot these days.

Keeping my distance.

Keeping our distance.

What bothers me most is that it is easier to have conversations when he is not in the same room and I hate what this kind of self-imposed isolation indicates. It keeps me from doing things I want to do with him, and makes me want to protect him from those situations that overwhelm him and make him want to stop the world – and me – from talking.

25+ Movies and Shows that Pass the Tests of Time, Patience, and Scripting – and 10+ that Don’t

Yes, we have a lot of movies.

Yes, we have a lot of movies.

In a nod to the late Roger Ebert, I’ve assembled a list of movies and shows that can endure the repeated watching that results with having an ASD person in the family. This list is highly personalized – you may find the movies I love are the ones you can’t  stand – still, I’ve tried to give a quick rationale for why I like or dislike each one. There is one universal truth: if you expose ASD kids to inappropriate language, they will repeat it – in public and loudly. SpongeBob Squarepants deserves a post all to itself. You’ll have to wait for that one. The Same goes for Finding Nemo. The jury is still out on Scooby Doo.

Do

All of the Scholastic/Weston Woods videos of classic books like Goodnight Gorilla, A Story A Story and Strega Nona

Having the paper books available and turning on the subtitles for each story clearly bolstered our boy’s verbal and sight reading skills.

Sesame Street/The Muppet Show/Muppet Movies

Inexplicably, we go through pro and anti-muppet phases and continue to have lengthy discussions about the “realness” of Muppets. The Muppets are also very useful in teaching about humor and jokes like puns – ASD kids seem to read the social cues of muppets better than in actual people.

Richard Scarry’s Busytown/Busy People

Lovely music and great ways to learn alphabets, rhyming and counting. Also good to have these books handy for reading/storytelling skills.

Dumbo

So many people think this movie is too sad, but there is no greater depiction of the mother-baby connection in animated film. The pink elephants and the crows are also objectionable to some people, but that Casey Junior Train is an icon that endures. It’s what inspired the artist in our boy. For years he would set paper, crayons and paint in front of me and make me (and his teachers) draw it over and over – and then one day he did it himself.

Kipper

His Kipper scripting was so spot-on that everyone at the local pool thought he was British. I could watch this forever. I may have to.

Wallace & Gromit/Shaun the Sheep

Hilarious. A Close Shave is a little scary, FYI. Shaun is a tiny non-verbal sheep – our boy identified strongly with him.

Thomas the Tank Engine/Thomas and the Magic Railroad

The older the better – Ringo, James Carlin and Alec Baldwin if you can find them. At one point I wrote to Baldwin telling him he should make videos as Mr. Conductor in which he eats a variety of foods to model good eating habits – the single act of eating celery and carrots in the Magic Railroad movie changed our lives. No, he didn’t write back.

Cars

The themes seem to resonate – loyalty, frustration, friendship, racing. Skip the second one.

The Wizard of Oz

Our boy’s favorite song: If I Only Had a Brain. Do not, under any circumstances, see Oz the Great and Powerful.

The Sound of Music

My favorite story about this movie: when we were doing cognitive testing, the examiner asked our boy who discovered America and the answer our boy gave him was, “Christopher Plummer.” Also, he drew the cathedral wedding scene using the characters from Scooby Doo.

The Polar Express

No explanation needed. Later this year I’ll do a more detailed post on Christmas viewing.

Live action Peter Pan (2003)

The Disney version pales in comparison to this visually stunning, complex version, in which Jason Issacs’ Hook is the perfect villain with a sympathetic edge. Old, alone, done for.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Truly scrumptious. The child catcher scared the hell out of me when I was a kid, but made zero impact on my kids. Go figure.

The Lion King

I didn’t want to add it to the list, but I had to. It’s the Elton John/Nathan Lane/Jeremy Irons factor.

The Road to Eldorado

Totally underrated – visually stunning with dialogue and songs well worth repeating.

The Emperor’s New Groove

Boom, baby! The incomparable Eartha Kitt. Kronk and his own theme music. Possibly the highlight of David Spade’s career.

Hercules

Pegasus. Excellent soundtrack.

Toy Story

All of them – he literally grew up with them, and Andy’s going off to college is the best story we have yet on transition issues.

Looney Tunes

We did have to hide this one for awhile because his standard response to everything became “Beep! Beep!” but it’s back in circulation now. We simply cannot live without Wile E. Coyote, super genius.

What’s Up Doc?

Yes, Eunice. Our boy dressed as Howard Bannister regularly for months. Possibly my favorite movie ever.

Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

These are great – skip the other two.

Don’t

Up

I don’t know anyone who was not destroyed by the first 20 minutes of this movie – it actually triggered such anxiety in our boy that we had to see professional help.

Ice Age

Sorry, Scrat. No redeeming dialogue or plots, and scripted speech from Sid the Sloth is really, really bad.

Jurassic Park

We couldn’t really avoid it, and it really is a good movie but: too much screaming! Also, the only curse word our boy uses is a perfect imitation of Samuel L. Jackson’s “Damn!”

The Sword and the Stone

Yes, Merlin is a hoot, but if I hear “I’ve had enough of this nonsense!!” one more time I will blow myself to Bermuda.

Cinderella

Lucifer the cat was the bane of my existence for years. Too much meanness.

Beauty and the Beast

Gaston and the angry mob bring out all the worst qualities of scripted speech.

