Month: April 2013
These are two stories that typically merit separate posts, but they clearly share a central theme and so I decided to put them together. Growing up on the Autism Spectrum is difficult; for the individual, for parents, educators, siblings and friends. It is made (relatively) easier by the degree to which that individual has support; financial, emotional, institutional or otherwise. The harsh reality of new-found adult status can be jarring, if not entirely all-consuming and down-right depressing at times. Gone are many of those supports that each individual has literally needed to make the progress that they have. Gone also are many of the dreams of childhood; that unique innocence that sparks each autistic child to work towards something off in the distance.
As a society, we need to have a plan to integrate young adults on the spectrum into that same civilized society. Assistance with job placement? Yes! Easier access to (more) Day Habilitation Programs? Yes again! Autism insurance reform? Hell yes!
Autism awareness efforts can no longer be a grass-roots effort. It must be a concerted, unified attack that has the full backing of local, state and federal agencies. No autistic child who grows into adulthood should ever have to fend for himself to receive the same considerations that their neuro-typical peers get.
On this last day of Autism Awareness Month, let’s all give our kids (children and adults alike) a hug, a kiss and a promise to keep their hopes and dreams, as well as their rights, alive. -Ed
At 21, Rio Wyles still displays all the classic signs of autism.
Click this link to view the video: http://bcove.me/p6idk7zi
He avoids eye contact with a stranger who tries to initiate a conversation with him, and seems eager to run away from the situation. It’s an expected reaction because autism is strongly associated with social, verbal and nonverbal communication problems.
But then the young Playa del Rey resident puts on his black sunglasses, grabs a microphone and, suddenly, he turns into Soulshocka – an ambitious rapper who “reps” Venice Beach for more “street cred. ”
“I started rapping when I was 8 or 9,” Rio says as he sits on a couch in an Inglewood recording studio.
“I was at Tower Records. The first song I really heard was ‘Can’t Touch This’ by MC Hammer. ”
The recording studio is part of Performing Arts Studio West, an entertainment company that caters to adults with developmental disabilities, including Asperger’s syndrome, autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy and others.
Rio has been part of the company for the past two years and is prepping to perform in its May 3 show “Recovered” at the James Armstrong Theatre in Torrance.
The founder of the company, John Paizis, has been an adult special education teacher since 1980. In his spare time, he also was an entertainer and realized great benefits could come from combining the two, especially for those with autism.
“Being able to look somebody in the eye and effectively communicate is super important for these guys,” Paizis said.
His entertainment company puts performers into situations “where the curriculum kind of forces them to do that by doing acting scenes where they need to have eye contact with people, where they need to vocalize, where they need to be heard. ”
The company offers a variety of classes, including singing, song writing, music production, dance and all styles of acting. And each offers something different.
For example, Paizis said, dancing helps autistic adults learnbody language and how to become more aware of how much space their body takes up. Music lets them see a sequence of events that ends with a finished product.
“Music classes are fabulous for them,” Paizis said. “And a lot of the population has a proclivity toward music since they were kids, especially some of our high functioning kids – so communication, body language, being able to put their best foot forward in any kind of social situation, that really helps. ”
Rio knew he wanted to be a rapper since the time he was about age 4. In fact, after he was diagnosed at 3 years old, a doctor at UCLA told his parents to find something he enjoys doing and to let him follow that path.
“Fortunately for us, he loved music, and so music is his way back into the world,” said Rio’s father, David Wyles.
Since finding his passion, Wyles said, Rio has become more comfortable with other people and with himself.
He writes his own raps, drawing inspiration from his diagnosis and writing lines like: “Who’s the guy on the short bus causing a fuss?” And another: “The doc said I couldn’t do it, but now they have to face the music. ”
But despite his willingness to perform for autism organizations, he said he’s trying to stay away from it.
“He wants to be known as a rapper and not an autistic rapper,” said his dad. “And that’s true. He is a rapper first and foremost, and autism is the back story. ”
In a striking moment, when asked where Rio would be today if he hadn’t found music as a young boy, his father softly says “lost. ”
Rio, on the other hand, is more blunt.
