Our Own Disney World

I have to admit something – I rarely read autism articles. It’s not that I don’t care (I do) or I’m not interested (I am), but there’s something about those pieces that strike me funny. If you’re reading this you know we have our own autism story that we feel is worth sharing and, we think, reading about, but most other books/articles I’ve read bug me. There’s the “what a blessing autism is” storyline, the “my expectations were crushed by my child’s autism” meme, the “this is how I cured my kid of autism” junk. And maybe Mission of Complex fits into these categories; I don’t know. To me, writing about Nate and our experiences are simply relaying the stories of a regular family that makes no claims on insight, reveal revelations of how every parent should behave when met with the challenges of an autistic child, no scolding of families whose ways are different than ours. Our stories are ours – funny, heartbreaking, workmanlike. They’re the stories of every family, with an autistic kid or not.

Ron Suskind’s piece in The New York Times, “Reaching My Autistic Son Through Disney,” hit me hard. Nate shares some traits with Owen Suskind, particularly the shared passion for Disney. (What is it about Disney that causes such obsession?) In others ways, the Suskinds and the Katzes are worlds apart.

There’s one part of the story that has been the subject of my own preoccupation since the article came out. Nate, like Owen, was very echolalic, repeating words from books and movies that he spouted without comprehension. There was one thing Nate did in his pre-communication days that has never been fully understandable to me. Often he would launch into a bit of dialogue from a Disney video or something similar that would be appropriate and answer our questions or fit a conversation. If Karen and I didn’t know the snippet, we’d rejoice that, yes, we had just heard the very first example of true interaction. Then we’d be dashed when we heard from the TV in the other room Timothy Mouse or Genie say those same words.

disneycastle

The Suskinds took Owen’s similar usage and put it to work, engaging their son in unbelievable ways through mimicking the voices of Disney characters and pursuing conversation. It never dawned on us that there was the possibility of reaching Nate and drawing from him real talk by pretending to be a Disney character too. Maybe it wouldn’t have worked in the same way, each family’s stories are so different, but I’m left wondering if we missed an opportunity. I’ve had a sinking feeling of regret about it since the article came out.

(If you haven’t read Suskind’s piece, it’s here:
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/09/magazine/reaching-my-autistic-son-through-disney.html?_r=0)

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About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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2 Responses to Our Own Disney World

  1. aloquin777 says:

    I am no expert, nor would I ever claim to be, but the fact that Nate was answering your questions, albeit with memorized movie lines, he was still ANSWERING them with appropriate responses. That proves his cognitive and “understanding” capabilities were there… which is beautiful.

    Thank you for sharing Suskind’s article… extremely thought-provoking and rewarding.

  2. aloquin777 says:

    The fact that Nate had the cognitive understanding with which to answer your questions, albeit with memorized movie lines, is very commendable. He understood what you were asking, and chose the appropriate respnse.

    Thank you for sharing Suskind’s fascinating, thought-provoking, and rewarding article with us. Everyone should read it.

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