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Posts Tagged ‘Normal is a Dryer Setting’

“We read to know we are not alone.” ~ C.S. Lewis

Where do I begin?  I’ve been away and basically “unplugged” since Thursday morning; M & I went on a 2-day mini-trip to see Guster play with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in Denver, which was amazing.

It was worth every penny I’d saved up to do it.  More about that later, maybe.  First, this very cool piece of news…

Two weeks ago, I got an e-mail from the executive director of Turner, asking me if I’d be interested in writing a piece about Jonah (and why I blog about him) for HLNtv.com and its sister site, CNN.com.  She had been tipped off about my blog by someone I went to high school with who works for CNN.  (Thanks, MM).  So I told her I’d think about it OF COURSE and then I started to panic.  500 words and a two-day deadline.  What to say?  How to encapsulate all we’ve experienced in 500 words?

Here is what I came up with, and I’m humbled and proud (are they mutually exclusive?) to say the story is the #2 top headline on HLNtv.com right now.  I can’t find it on CNN yet, so maybe it’s just going to be on the one site.  Either way

Yesterday at school, with no warning, my son Jonah overturned and threw his desk, attacked his teachers, and was ultimately so aggressive he required a two-person takedown (where his caregivers follow trained physical maneuvers to protect both him and them). My son’s a slender, slight boy, but also wiry and strong. He has autism with severe behavioral problems. He’s been potty trained for five months now, and will sometimes utter a sentence/request: “I want juice please?”

On March 7, Jonah turned ten years old. 

Jonah’s also a cutie, and a charmer. He loves trains, baths, and the beach, tight hugs and Grandma and chases. Though he can only speak in phrases, he can sing entire songs, in tune and with near-perfect rhythm. He taught himself to swim when he was five and dives deep underwater, surging to the surface over and over again, spitting water in a perfect stream. He even invented his own nomenclature (any kind of cola, for instance, is black soda, and whether it’s a dime, penny, or nickel, to Jonah it’s moneycoin). He dances and runs, shouting his jabberwocky to anyone within earshot.  He’s never embarrassed, never ashamed. 

And since August 16, 2011, he’s been living an hour and a half away from me at an educational residential facility for individuals with autism.

I used to judge people like me, people who sent their children away.

I don’t judge anyone anymore. 

Almost two years ago now, Jonah started to say “swat” and whack people on the arm. We and his school tried everything to mitigate this behavior. It grew worse, however, until he eventually became violent without reason – even during a preferred activity. He grabs and breaks eyeglasses. He hits hard and yanks hair. He scratches and bites. He fights dirty, no holds barred. Eventually Jonah calms down, but it is impossible to say for how long. There is no pattern, or if there is a pattern, none of us can see it. 

His father and I tried hard to see it, to find another way. He got the earliest intervention possible; our family doctor knew something was amiss when Jonah was just 8 weeks old. He wasn’t looking at the doctor; he was looking at the lights. “Infants look at faces,” doc told me, smiling, reassuring me we’d keep an eye on him.  So by the time he was 19 months old, Jonah received early intervention services. Diagnosed with autism at 22 months, before he turned three he was admitted to a fantastic full-time school for kids with neurological impairments, where he stayed until the residential placement.

I blog about my son because I have to write about him. Normal is a Dryer Setting is not a triumph-over-autism story, and it’s not a wise mother’s guide to life with autism. It’s just an honest account of our crazy, messy lives. And if it comforts one other family – if I can help just one person feel they are not alone – then Jonah’s journey will be worth the telling.

The most difficult thing about writing this article was to pinpoint exactly why I’m blogging about Jonah, and I think that’s the point she really wanted me to drive home.  I write about him because I’m a writer.  Because it’s therapeutic.  And, I realized, I wanted to uncover this “dark side” of autism nobody talks about.  Because I know I can’t be the only one.  And, maybe most of all,  because I don’t want the other ones to feel alone.

I will come back soon.  If you have commented or written to me, I promise to get back to you as soon as I can.  There are a lot of responses, and I am indeed humbled.  Honored.  And yes, also proud, because I consider myself a writer above almost all else, and this is so invigoratingly validating.

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.  ~Ray Bradbury

My beautiful Boo:  How many lives you have touched?  How many people can we help? 

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