“I’d either be in a group home, or … yeah,” he said. “Music has the potential of getting me out of the hole. So pretty much, it got me out of the grind. ”
And he doesn’t plan to stop.
One day the family was returning home from a doctor’s appointment where they learned Rio might not mature any further.
When they stopped at a record store to browse, Rio’s mom asked him if he would like to work there someday.
“No, I want to be a rapper and own my own label,” he said. “You gotta dream bigger than that Mom. ”
firstname.lastname@example.org @stephiecary on Twitter
Want to go?
What: Performing Arts Studio West presents an original musical featuring performers with developmental disabilities.
When: 8 p.m. Friday May 3
Where: James Armstrong Theatre, 3330 Civic Center Drive, Torrance
Information: Tickets are $25. Call 310-674-1346 , Ext. 202, or go to pastudiowest.com
It started out as a way to get some exercise. We worked out at home the day before; me on the elliptical machine and Mike on the recumbent bike. We had discussed getting the bicycles out for the first time, but they’re still in storage and need to be inflated, etc. But today we took our 7 month old puppy for a walk around the block; despite his nearly full-grown size, technically he’s still a puppy. It was Mike’s idea to walk him, since he wrote that we would in his daily journal for school.
We exchanged the usual pleasantries: asked how each other’s day was and what we did today (we do this every day after I get home). He told me about his music class and that they learned about guitars and ukuleles. I asked if he wanted to learn to play the guitar and he said yes. I was surprised at this, but now that I think of it, I shouldn’t be; one of his favorite things when he was much younger was listening to guitar melodies as he would go to sleep.
He brought up a recent conversation we had from last week: how I ‘hate zombies’. I explained that I don’t really hate them but they’re “freaky” because they’re all dead but are still walking and are trying to eat you. He proceeded to allay my fears by telling me there are no real zombies and that they only exist in movies and TV. Whew!
In what I thought was another re-cycled conversation, Mike asked me if I missed my father. Mike has known that my parents passed away years ago, and occasionally brings it up; asking more about me missing my father than my mother. He did know my mother; one of his favorite vacation destinations is Florida, in part because he likes Disney and Universal, but also in part because we stayed in my mother’s home the few times when we did go to Florida. Thinking back, I remember my mother, after understanding what Autism was, and understanding that Mike was on that Spectrum, in particular asking how he did in school and his progress in general. One time I remember her telling me that she always said a special prayer for Mike, and that she knew he would improve. That memory always comforted me.
Mike never knew my father; he passed away years before Mike was born. I think we have shown pictures of him, but most of those are from my wedding album, when he was already older and frail. When he asks, I never try to embellish: some days I do, but most days I don’t; I emphasize that mostly when I miss someone, it’s because I remembered something that person said or did. I emphasize that I mostly I miss him, his brothers and mommy because my mind is filled with many more memories about them, especially when I’m at work or when we’re not all together.
Mike knows, and has known, his Nana and Grandpa, my wife’s parents, all his life; in fact he and Tom hung out with them when we took Nick to a nearby college event this past weekend. He has made many of his own memories of them, and has heard many recollections told by my wife and her siblings. I don’t talk about my parents much if at all; usually only when we see one of my sisters, all of whom are scattered across the United States, as compared to my wife’s brother and sisters, who are clustered on Long Island.
Mike makes visual associations, which imprints upon his memory, and I think, is the key to his learning. I remember over this past winter, I gave Mike an old red L. L. Bean fleece robe to wear; it was the one my father gave me many years (possibly 30???) ago. I think he liked that fact. I think sometimes he asks me about my father to provoke a lasting memory for himself, and certainly to reinforce my own memories. Maybe that’s why he brings it up every now and again.
We talked some more about how those who have passed away are looking down on us, and how we keep them in our heart. I told him how his brother Thomas was named after my father, his brother Nicholas was named after his mom’s Grandpa Nick, and how he himself is named after his mom’s Uncle Mike. I told him we did this to honor some of the people we love, and that is one way we keep our loved ones in our heart.
