If you've ever met me, if you have visited this blog before, you already know that I want you to see Autism: The Musical for so many reasons.
But did you know that, as of this week, it's right here on the HBO web site - and free? It's 93 minutes of your life that are well spent.
Matt and I watched the documentary together tonight and I was so happy to be able to share it with him. We went through a lot of Kleenex. Both of us. A lot.
Some of my favorite writers out there who have children on the autism spectrum have written eloquently about the film here and here and here.
I can't speak about it from the parent's perspective, but I can say a few things about it as a communication specialist.
First of all, I had forgotten entirely that Elaine Hall (the director of The Miracle Project) referred to Dr. Stanley Greenspan and all that she learned from him that led to the amazing Floortime work she did with her son Neal. It makes perfect sense, given the nature of the program she put together for the kids, how she ran it, and what her agenda was (i.e., for the kids to have a great time and feel good about themselves). The way those kids felt when they were at The Miracle Project (throughout the entire 6 month process, not simply the performance) - good about themselves, loved, able to make friends, safe to explore some of the scariest and saddest parts of their lives - is how kids feel when they walk into our clinic here in Chicago and also what I saw unfolding every single day when I worked at Oak Hill School in the Bay Area. For kids like these, there is nothing better than having a place like this available to them and yet it seems to be so rare. I watch how Elaine and her staff interact with the kids and find it completely familiar and at the same time so uplifting to observe as an audience member.
I realized in this second viewing how much the film influenced me the first time. As a therapist, having such clear windows into the children's home lives was a gift. To hear parents talk openly about the strain autism has put on their marriages, to see what some of the interactions are like when there is not a therapist in the mix, and to be reminded of the nonexistent safety net our society holds out around families with these particular challenges - all of this has been priceless for me. I think that reading blogs has made a difference for me as well, but since watching Autism: The Musical the first time, I know I have been asking different questions and focusing a lot more on the emotional health of the entire family. We talk about support systems, who is getting how much respite and when, and how the sibling relationships are going. I do that now before we even deal with the communication needs, because a family in emotional crisis is going to have a hard time taking on the extra work required to learn new communication strategies, and in the end, if we don't have strong mental health, what do we have? I remember now how strongly I felt that message last fall when I saw this film.
The fact that there is always more to learn can be both overwhelming and inspirational. Yesterday I worked a 13.5 hour day. I didn't see my kids all day and got home after 10:30 pm. I'm tired. I feel like I'm fighting the illnesses that have plagued this household for the past few weeks and wonder which day will be the one when my body gives in. Some nights, to be honest, I look at the next day's schedule and think, "That would be a good one for the flu to hit - how am I going to do all that?" This work is hard. There are moments and hours so challenging that no one but my colleagues or a child's parent could understand. If I didn't have my days off at home to recharge with my kids I couldn't sustain it right now. It's incredibly rewarding and satisfying and I'd rather be doing nothing else in the world, but it's hard.
I need to watch this movie periodically. I need to sit back and watch how those children changed; how they lit up when someone understood them and when they expressed something new and wonderful. I need to see the changes in their parents and catch those moments of joy on their faces, and have a good cry with them all from afar. Because I know them all - not as individuals but as composites: a little of him, a little of her, and - voila! - there's someone I know and love. Observing it without being a part of it helps.
So yes, the fact that there is always more to learn, always more to do, can be both overwhelming and inspirational. Tonight it's leaning towards inspirational for me.