At the presidential debates last week, Senator McCain claimed that his running mate, Sarah Palin, knows "more about autism then anyone I know." Janet Grillo in her most poignant HP piece My Autistic Son is Not a Political Pawn, invited the senator to get out there more. Janet, wrote eloquently what so many of us parents of children with autism feel. In my travels promoting autism awareness and the film, Autism:The Musical, I have met hundreds of people whom I believe know more about autism than Sarah Pallin... including my son, Neal.
Neal is my resident expert on autism. Now 14 years old, Neal was adopted from a Russian Orphanage at 23 months, and diagnosed with severe autism at age 3 . Neal is non verbal (or as we prefer to refer to him "a man of few words") so when he speaks his truth through typing - WE LISTEN.
When he was about 9 years old, he was still being placed by the school district in preschool classes. One day after being asked for the umpteenth time to put the blue round peg in the blue round hole, Neal threw the peg boards at the teacher. The school called him aggressive and severely mentally impaired, sentencing him to a restricted special education classroom.
I knew otherwise. I believed he threw the pegs out of boredom, frustrated for not having his intellect recognized. I felt that he was capable of much more.
Fortunately we found Darlene Hansen, a communications and speech expert who specializes in working with children like Neal. The first day she met him, she drew a four-square grid on a piece of paper with the words: Washington D.C., Vote, Bush, Clinton.
When asked "Who is the President of the United States?" Neal pointed to Bush.
"Who was President before?" He pointed to Clinton. "Where do they live?"
He pointed to Washington D.C., " How did they get there?" "Vote."
Immediately, we pulled Neal out of the preschool intensive special ed class and placed him with an aide in a regular third grade classroom. Neal was then mainstreamed in most of his classes doing age-appropriate work and is acknowledged to be highly intelligent.
Neal now types his thoughts and feelings on an Alpha Smart typing machine with support.
Last January at one of his sessions with Darlene she asked, ""So, Neal, what have you been thinking about lately?"
"The Elections," he typed on his Alpha Smart keyboard.
"What about the elections?" asked Darlene.
"I'm for Obama, he typed."
"Obama is for Autism, " he finished.
That evening my husband and I Googled Obama and Autism. And there it was, pages and pages from people with autism. Supporting Obama. We found that Obama speaks for all people who cannot speak. Who do not have a voice, literally and figuratively.
How did Neal know this? I hadn't said anything to him, I didn't know myself. Somehow, some way, my son with severe autism had picked up this truth. This was several months ago when I was undecided between Hillary and Barack. Needless to say, Neal influenced my vote.
Cut to a few weeks ago. Neal refused to go to bed. This is not unlike many other teens so I did what any Mom of a stubborn 14 year old would do, I started to bribe him, chide him into going to bed. My husband, Jeff, however had a bit more insight.
"Neal", he said, "It looks like you have a lot on your mind: "Would you like to type with us?"
"Yes" Neal nodded.
I immediately grabbed the Alpha Smart and placed it in front of him. "What's on your mind?" Jeff inquired.
"The President." he typed.
" What about it?" we asked.
"Obama," he responded.
"What about Obama?"
"Enough," Neal typed.
"Enough what?" I asked.
"Enough Republican ideology." Neal typed. He continued, "Pallin lies." Thank you Neal. He went to bed immediately and slept soundly through the night.
We did not. Worrying about our country's future, our son's future, the future of all kids with autism, reflecting on the past.
Wanting more Obama.
We now watch the campaign and commentary together as a family every night. Neal takes it all in intensely. Last night, Neal was again troubled.
We asked, about what?
"Prejudice," he typed.
"How does it make you feel?"
"Sad and mad... Obama is hope."
Thanks Neal. Thanks for clearly stating what so many of us are feeling, sad and mad. And what so many of us need. Hope.
Wishing you all many miracles and reminding you to listen to the child who does not speak.
The Miracle Project