A little bit of Hollywood (#20)
Autism and Poetry (#2): The Gingerbread Boy meets Homer (#22)

The Magic Pill (#21)

This is Charlie, his dad, and cousin Bobby, Charlie's newest pal, in Sinatra Park, Hoboken, at night. I kept yesterday's post (#20) short and sweet because the shots of Charlie in NYC tell their own story, and because I wanted to make sure Learning How to Learn (#19) got full billing. Teaching Charlie to learn the skills he'll need to be as independent as possible, and to lead a good life, is our #1 top priority. The prominent story about autism in the news media has been on its possible causes (the thimerosal in the MMR vaccine) much more so than on how to teach autistic children, to enable them to have the best chance possible for a good life, and the question of how can we best educate Charlie and kids like him needs to be treated with equal urgency.

Autism, it goes without saying, is part of Jim's and my everyday life; if you've been visiting my blog regularly, I am grateful that it has become, in however small a way, a part of your own. I have been chronicling our everyday life here because, Jim and I believe, the pressing issue for autistic children is their education. Charlie has a tremendous capacity to learn and indeed loves to learn. But his neurological impairments--especially in the cognitive and communication areas--are such that he requires highly specialized, highly intensive, highly structured teaching. I long ago stopped thinking, or wishing, or imagining, the discovery of some magic pill for autism. It's not that I have given up the search; it's because I knew I had found it when the therapists first taught Charlie to "come here" to his little blue table and to grin like he'd won the lottery when they all shouted out "Hooray!" at a team meeting.

Charlie's greatest motivation--the magic pill that enabled him to "learn to learn," to learn his numbers and letters and write his name, to ride his tricycle and then his bike, to sit quietly and attentively, to talk--is people. All those teachers and therapists; grandparents, aunts, uncles (and a dog named Portia); and, more and more, Jim's and my friends, from the late and very great Mike Young to a particular "pal from Philadelphia."

We spent the weekend with guests from Georgia and California and Charlie was extra-animated, running his L-circuit through the first floor of our house with aplomb, accommodating extra passengers in the backseat of the black car, rearranging his CD and DVD collection--treasures--in Jim's and my bedroom so a guest could use his bedroom, running away from us at the pool--he was silly with delight at three additional people (that makes a party, right?) there with us--and then swimming with the synchronized grace of Esther Williams. (Fate stepped in and the snack bar awarded him an extra-large heap of French fries.) While Jim drove our guests to the airport, Charlie hung out in our front yard, looking up the street where they'd driven off, and sprawling on the lawn with a bottle of water and some shrimp (a current food favorite).

Charlie likes people and he likes talking to people. This statement might seem jarring if your impression is that autistic persons are withdrawn, socially or otherwise and "in their own world." That might seem obvious, if you're eating breakfast and in walks a child swathed á là Harry Potter in the endless folds of Daddy's blue blanket and chatter about "I want orig'nal waffle. Cereal, I want blue bowl. More milk, pour milk. Beach house! Mommy! I want berries waffle. We'll be back! Great job Howie!" This morning I offered fast explanations between doling out the bowl and the plate and the medicine and working the microwave. Those words amount to Charlie trying to make conversation and tell you what the contents of his mind. My husband and I (for better or for worse!) are great lovers of the art of verbal exchange and I think, while he's hard-pressed to keep up with every last word, Charlie knows talking to someone is something you do for fun.

In particular, Charlie loves to talk about his former therapists and teachers and family members--people he's spent lots of time with him, and who've had a "never give up" attitude and gone out of their way for him. Here's an example of Charlie discoursing on one of his favorite topics. By way of a musical introduction, you may hum "The Family Song" from Barney--"Oh a family is people and a family is love, that's a family"--or if you're gagging over your computer (as I am) at the mention of The Purple One, try "Your Love is the Place Where I Come From" by Teenage Fanclub.

"Mommy, Daddy, Charlie": That’s our family, I say to Charlie.
“Fahm’ lee,” he says, eyes somewhere else.
“They’re part of your family, too. So it’s Mommy, Daddy, Charlie----”
“Mommy Daddy Charlie


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