Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Autism Story, as told through the movie "Happy Feet" (Journal #43)

"Remember son, the word triumph starts with "try" and ends with..."umph"
~ Memphis (Mumble's dad) in Happy Feet

Twas the night before Thanksgiving and all through the house,
mama Cottington had a meeting , and the boys were not quiet as a mouse.

So off to the theatre dad took them so quick,
to see a new movie, the Happy Feet flick... Brent took Zach and Sam to see Happy Feet, the adorable movie about a penguin named Mumble, starring the voices of Robin Williams and Elijah Wood, on Thanksgiving eve before we had a late night departure for grandma and grandpa's in Iowa. They loved it, and I was incredibly bumbed I couldn't go with them, as we love doing those movies as a family. When Brent got home, he told me I would have loved it, that it had lots of meaning behind it related to someone I know, but he did not elaborate. We then left for our trip to Iowa.

On Thanksgiving night, with all of our nieces and nephews, children, siblings and grandma and grandpa, off to the theatre we all went again. The movie of choice would be Happy Feet again, and of course the boys did not think twice about another viewing of it.

When we had gotten our popcorn and finally sat down ready, Brent looked at me and said that he wanted me to tell him who this movie reminded me of after viewing. He also told me that it would make me cry, especially after I figured the meaning out. Boy did I, and did I really appreciate Brent's synopsis and correlation of Happy Feet to autism. So here is how the movie goes with a direct correlation to Sam and autism.

Mumble, an adorable little penguin is born a little differently than all the other penquins. He comes out physically looking different than all the other penguins as well, when he hatches out of his little egg with all eyes on him. It is very obvious from the beginning that there is something different about Mumble.

The one thing that is the same, or "neurotypical" to penguins, is that they all have a heart song to attract them to their soul mate. It is made evident in the movie that all penguins must have this special ability to sing, or they can never truly belong. Mumble is so happy and content with who he is, not even realizing that it is a problem. He tries so hard to communicate to others that he has a song, but they don't understand him, because he doesn't sing his heart song like everyone else. His song is in his feet. He communicates differently. He taps his feet. He dances. He is happy with the way he does it. Mumble doesn't realize it is a problem until they separate him from group. Like a child with Autism. They try so hard to communicate. Even if they have words, are verbal, as with Mumble, the way they express their words and language still make it difficult for others to understand. While Sam is verbal, we have difficult times understanding what he means throughout the day. He has a hard time communicating to us what he wants, which is a huge basis of his melt downs. He can use his words, but he can't tell me when he is sick. It can be hard sometimes. What the movie makes clear though, is that it is not hard for the child to understand themselves. Mumble is so happy and ready to venture through life. I never doubt that Sam doesn't know what he wants. It is just the way that we understand each other. Now that people can understand Sam more and more, he still repeats so much of what he hears around him and from t.v. He understands when to use certain phrases, but he will expect the same response from you that he heard from "the other situation, show, or conversation he first heard it from." If you don't respond the way he expects, then severe frustration sets in. Mumble didn't understand why singing was so important. He didn't think he needed it. But the other penguins knew he would need his heart song to find a mate later in life.

The movie continues with Mumble's parents, Mempis (Hugh Jackman) and Norma Jean (Nicole Kidman) wanting to fix him. They take him to the most professional pengiun singing teacher in Antartica. Reminds me of the whole "cure Autism", gotta fix it now epidemic. In the movie, Mumble doesn't need fixed. He knows his heart song is dancing. It is others that can't accept him. You can even see the disapointment in his parents eyes. Mumble continues to happily go along, not seeing that anything needs fixed. He is a good sport and tries singing lessons, but to no avail, even the "professional" is done. The discussions/debates in the Autism community about cure, always come back to those of us with comments like, "you have him in speech and OT, you have tried diets, you have him on meds, isn't that wanting to fix or cure?".

No. It is helping him along lifes way. Helping him in areas of his life that can be challenging. Everyone (autistic or not) needs a good nights sleep, so Clonidine has helped him get that, and even helped him focus at school better. Neurotypical people use sleep aides who aren't seeking a cure for anything. We don't want Sam cured, we love him the way he is. To me, helping Sam communicate, learn how to use silverware, or how to use his words is simply helping him through this journey called life.

