Free: A Mothers Song Helpful Tips For Raising A Child With Autism
Movie after movie. Certain parts he rewinds and rewatches. Lots of rewinding. But he seems content, focused. We ask our growing team of developmental specialists, doctors and therapists about it. We were never big fans of plopping our kids in front of Disney videos, but now the question seemed more urgent: Is this good for him? They shrug.
Is he relaxed? Does it seem joyful?
Keep it limited, they say. So we join him upstairs, all of us, on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in November Owen is already on the bed, oblivious to our arrival, murmuring gibberish. Cornelia thinks maybe he wants more juice; but no, he refuses the sippy cup. He does it again. And one more time.
- A Mothers Song Helpful Tips For Raising A Child With Autism
I grab Owen by the shoulders. He looks right at me, our first real eye contact in a year. So did this silent boy. We told his various therapists about what happened. Cornelia and I could think of little else. Owen reached out, if only for a moment, from his shut-in world. We spoke to our child. The speech therapist tamped down our enthusiasm. Alan Rosenblatt, our trusted developmental pediatrician, did, too. He explained that echolalia is a common feature in kids like Owen. Just like what the term suggests, they echo, usually the last word or two of a sentence.
Do those kids know what the words mean, we pressed Rosenblatt. He nodded.
Why, I persisted, in a last stab, would he be rewinding that one part for weeks, maybe longer, and choose that phrase from so many in an minute movie? Rosenblatt shrugged. No way of knowing. They look like any other pair of brothers, and in the trick of this light, they are. Each time Cornelia and I feel that, we catch ourselves. Some, but not much. He seems calm and focused — following the group, making eye contact — and oddly settled, with a slight smile, eyes alight, just as he is while watching the movies on our bed.
Owen seems at home here, as though his identity, or however much of it has formed, is somehow tied to this place. Then both of them turn to Owen. Did he understand what Walt was saying? Did he just imitate what he saw his brother do? What the hell difference did it make? After roughhousing with buddies in the backyard at the end of his party, Walt gets a little weepy.
But he can get a little sad on his birthdays. As Cornelia and I return to the kitchen, Owen walks in right behind us.
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He looks intently at us, one, then the other. We nod, dumbly, looking down at him. He nods back and then vanishes into some private reverie. Actually, ever. Not only would such an insight be improbable for a typical 6-year-old; it was an elegant connection that Cornelia and I overlooked.
And then he carefully aligned it to another one, standing parallel: The world of Disney. After dinner is over and the boys retreat upstairs to their attic lair, Cornelia starts to think about what to do now.
Causes of autism
She has been the one lifting the burden each day, driving him to therapists and schools, rocking him to sleep as he thrashes at 3 a. He has been doing lots of Iago echolalia, easy to identify because the character is voiced by Gilbert Gottfried, who talks like a busted Cuisinart. It takes four minutes for Iago and me to make it safely under the bedspread. Now crawl, snail-slow, along the side of the bed to its midpoint.
I freeze here for a minute, trying to figure out my opening line; four or five sentences dance about, auditioning. Then, a thought: Be Iago. What would Iago say? I push the puppet up from the covers. Or Iago is. Stay in character.
You made me laugh so much. My mind is racing — find a snatch of dialogue, anything. So, so, you marry the princess and you become the chump husband. Then, I hear a laugh, a joyful little laugh that I have not heard in many years. A week after the Iago breakthrough, we decide to try an experiment. Owen usually picks the animated movie whenever we gather in front of the inch Magnavox in the basement. The simple bare necessities. When you look under the rocks and plants.
And take a glance at the fancy ants, and maybe. Just as Baloo looks at Mowgli, I look at Owen; he looks squarely back at me, and then it happens. Mimicry is one thing. The movements, the tone, the emotions seem utterly authentic, like method acting. When Owen was 3, his comprehension of spoken words collapsed. But now it seems that as he watched each Disney movie again and again, he was collecting and logging sounds and rhythms, multitrack. It was like someone memorizing an Akira Kurosawa movie without knowing Japanese.
Then it seems he was slowly learning Japanese — or, rather, spoken English — by using the exaggerated facial expressions of the animated characters, the situations they were in, the way they interacted to help define all those mysterious sounds. But this is slightly different because of the way he committed these vast swaths of source material, dozens of Disney movies, to memory. So begin the basement sessions. During daylight, we go about our lives. Walt rides his bike to school each morning, back home each afternoon. Cornelia manages the house, the bills, the overloaded schedules of the kids.
I am editing and writing for The Journal, putting on my suit and subwaying to the bureau. At night, we become animated characters. But the progress is uneven and unsteady, as is the building of social connections with potential friends. We discovered that he learned to read using the slowly scrolling credits at the end of movies. But by his fifth year at Lab, we sense trouble has arrived. Owen is making progress, but the other kids, with lighter burdens, are moving faster.
What we both know is that the school has changed.