The Wolfman

We canceled our premium cable channels after he stumbled on this and became obsessed by both the sex scene and the transformation from man to beast. It did help us communicate at a  key point in his development because we realized that references to the Wolfman occurred when he experienced digestive pain.

Both lists could go on forever, but these are the ones that come to mind without a trip to the movie shelf. If you’ve found anything good, helpful or just fun for older kids and teens please post a comment – we are always looking for more adult content that is not too adult, in terms of language, sex and violence.

Ten Years On: Revisiting the Magic Pebble

This is an essay I wrote before blogging was invented, composed for someone who was our first magic pebble. I posted it a few years ago on LettersHead, but here is clearly where it belongs. This is for you, K.

We used to read William Steig’s Sylvester and the Magic Pebble every night.  It’s the story of Sylvester Duncan, a young donkey that finds a magic red pebble, and, faced with a fierce lion on his way home, Sylvester panics and turns himself into a rock.  His frantic parents look all over for him, but give up in despair after a month of searching.  They are reunited a year later when his parents lay out a picnic on the rock that is Sylvester, and happen to find the red pebble and put it on the rock.  Sylvester wishes successfully to be himself again and they all go on happily with their lives, saving the pebble for a time when they may need something more than to be together as a family.

Whenever I read this story to our children, I find myself identifying with various characters in the story.  On some days, I am the mother and W. is Sylvester, hidden in the stone of autism, wanting to get out but locked in the by the spell of the pebble.  We are Mr. and Mrs. Duncan, haplessly eating lunch on the rock, wondering how we can possibly go on with our lives when the fate of our son is such a complete mystery to us.  On some nights, the story in my head ended there, with W. still trapped inside the rock.

There are more dramatic versions.  There’s the Harry Potter version where Sylvester the Dobby rock starts hurling itself around, crashing into people and things, a possessed bludger that no petrifying spell can stop.  The wayward rock eventually wears itself out, but only after leaving most of the Duncans’ town of Oatsdale beaten and bewildered.  Mr. and Mrs. Duncan split a bottle of dandelion wine and dream of summer on the beach.

Occasionally, I am Sylvester, trapped inside the rock, wondering how I got there and wanting only to sleep to forget how I got myself into such a spot.  The world moves around me, the people and seasons come and go but because I am a rock and I don’t look like myself no one knows I am there.  I am inches from the magic pebble that will set me free, but I am helpless to touch it or even be sure that it is there.  My parents are gone.  I cannot be rescued the way Sylvester was; there is no one to rejoice over my return so perhaps it doesn’t matter whether I am a rock or not.  But just as I warm to my mid-life crisis, I am touched by my magic pebble – it is W., reaching with two fingers to push up the sides of my mouth to make me smile.  And it is M., with a smooch that could bring the hardest granite to life.  And A., too, working her own magic just by reading her own book on the floor next to us.

And there are magic pebble days, days in which someone or something brings our beloved W. back to us.  On these days the story ends just as it should; the boy I see and the person he is inside are one and the same and we inhabit the same world.  The magic is the love we share, in his friends, in the water and sand of the beach, and in the people who work so hard to make the world understandable to him and to make him understandable to us.  These are the best days of all, and as the years go by there are more and more of them, and that is a miracle I don’t need a book to help me understand.

Letters? Oh…you mean theeeese letters…

Naturally just before Parent’s Day they get the kids to get caught up on their correspondence – just in time to ask you to bring them stuff. You know they’ve been sitting around his bunk for a while because there’s no mention of the knee injury. Doesn’t matter – I live to see his distinctive handwriting (best in family), which I keep trying to make into a font.

You can tell that the bulk of his letter-writing experience has been to Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny because he’s got the gift requests down pat – very specific, down to the materials and manufacturers. The boy understands how to communicate when he wants something – he includes visual prompts. He drew the cookies he wants me to send.

Awesome.

Second Phone Call: Talk to Me

Damn the communication disorder. We agreed on early morning phone calls because we wanted the call to be as far away from bedtime as possible to avoid homesickness, which is more likely to strike at the end of the day. But now he comes to the telephone sleepy and hungry, ready for breakfast instead of conversation. Sweet and groggy, he gives maddeningly short answers.

What’s your favorite thing? “Evening swim.”

How’s the food? “Good!”

Are you having fun? “Yeah.”

What do you think of camp? “Awesome!”

I know these are good and encouraging answers, but I want details. Reassurances. Stories. Questions about how things are at home. I remind myself that I, too, am monosyllabic at 8am. More importantly, this isn’t any different from the conversations we have over the phone when he is here. I know that he is looking at his counselor as he speaks, waiting for prompts, and that the short answers mean that he is not getting prompts because they know I will hear it if they model answers for him. I also know that if he really wanted something, he would tell me. All of that is good, but at the halfway point of a 7 week separation I can’t help but want more. I am being unreasonable.

So the voice, with a trace of sleep in it and a smile behind it that I can detect, will have to suffice. And I blog about because as I write it down it gets more encouraging in the retelling.

What are doing today? “Having breakfast.”

What’s for breakfast? “I have no idea.”

What do you want for breakfast? “Pancakes.”

What do you think of camp? “I’ve been here a lot of weeks!”

Is that okay? “Yeah!”

We are coming to see you on family day! “Good!”

We will all give lots of hugs. “Yeah.” <heavy sigh>

We love you and are so proud of you. “I love you, too!”

We can’t really ask for more than that.

But a letter would be nice…