As Mumble grows older, he is unable to graduate with his fellow penguins and is the very last to lose his adolescent feathers. The gap in his development is very evident by now. Somehow, Mumble never lets this get him down and he is determined to do things the same as his peers. As parents of children with Autism, we see the gap between the things our children can do compared to their peers. While Sam is just approaching Kindergarten, it is becoming more and more evident just how far behind he is. We are staying focussed on the things he can do and celebrating the new things he learns along the way.

In Happy Feet, the fish population is decreasing for some reason, causing starvation among the penguins. The entire Penguin Nation blames Mumbles odd dance for disturbing the natural order. Mumble then sets out to prove them wrong. He discovers that humans are at fault in the chain of life. Through his "heart song", his dancing, he wins over the hearts of humans when captured and placed in a zoo display. His dancing reminds people about how adorable and imporatant these creatures are. Hence, the environmentalists come to the rescue, and thanks to Mumbles soul reaching out, the fish increase with abundance.

Perhaps, if we just accept and love our little ones with autism, knowing there is a beautiful heart song that they each sing, then life will be easier for them and their families. Maybe Sam won't marry like Mumble finally does, when he connects with his soul mate who uses his foot beat for her song, but Sam will be able to share his heart song with us forever. Autism is all about acceptance, awareness, and the human spirit.

A Twist of Faith

The three A's:

Awareness of others~ Jesus made evident through His parables and stories the importance of understanding others, from the women at the well to the hunger of 5,000. Awareness of others needs helps us to understand others.

Acceptance of others~ Jesus accepted everyone no matter what. He healed and touched lives of those whom others could care less.

Awareness and Acceptance of Autism, a must.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (NIV, Mark 12:28-31).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Next week in Newsweek (Journal #42)

The November 27th issue of Newsweek will have a cover feature on "Growing up with Autism". Again sparking my interest in seeing into the future with Sam. Oh how I wish I could just even fast forward to next year in kindergarten to see how he does! Please check out a review at Autism Vox by my friend Kristina. Just an FYI.

I wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 12, 2006

In a Matter of Seconds (Journal #41)

It happened so quickly, and always does. In a matter of seconds, Sam can change the layout of any room. I don't say it out of frustration (although at times it is), I say it out of amazement. Tonight we returned from delivering Zach's wreaths to people who ordered them through his Cub Scouts, to find a message from grandma on the machine.

Sam had started playing with some of Zach's flash cards, just one pack of some math problems at the time. He was having fun looking at the numbers and was sitting at my feet when I called Brent's mom back. Sam was calm, not making noises, playing at my feet.

One of Sam's stim's (as our family calls them) or stimming activities (check out my blog friend Kristina's "friendly" wording and writing about it) is constant motion/movement/lining up of objects. Sam has to keep moving and organizing at all times. The only time he really sits still is when he is really hungry, or watching his latest TV fav which is Mickey Mouse Clubhouse right now. It is a matter of seconds how quickly he can take over a room with his organizing or lining up.

Hence, the few seconds at my feet with a deck of cards, turned our living room into a quilted array of flashcards. I no longer had walked into the kitchen while on the phone, to only get some water, to find this when I returned. Cards lined and organized all over the floor. He was arranging everything meticulously. Chicago, our dog, made the mistake of journeying through the maze and accidently shuffled some cards. Sam had several shrieks and yells to share with her over that little episode. While everything looked just thrown about. He was very carefully placing each card in a specific place, and knew when one was turned slightly wrong in his eyes.

In a matter of seconds things can change. Can change for the better. The past couple/three years would have found us dealing with anguish and screams at the thought of cleaning them up. He would not let us touch his arrangements for days on end, nor would he. They were his "shrines in a glass box" as we called them. But we could never think of cleaning them up. But tonight was different. After allowing Sam to walk around the outside of them several times, to lay on the floor to get a floor view of them, and after he sat beside them for 20 minutes just looking at them. I gently told him that we would clean them up together before bed. He didn't scream yell, or anything. I went into the office, came back out seconds (really a couple minutes) later, and he had sorted all 5 decks accordingly into 5 piles and wanted help to put them back in the boxes!!!! All in a matter of seconds. That's my boy:)

A Twist of Faith...

