autistic child on stage

My Son is an Elephant: Autism Takes Center Stage

 

autism takes the stage

My tall, skinny son looked rather comical in his worn, gray, jersey-knit bodysuit with his silly elephant nose made out of a dryer tube wrapped in silver electrical tape and a big pillow stuffed down the front of his outfit. He looked goofy and frumpy, which was exactly how he was supposed to look. The room was fully of excited children and glittery outfits – clown suits, ringmaster vests, acrobat leotards and funny props. And my son was a fat, gray elephant. I was very proud.

It was the annual kindergarten performance and I was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t worried about my son goofing up his lines, because he didn’t have any lines. I wasn’t worried about him making a mistake, because at that age, mistakes are pretty darn cute. I was worried about how he would handle the things I couldn’t anticipate. When you have an autistic child, you recognize the situations that may be uncomfortable or overwhelming, and you plan ahead to avoid them. If it’s going to be loud, you pack the soundproof headphones. If it’s going to be crowded, you go early to avoid crowds. The truth is, when you’re dealing with autism you just never know. And in this instance, I knew nothing.

My son and I practiced his little routine at home and I gave him verbal reassurance about the on-stage experience. No matter how much I prepped him, I realized he didn’t fully grasp what I was trying to convey. This is what autism is all about and this why it’s so tricky. The one thing I didn’t want him to experience on-stage was fear. It was impossible for me to imagine how he would process and handle the stage, the lights, the audience and the huge auditorium.

While I was pinning his bulky elephant costume closed, I kept telling him to have fun and not worry if he made a mistake. He smiled and said, “okay, mama!” I gave him a big hug and went to my seat in the second row. To many onlookers, I probably appeared to a normal, nervous, stage mom who secretly yearned for her child to steal the show. The reality of the situation couldn’t have been further from the truth.

The show was adorable and eventually, it was time for his act to perform. I could see the expression on his face as he stepped on-stage to the sea of faces looking back at him. He was scanning the unfamiliar faces for a familiar one – his mommy. As soon as he saw me waving at him, he waved back. I knew he would be fine. And he was. He sailed through his routine without a hitch. I was overcome with happiness, hope and of course, pride. My head was cheering, “He did it! He did it!” and then it happened…

All of the children, about 138 kiddos, gathered on-stage together for one final song. After the first few notes rang out, my son covered his ears and crouched down, putting his elbows on his knees. I panicked. My husband, who was sitting next to me, noticed too. We watched as he stood up and then resumed his position, blocking out his surroundings. It was too much and he was panicking. The lights, the noise, the camera flashes, the people, the stage. “Go help him!” I instinctively said to my husband, practically jumping out of my seat “No,” he said calmly, yet fearfully. “He’s handling it.”

The song seemed to last forever and while all of the other little faces sang happily and parents took tons of pictures, my son’s little face was hidden. It didn’t help that he was standing on the first row, front and center. On the bright side, as soon as the song ended he popped back up and smiled, enjoying the accolades from all of the parents. He didn’t cry, he didn’t run and he didn’t mentally checkout. He survived it in his own way. Yep, he handled it after all. What a star!

Read more about living with autism in my Advocate Mommy section.

 

Image: Mina Laben

Why We Love Martha Speaks: Unscripted Video Proof


If you follow MommyQ at all, you know I’m a huge fan of PBS shows. In fact, a few months ago I caught a hilarious moment on video of my kiddos playing Martha Speaks games online They were laughing so much, I assumed they were up to no good. Imagine my surprise when I discovered they were playing educational games online. A mother’s dream, right?

Earlier last week, I got an email that instantly caught my attention. “New Studies Show PBS KIDS Martha Speaks Has Impressive Impact on Children’s Vocabulary.” I excitedly read the findings and wanted to share them with my readers. Now remember, I have no connection with PBS. This is just one mom’s sincere love for a smart, talkative, yellow cartoon dog.

My experience is a bit different from other parents, because my oldest son is autistic. At the age of 4-years-old, he was hardly talking and strangers couldn’t understand him at all. That’s why we get very giddy when he likes shows like Martha Speaks that actually make a big effort to help his development. Now this may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but here’s proof of how far he’s come. He’s 6-years-old now and just finished kindergarten. I asked him (totally on-the-fly), what he thinks about Martha Speaks. Get a load of this….

 

Study Results
Three recent independent studies highlight the impressive impact that Martha Speaks is having on young childrens’ vocabulary development, and its strength as an early-intervention tool across broadcast and online platforms. These studies not only measured the impact on children who viewed episodes of the show, but additionally saw a significant increase in vocabulary skills among children playing with the Martha Speaks Dog Party iPhone app.

A few notable takeaways from the studies include:
• On average, children who watched Martha Speaks had a significantly greater increase in vocabulary knowledge compared to children who did not watch the show.
• Martha Speaks is an effective tool in helping bridge the vocabulary gap between low-income children and their more affluent peers.
• Martha Speaks facilitates inexpensive language opportunities at home.
• Program-specific vocabulary knowledge translated into higher standardized vocabulary scores for urban boys and rural children living in low socioeconomic-status homes.
• Children 3-to-7 years-old who played with the Martha Speaks Dog Party app tested up to 31 percent higher in vocabulary.
• Children were able to retain the increased vocabulary, and showed even greater gains on targeted words weeks after the study ended.

These studies are now available on the PBS KIDS website.

light_it_up_blue

Light It Up Blue 2011: Shine a Light on Autism

On the evenings of April 1 and 2, 2011, prominent buildings across North America and the world — including the Empire State Building in New York City and the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada — will turn their lights blue to Raise Awareness for Autism and to commemorate World Autism Awareness Day on Saturday, April 2.

On Friday, April 1st you can wear blue and help spread the word about autism. Feeling adventurous? There are lots of things you can in addition to wearing blue:

•Light your house up blue by putting blue light bulbs in any outdoor fixtures! Home Depot has promised to have them in stock…

•Paint your nails blue!

•Bake blue desserts!

To see other ideas to LIGHT IT UP BLUE visit http://www.lightitupblue.org/ The CDC estimates that an average of 1 in 110 children in the U.S have a form of autism. Help me spread the word for my son and for every child needing extra support to find his/her voice.

Read about my journey with autism:
– Autism Means My Son is Happy When He’s Flappy
– Autism Rides Off Into the Sunset
– Shining Through: Proving Autism Wrong at a NASCAR Race

Image: Autism Speaks