Thursday, April 3, 2008
I just watched the HBO presentation of Autism: The Musical. I hesitate to call it a documentary because it is so much more; it, like the people who star in it, can’t and shouldn’t be labeled.
As I watched I became especially attached to two of the children. One is a teenaged girl, a bit chubby, with a smile that slowly creeps across her face until she shines. There is something about her body language that made me think of younger me. The other child is an incredibly eloquent boy who spoke earnestly about bullies and about wanting a friend who “was never mean”. He lovingly spoke about one of the other children, clearly accepting his new friend for his annoying traits and “for the good things about him too”.
When I was in grammar school I spent some months in a Special Ed class. Because of my scoliosis I had balance problems and the school decided I should be in a “more protected environment”. The thing I didn’t know until I was older was that the protection was for them, not me. The teachers didn’t want to slow the entire class down because I had trouble with the stairs if there wasn’t a railing. The lunch room aides didn’t want to carry my tray or deal with me dropping it. I’m not sure what my parents thought or didn’t think about this change in my education. Remember – they were wolves.
I hated Special Ed. It meant I was retarded. That is all I remember hearing and it is all I remember feeling when I try to touch that 9 year old girl and get her to talk to me now. I don’t recall much of what the curriculum was. All the kids were thrown together so what I remember was a lot of chaos. There were wheelchairs and braces to crash into and fall over. Ironic isn’t it! There was one boy who would jump on me and try to bite my neck, all the time screaming about vampires. Clearly all “special” children were lumped together. In the HBO presentation one of the mothers spoke about all the autistic children being a tribe that needed the elders to come together in order to get them the rights they deserved. She likened it to the civil rights movement. So I tried to remember my grammar school special tribe. I tried to see faces and remember names. I tried to conjure up friendships. I tried to find me.
I became very quiet and detached in Special Ed. I don’t know if the move there brought on the change or just enhanced it. I do know that school had been a sanctuary for me before Special Ed. Every morning I got to leave crazy town and the wolves and I got to be somewhere where reading was a good thing, where the rooms were bright and clean and where I could imagine I was one of the regular kids. Even before the Not So Special Special Ed episode (as we now call it in family folklore) I knew I was different. I was from the only family where the Dad didn’t work, where the Mom never came outside. I lived in the house where the police were called at least once a week. This would work for me in later grades when I took on the sexy persona of the cool tough chick from the fucked up family. But that’s another story …
The grammar school girl was devastated that school had been ruined for her. Now she was with crazy people all the time. The kids were crazy, the teachers were crazy – I remember lots of yelling and lots of “everyone has to be still and be quiet”. This may have been where my caretaker persona really got all her experience. I remember unlocking wheelchairs and picking up crutches. I vividly recall sitting for hours on end wiping the mouth of a boy who slumped in his chair and drooled. I think he smiled at me once. There are no report cards from this period, there is no class picture. I don’t know if that’s because the wolves didn’t bother preserving them or if the Special Ed kids weren’t worthy of remembrances.
One of the parents in Autism: The Musical had a brilliant little meltdown about how the world didn’t value her child. She was my favorite parent, and by coincidence (or not) she is the Mom of the girl who reminds me of younger me.
This is not a sad post. I’m not depressed or angry or upset. I felt it worthwhile to share the memories and feelings that Autism: The Musical evoked in me. My time in Special Ed may be where I started to develop empathy and if it was then good, it was a great place for me to be. If my caretaker abilities where honed there, then good – it was a great place for me to be. If my ability to look at people and actually see them started there then good – it was a great place for me to be. It also makes me feel better about the world to know that we have come far since the days of throwing all the “special” kids into one class and hoping no one got hurt. We have so very far to go I know but sometimes the value of getting older is that you can remind people that moving forward is possible because you are living proof of it.
My favorite Mom in Autism: The Musical – the Mom of the remembered mini-me – said that “we can’t throw these kids away, someone has to be there to shepherd them forward”.
All through my life there were people who shepherded me forward and I like to think I now do the same. I like to think there are many shepherds among us.
You can see Autism: The Musical on HBO throughout the month of April and on HBO – On Demand. For more info check Here
I thought there was a way to view it online but that link doesn’t work at the moment.
I really recommend it. It is smart and real and earnest and endearing.
Thanks to a weird schedule at the giant-ass store and a feeble attempt to have a social life my wordzzle for Saturday will probably be posted late but I’m gonna do it. Don’t forget to check out this weeks words and give it a whirl.