"What happened?": Looking for the perfect story (#30)
What is autism? (#32)

The Tree, the Summer Wind, and Some Educational Musings (#31)

I got a good look at this tree today because Charlie and I spent a lot of time on the playground, afternoon and evening. It was hot, as befitting high summer, but "dry hot" and, after a noisy start to the morning involving lying, backpack and all, on the wet grass, Charlie was happy and goofy all day long (minus five additional minutes). We swam, we Shop-rited, he got to choose a special sushi dinner (California rolls and salmon); he had me play a bit for me on the piano--"Diss one, diss one, Bwahms Lullaby!". We had a pleasant summer day, as Frank Sinatra sings:

The summer wind, came blowin’ in - from across the sea / It lingered there, so warm and fair - to walk with me / All summer long, we sang a song

The playground, with metal slides that make an excellent rattle sound when walked up on and a swinging bridge of planks, belongs to a school, whose brick wall Charlie walk-ran alongside. Charlie has taken to walking barefoot soon as we're off the asphalt, whether on weedy grass, tanbark or dirt, and I trace this to an early summer visit to the beach, where he roamed the sand and left plenty of hand and footprints. He is a summer child, loving the life of shorts and sandals and no sandals, outdoor swimming and the occasional summer wind to shake up the heat.

The tree is on the field leading up to the playground and has just the shape of the tree in a "special visit from the outside world" in a Teletubbies video, Favorite Things. This video was indeed one of Charlie's Top Five and, until recently, the sequence of LaaLaa's ball ("whaddcolor, orange!") was reenacted from time to time with a ball on the wall and my laptop bag for Tinky Winky's. Jim and I, and Charlie, used to pause to watch the computer-animated segment of a tree, growing green leaves in spring, visited by white birds, white birds leaving, leaves fading to autumn orange and gold, leaves blowing away in the wind so the tree became bare branches and then faded away.

Most of us parents of the '90s and the turn to the 21st century had a year or so to watch Teletubbies. I've had eight. Teletubbies hit Newsweek just before or during Charlie's babyhood. We put on Favorite Things for a yet-not-walking Charlie in the late summer of 1999, as we were settling into our second-floor walk-up in St. Paul. Charlie stood by leaning on a pile of pillows; Jim lounged on his elbows on the rug and something about that tree, metamorphosing through the seasons, made us all stop.

Jim and Charlie were to watch that video together a host of times in the year to come. Jim was on sabbatical from his job during the first year of Charlie's intensive in-home ABA program and, while I was teaching and in between ABA sessions, they would go for walks or rides or some father-son video watching. (Lest you are wondering at my husband's cinematic taste, he's an On the Waterfront kind of guy.) "I really like that tree," said Jim when we were all watching it for the whatever-eth time. "It's about life, the seasons, the leaves."

The tree on the edge of the playground has just the shape of "Teletubbies tree," in Charlie's talk. I did buy him the Teletubbies: The Album CD and I have put the music for "Tree" on my iPod (I am in confessional mode tonight--I have my iPod on Shuffle and "Bridge Over Troubled Water" as sung by Willie Nelson is playing as I type). Reenacting the "Tree" segment" is one of Charlie's stories; at home, it used to involve him staring at a certain tree across the street through the glass panes of our front door, until we got a new door (because he broke the glass one Really Bad Day).

Spring, summer, autumn, winter. Charlie is eight years old, as I told an inquiring party. He stands above my shoulder and, while I carry him down the stairs every day, the end of his time as my babe-in-arms is fast approaching. Once upon a time Charlie was barely bigger than his stuffed Barney, a pre-school aged boy overshadowed by his backpack. When I stand with him in the line for the diving board, the kids look at me, look at him, look at me again and look confused: He's so big, he talks like a toddler, I must be anything but his mother? (I am five feet tall at most; Charlie is four feet and several inches.)

Five years ago, when Charlie was turning three years old, we traveled from Minnesota to Washington, D.C., to attend a rally for autism awareness sponsored by Unlocking Autism, on the National Mall. On July 20th, Wednesday, the National Autism Association held a "Power of Truth" march and rally to protest the use of mercury in vaccines. As Charlie walked down and up the slide and ran past the tree I had been meditating on, I remembered how, five years ago, he had walked with the exact same bend down of his head in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, while the tourists all walked in the opposite direction. Then, as Frank's song goes, "The world was new, beneath a blue - umbrella sky" and we had a boundless sense of what Charlie might be; of his potential to "recover" from autism.

Today, July 20th, Wednesday, Charlie is eight years old and he, like every child with autism, needs to be educated. He needs the right and the best education, so that he can be as independent as possible as an adult, and when Jim and I are gone. However a child "becomes" autistic, she and he needs to be taught in the most, the best possible methodology. Charlie so loves to learn but he cannot be taught as most of us are. He requires highly structured, intensive, individual teaching based on the principles of ABA to succeed and it is in education that we must dedicate research and advocacy efforts. The world is still new to Charlie, he is still in the spring of his life and we have a lot of work to do to help keep his goofiness and cultivate his curiosity before summer is over, autumn comes, and the leaves fly away from the trees.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)