Suddenly our walk ended. It wasn’t the distance; 4 long blocks around, probably more than a quarter-mile and less than a half-mile. We probably could have walked and talked for miles. I wouldn’t mind it at all.
If you haven’t checked it out yet, please take a look at the Facebook page dedicated to this blog, which also has posts from great contributors like Autisable.com, Autism Speaks, and many more resources. You’re sure to find something that will touch your heart, connect with others, give you another resource and see the wonderful work that your peers are doing in the Autism community. It’s located at www.facebook.com/BeyondAutismAwareness
If you are already with us on Facebook, thank you for your support and tell your friends.
Saturday was Autism Awareness Night at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia and as part of those proceedings, a youngster with autism named Joseph Dever trotted out to the mound with his oversized glove and threw one of the best first pitches we’ve ever seen.
First, he does the old glove to the face trick to communicate with someone about pitch selection (we assume), then he gets into a serious pitching position before balking to get the crowd pumped up. What a showman! Finally, after delivering a pretty decent pitch to the Phillie Phanatic, the kid makes your heart melt by imitating Brad Lidge‘s legendary fall-to-his-knees celebration following the Phillies winning the World Series in Game 5 in 2008. But the cuteness doesn’t stop there, as one of his little lady friends runs out and tackles him to the ground. Amazing.
Thanks for that, Joseph. We all needed it. You rule.
Click on this picture to view the video:
Health care and workplace policies need to recognize the full impact of autism, and alleviate costs for the families with greatest needs
- Despite law, some families lack autism coverage (utsandiego.com)
Teal, Orange, White by Nancy Sexton, part of Discover the Art of Autism.
Courtesy of the Church of St. Michael the Archangel
Children and adults with autism often experience impaired communication and social interactions, but there is at least one inexpensive activity that has been shown to help: art.
“It’s a way to express themselves,” says Kay Wright, who, with Donna Pizzuto, organized an exhibit called The Art of Autism, on display at The Episcopal Church of St. Michael the Archangel.
“A lot of people who have autism have a hard time expressing themselves and a hard time making social connections, so this is one way they can communicate and express themselves,” she says.
Wright, a real estate agent and retired teacher, is a volunteer for EAGLE (Embracing Asperger Gifts and Life Experiences), a social support group for adults with autism.
“Several of them are really art- oriented,” Wright says of EAGLE members, “so this exhibit just kind of came out of all that.”
Wright and Pizzuto reached out to groups including EAGLE, Latitude Artist Community, the Autism Society of the Bluegrass and Fayette County Public Schools to spread the word out about the exhibit.
“We weren’t sure what kind of a response we were going to get,” she says of the call to artists.
But submissions kept coming in right up until Sunday, when the exhibit opened.
The exhibit features more than 25 works. The 16 artists range in age from 6 to 47, and they work in media ranging from acrylic paints and watercolors to digital photography and wood carvings.
One of the artists is Jade Finley, 12, a Bryan Station Middle School seventh-grader who has three acrylic paintings in the exhibit, includingTo Haiti With Love.
The painting was Jade’s way of dealing with the 2010 earthquake that devastated the island nation of Haiti.
“I wanted to make it to honor them,” says Jade, whose two other paintings, Flutter Flies and Spring Break, feature brightly colored nature themes.
“I paint all the time,” Jade says. “Art inspires me.”
This year’s success means the exhibit probably will become an annual event.
“We had several artists who submitted pieces say they would like to submit more for next year,” Pizzuto says.
For Wright and Pizzuto, both members at St. Michael’s, there is also a spiritual aspect to artwork.
Wright facilitates and Pizzuto is a member of an Artist’s Way group at St. Michael’s, based on the book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which focuses on connecting more fully with God through creativity.
“It is our belief that we are all born with creative talent,” Wright and Pizzuto wrote in the exhibit’s brochure, “and to use that talent, embrace it and celebrate it is to honor God.”
IF YOU GO
‘Discover the Art of Autism’
When: Through April 28. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.
Where: The Episcopal Church of St. Michael the Archangel, 2025 Bellefonte Dr.
Learn more: (859) 277-7511, http://www.saint-michaels.org