Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Loving Lampposts: Living Autistic

I don't usually watch TV during the day, but I was drawn in by this short movie on Hulu this afternoon.  It's called "Loving Lampposts:  Living Autistic," by Todd Drezner, a filmmaker and the father of a young autistic son.  The movie is part of his quest to understand his son's condition, and to try to figure out what the future may hold for him.

I was really absorbed in his narrative, which covers a lot of ground:  the controversy over the cause(s) of autism, its diagnosis and treatment from the 20th century onward, daily struggles for people with autism, public misconceptions about the condition, and the different philosophies of living with autism (is it a disease to be cured, a war to be fought, or a neurological difference to be adjusted to and worked with?).  Along the way he talks with doctors, teachers, parents, adults with autism, and profiles autistic children and adults of all ages and a range of abilities.  I was especially drawn to the stories of adults living with varying severities of autism and navigating through their lives.  Our son will all too soon have to learn to navigate as an adult in what will always be for him a strange, confusing world.  (I heard a wonderful comparison once, that having autism is like being a tourist in your own country:  you understand the general superficialities of getting around town, but the interpersonal nuances, figures of speech and social implications are an ongoing mystery.)

This movie/documentary was overall very hopeful in tone, without going to the extremes of either fear-mongering (OMG, your child has autism, your life is over!) or candy-coating (They're just different, and must have some gift to compensate for their problems, you just have to find it.).  I appreciate the candor of the people interviewed, and the overall tone of, "We can work with this situation - it will be hard, but in most cases there will be progress for the person affected with autism, sometimes great progress.  You love your child anyhow, and work for their best outcome."

Perhaps I like the documentary because it generally agrees with my own philosophy of raising a child with an autism spectrum disorder (Aspergers Syndrome in our son's case).  I don't think he has a disease or is broken.  (He's not crazy, lazy, undisciplined, retarded [I hate that term] or defective - but I've heard that implied about him before.)  I do consider his AS a disability, but it's not the end of the world for us or for him.  I'm reasonably sure that his AS has a strong genetic component, and has nothing to do with vaccines or dietary issues.  He has been totally himself since the day he was born, with no sudden losses of verbal or social ability or physical crises over illness or medical procedures.  He has his strengths; it's up to his father and I to help him make the most of those, and to work with/around/through his weaknesses.

Having worked with disabled adults of widely differing abilities, I think the future is hopeful for our son, with a lot of hard work by us and by him.  I count my blessings that he is smart, has a strong vocabulary and reading skills, and has come so far with his social skills (while still being insanely aware of his ongoing educational needs and social blind spots).  Of course I worry about his future, but I'm not sure I worry more for him than for his "neurotypical" ("normal") sister.  They'll both have their struggles, and I don't think one will be easier than the other.  (Lord help me, I'm not looking forward to Princess Yakyak's teen years!)

If you know someone on the spectrum, and especially if you don't know someone autistic but would like to understand more about autism, this movie is well worth your time.

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