Monthly Archives: March 2013

Autism, fear and acceptance

accept

As the sibling of an autistic individual, fear is something I dealt with for a while.

Although autistic and special needs individuals are more widely accepted, there is a constant fear of somebody making fun or them or using the “r word.” Back when I played hockey, I fought someone who used that word about my brother.

Thankfully, that worry has subsided. Society has opened its arms to these beautiful people. High schools have become a bit of a hot-bed for acceptance stories. Across the country, in this year alone, we saw Ishpeming High School in Michigan fight for their kicker with down syndrome. Out at Del Oro High School in California, a track team rallied around their most beloved runner.  A little to the east in Arizona, Chy Johnson and her boys are likely getting ready for another season of football. And who could forget the tri-athlete iron kids Connor and Cayden Long?

What may be my favorite, mostly because it hits home, is the story of James Robert Kennedy, better known as Radio. For those who have not seen the film, its story centers around Coach Jones, played by Ed Harris, a popular high school football coach who brings in Radio, who shows many signs of autism, as an assistant coach. As the movie progresses, the town accepts Radio as a part of their family.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two emotionally powerful scenes. Coincidentally, they run right into one another. The first one is a big plot point, so skip down if you have not seen the movie yet. 

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[SPOILER]

Ten years have gone by since “Radio” was released. In those ten years, I still cannot bring myself to watch the scene where Radio’s mother dies. It’s too heartbreaking for me to watch. Whenever the movie is on television, I flip to another channel for a few minutes when that scene airs.

[END OF SPOILER]

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When Coach Jones and his daughter return home, he tells his daughter,Mary Helen, a story he kept to himself since he was 12 years old. When he was a little boy, he had a paper route. During one of his runs, he heard a noise coming from one of the houses. It had He went to investigate and this is what he found:

radio“And then all of the sudden, l saw these fingers coming through the wire. And l put my bike down…and got down on my hands and knees…and l looked under there, and there was this boy about my age. l don’t know what was wrong with him. Something was. They used to keep him under there. And l looked right at him. He looked back at me. We just sat there staring at each other for a while. l ran that route for two years, Mary Helen. And l never did a thing.”

That scene has never faded from my memory. Coach Jones carried that guilt for most of his life. When he saw Radio, he made sure he would never miss an opportunity to help someone. He was given something very few people receive in life. A second chance.

Radio, Ishpeming and Del Oro high school all serve as great examples of acceptance. The coaches and students did not see a disability. They saw someone just like them who, like everyone else, wanted acceptance. To be part of a group they could call their own.

‘World of Jenks’ brings autism awareness

Jenks and Chad on Chad's prom night.

Jenks and Chad on Chad’s prom night. Photo from Jenks’ Twitter page.

Autism can be a tricky disorder to accurately describe.

I have said in a previous post that autism is unique in its own way. It affects each person differently and it becomes a task at times to adapt to so many different personalities. Friendships with autistic people are much different as well. They can be a challenge at times, but you will never find a more pure relationship in your life.

A shining example of this is found every Monday night at 11 p.m. when “World of Jenks” airs on MTV. In the first season, Andrew Jenks, the founder of the show and overall main character, followed the lives of several different individuals. One of the most popular episodes from season one featured Chad, a 20 year old with autism.

I first heard about this show from my cousin Nicole. Once the episode hit the MTV website, she immediately sent it to my mom, dad and I. We watched the episode and could not help, but fall in love with Chad and his charming personality.

In the season two premiere, Jenks said that a favorite from the past would come back, along with two other personalities. Once I heard Jenks say Chad’s name, I could not help but throw out a few fist pumps.

While I love how Jenks is putting a face to the disorder and bringing more awareness to it, what I cannot get enough of is how Jenks interacts with Chad. Social interaction is a challenge for many with autism, but Jenks makes his friendship with Chad look so effortless. He jokes around with him. He sings with him. He asks Chad about his fears.

He wants to develop an even deeper connection with Chad, but what makes me smile the most is that Jenks allows Chad to be Chad in his own special way.

“World of Jenks” never ceases to amaze me with its realism. During one portion of an episode, Jenks had to take a step away from Chad because he was getting annoyed. Jenks could have easily portrayed the sunshine and rainbows of his and Chad’s friendship.

In choosing to air that small clip, he showed his audience another dimension of the spectrum. Like every relationship in the world, you eventually get mad and have to step away to collect yourself. There have been numerous times when I have to take a step away from Brian because he is working my last nerve.

The various angles of Chad’s and Jenks’ friendship make the show that much more enjoyable. I cannot help but smile. Jenks is doing so much more than raising autism awareness. He is showing the rest of the world that a disability does not define a person.

 

The autistic ‘Beautiful Boy’

Bb Photo 4

The daily life of living with someone who is autistic can be, at times, difficult to describe.

I, myself, work better with pictures and images. To me it is easier to see the impact of something when it is right before my eyes. Words could vividly describe the life of someone in poverty, but the story will truly resonate with me when I see it with my own two eyes.

“World of Jenks” on MTV has done a great job giving a face to the autism community. Jenks’ relationship with Chad is inspiring and I cannot help but smile when those two interact with each other.

In summer 2012, my parents went to see this play called “Beautiful Boy.” The play featured Richard Repetta, played by Lindsay Smiling, and Conner Repetta, played by Aubie Merrylees, his autistic son. After seeing the first show, my parents bought a couple of tickets for a friend and me. Going into the play, I was not sure what to expect. All my parents told me was that it personified the daily life at the Foti household.

Throughout the play, I felt every single emotion on the spectrum. Peter Pryor’s writing was

Richard Repetta, played by Lindsay Smiling, and his co-star Aubie Merrylees. Merrylees plays a variety of characters in the play including Conner, Richard's wife and a therapist.

Smiling, and his co-star Merrylees. Merrylees plays a variety of characters in the play including Conner, Richard’s wife and a therapist. Photo courtesy of: People’s Light and Theater Company.

incredible. While “World of Jenks” shows the life of an autistic individual, “Beautiful Boy” gave the story from the parent’s perspective. From the mountains of paper work, to arguments, to finding your autistic son with underwear on his head, Pryor had my emotional investment in these characters.

As you can probably imagine, this play hit home. From the beginning of the play to the end, Richard Repetta seeks to make his son act like everybody else. He wants him to ride a bike like the kids down the street. He wants to connect with Conner, but finds it hard to fathom that his son is not “normal.”

In the final scene of the film, Richard is sitting on the floor, watching home videos. Conner is on the couch in front of him. A few minutes into the home videos, Conner gets up from the couch and sits next to his father. Richard is stunned. It is this moment where he realizes that his son is just like everyone else. That Conner loves his father, despite his struggles to cope with his autism.

During this scene, I tried as hard as I could to hold back tears, but it was useless. Throughout my life, I have dealt with those same challenges to connect with my brother Brian on a personal level. The final scene in “Beautiful Boy” brought more than twenty years of inner struggle out of me.

If you ever get a chance to see “Beautiful Boy” I highly recommend it. The actors were so deeply involved with their characters and truly cared about their performances. Through the emotional scenes, there is also humor. Pryor has stressed that autism itself is not funny, but there is humor to be found in the daily lives of autistic people.