In a matter of seconds life can change. In a matter of seconds this past week, we had a high school classmate, and a friends brother-in-law die in seperate car accidents. Both young, both had children, one had a baby on the way. Life is a gift from God. What we do with it and how we live it can be taken in seconds. It frustrates me greatly how it always takes times like this to remind people about not waisting the time God gave us. How important our time is here on earth. Why can't people just be focussed all the time on what God wants us to do, and not wait for these dreaded moments to be reminded. We get caught up in our own wants, needs, sadness, desires, dissapointments so much that we forget that this life is not about us. It is about what we do for others, how we help others, how we reach out to others before it's too late, that makes all the difference in this life. Reaching out to help and do for others can change a persons a matter of seconds.

It is God himself who has made us what we are and given us new lives from Christ Jesus; and long ages ago he planned that we should spend these lives in helping others. ~ Ephesians 2:10

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Oh Dear! (Journal #40)

I have decided, as a way to reframe some of the challenges that go along with raising a child with Autism, to put our experiences into a frame of faith. That with each "praise or concern" that occur on this journey, that we take a look at it as it relates to the cross in our family life.

So, without further ado, I share with you my first attempt...

...we were driving to Sam's speech therapy session, when the funniest part of my day occured. I was driving in the parking lot of the medical center where he goes. Sam was buckled in the backseat of course. I stopped for a moment to wait for a lady to cross the street to the building. She stood for a moment, and then I gestured to her with my hand for her to cross. But as with any typical "Laura moment", I can never just do something in silence, I also have to speak. So, with all of our windows rolled up tight, I said to the lady as I motioned, "Go ahead dear". Expecting that she would hear me, NOT! But big ears in the backseat did.

Sam immediately yelled at me, "Mom! Dat's not nice!"

"Sam, what's not nice?"

"You tan't tall her dat!" he said with major attitude.

"Sam, call her what?"

"Not deer!" He yelled.

"Who's not dear?" I said.

"You talled her deer."

I finally went, "duh" to myself, realizing that he thought I called the girl a deer, when I said, go ahead dear. I started to smirk. Wanting to push him a little to see if that was for sure.

"Yes Sam, I said to her...go ahead dear, so she would cross the street" intentionally not focussing on the dear portion to see what would come next.

" talled her a name, no names, mean mom. See not a deer!" I am so chuckling to myself! I love him so much. I am immediately taken back to one of the first times Brent and I met with our pediatrician, Dr. Kuperman, shortly after Sam was diagnosed. He reminded us that we need to speak without sarcasm, and to say exactly what we mean, without extra words and such. That children with autism interpret things very literally. This was one of those times that I love the "literallnes" (if such a word) of it all. It is so darn cute. Okay, back to my boy....

so I say, "Sam, some people say dear, meaning they like them, like a friend. So it was like I said go ahead friend, cross the street. Or sometimes people say oh dear, like oh my goodness. I didn't say it to be mean."

I looked at his face in the rearview mirror. He was super serious. His eyebrows straight across as he stared out the window. There was a lengthy period of silence. Then he said with one final request. "Don't tall her deer no more, not nice. Miss Telly said no names." Miss Kelly, his special education teacher. Sam is in a LEAP program that is highly focussed in social skills training. Every week they focus on new skills and practice them while playing. Being a kind friend is a focus this month, and according to Sam, I need some practice! Oh Dear!

A Twist of Faith...
In the way Sam views things so simply and literally, makes me almost jealous sometimes. We as humans, can add such complexity to life by analyzing, rethinking, trying to interpret, instead of just seeing things and enjoying them for the way they are. To fill blessed for the simple things in life, for simple understanding, for simple but serious faith. Thank you God for the way you lead Sam in teaching our family. Life is too short to make it complicated.
Take your everyday, ordinary life- your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking around life- and place it before God as an offering. ~Romans 12:1