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.
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: