One of yesterday's seminar topics involved delivering developmental screening results to parents, when the screen had turned up some areas of concern that needed a more thorough assessment.
The angle that was echoing in my mind:
What if that screen were an autism screen, and the family's image of autism had been informed by THIS:
This celebrity-directed video (Alfonso Cuarón, of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban fame) was released by Autism Speaks on September 22, in an attempt to raise autism awareness. As Autism Speaks co-founder Suzanne Wright put it, "We will all help shine a bright spotlight on autism."
I find nothing bright about this video. It portrays autism, as exemplified in images of people (mostly children) with autism, as a relentless monster that will inevitably destroy the lives of the families of those in its clutches, unless those families devote every waking moment to its defeat.
A sample from the transcript:
I am autism. I'm visible in your children, but if I can help it, I am invisible to you until it's too late...
I work very quickly. I work faster than pediatric AIDS, cancer, and diabetes combined. And if you are happily married, I will make sure that your marriage fails. Your money will fall into my hands, and I will bankrupt you for my own self-gain. I don't sleep, so I make sure you don't either. I will make it virtually impossible for your family to easily attend a temple, a birthday party, a public park, without a struggle, without embarrassment, without pain...
I derive great pleasure out of your loneliness. I will fight to take away your hope. I will plot to rob you of your children and your dreams. I will make sure that every day you wake up, you will cry, wondering 'who will take care of my child after I die?' And the truth is, I am still winning, and you are scared, and you should be. I am autism. You ignored me. That was a mistake.
The second half of the video portrays families surrounding their children and vowing to defeat autism, for example, "We will spend every waking hour trying to weaken you."
I know that this reflects the feelings of a sizeable group of parents.
Let me say very clearly (in case you don't already know something of us and our experiences with Joy):
We do not live in this fearful, desperate frame. And we do not believe that this is all there is to look forward to!
Joy's challenges are substantial enough that we could have chosen a path of fear and anger and blame. She does not speak. She is not toilet-trained, and would play with her feces if we did not keep her wearing onesies. She does a lot of protesting these days, and grabbing, and throwing. She needs a constant watchful eye.
Our marriage is strong. We have the money we need, though we have never been wealthy and times are of course tight. We generally get the sleep we need too. We laugh much, much more than we cry. Joy goes to daycare, to church, to the zoo, to restaurants, camping, swimming, and much much more.
And meanwhile, she is learning, growing, smiling, kissing, and enriching our lives so very, very much.
We enable this richness through our choice of frame, our choice of how we will view Joy and her uniqueness and her strengths as well as her challenges.
How much harder it would be to make the positive choice if all we heard were the messages of the tenor of the "I Am Autism" video!
One of the suggestions that was conveyed during the seminar presentation, for all the future leaders in developmental disabiities who were present, was this (not an exact quote but the basic idea):
Remind parents, whether you're delivering a concerning screening result or talking about an actual diagnosis, that their child is still the same person that he or she was yesterday. All the things you love about your child, everything that was wonderful about your child yesterday, is still true today.
I'll leave you with a link to a different recently-published resource, this one from the Natural Supports Project that I blogged about earlier.
It's a booklet published at the beginning of 2009, called The CORE of a Good Life: Guided Conversations with Parents on Raising Young Children with Disabilities. The link goes to a page about natural supports in early childhood, where you can find a futher link to the actual 62-page PDF document (which is over 33Mb in size, just so ya know). It's aimed at both providers and parents, to guide conversations that explore what is important to families around ordinary experiences and relationships, beyond therapy and treatments. The approach is designed across developmental disabilities.
CORE stands for:
- Community connections and participation
- Opportunities to explore and pursue our interests
- Reciprocity in our relationships
- Enjoyment in our lives
Here's how the guide starts:
We begin here, in the early years, to empower parents to create a vision for their child's life and explore opportunities in the community that begin to build that vision.
The strategy is called Guided Conversations, described in the book thusly:
Guided Conversations are an invitation to think about;
- How to talk about children and influence how others perceive them;
- How parents identify the ordinary experiences of being a family; and
- How parents sort through the relationships that may be available to them and their child that they have not yet considered.
How to talk about our children and influence how others perceive them.
I submit that the proper use of the Autism Speaks video is as Exhibit A about how NOT to talk about our children. 'Nuff said. Let's move forward.
And the next move in this household is that we have to make a grocery list so we can take our daughters shopping, and then if the weather holds, get ourselves organized for the church campout tonight. Yes, that would include Joy. Of course.