Saturday, October 23, 2010

Night of Too Many Stars and My World so Long Ago

Last night on the DVR, I watched the "Night of Too Many Stars: An Overbooked Concert for Autism Education" hosted by Jon Stewart. It featured featured lots of my favorite funny people and I laughed a lot. The event definitely benefited a wonderful cause.

The actual show was taped at the Beacon Theatre in New York, and the program was broadcast on Comedy Central as a telethon so people could call in with donation pledges. It also featured pre-taped segments highlighting serveral schools and programs located across the country that specialized in serving children with autism. All looked great, and it seemed like the people from these schools and programs deeply cared about and were sincere in their efforts to help. A few parents were interviewed as well and they expressed their gratitute that their child was directly benefiting from the help that these programs offered.

I know from personal experience how difficult it can be to find the proper educational setting for a child with autism. Up until second grade, Jacob attended our local public school and was fairly successful. But the third grade classroom was too overwhelming, so he left mid-year to attend a non-public school that specialized in educating children with social communication disorders. I was lucky because in 2001 there were no other viable placement options that were appropriate for a higher-functioning child on the autism spectrum. Though it was not a bad experience, Jacob eventually left the non-public school in 10th grade and is now enrolled in our local public high school. He's been there for nearly two months, and so far, so good. His teachers are giving good reports and he doesn't seem to hate it. Culver High has a lot of clubs, and he's joined the Anime Club that meets once a week during lunch. Jacob is really good at building figures with Bionacle Lego kits, so I'm hoping he'll also join the Robotics Club, but he says he'll only join one club at a time. This is a typical Jacob response but at least the Anime Club is a start.

For the Too Many Stars event, I was happy to see something so high-profile raising awareness about the issue of autism. It was great to see that more and more programs are being offered to address the educational needs of students on the spectrum. Judging by the increased knowledge and these expansion of programs, times have certainly changed in the 13 years since Jacob was first diagnosed. The day that Dr. Kaler told me Jacob had autism, it now feels like that happened a lifetime ago. It's hard to remember what my life was like when autism wasn't a part of it.

It's true. There actually was a time when autism was not part of my life. Now, it feels like I'm immersed in it. I'm President of the Los Angeles chapter of the Autism Society, and Principal of a school for children with autism as well as Jacob's Mom. Of course, I have other interests, but there doesn't seem to be much time, and at the moment not any money, to do much else. Each day goes by so fast, and I never get an opportunity to finish all the items on my daily list of things to do.

Autism is a big part of my life, and, as much as this is not what I envisioned my life to be when Jacob was first born, I can honestly say the journey has been extremely worthwhile. I never planned my life or my ultimate destination. I can't recreate the past, so I have no idea where I would be now or what I would be doing had Jacob not had autism. Maybe my marriage wouldn't have failed. Because Jacob was so adorable as a youngster, maybe he would have been a top child model or successful actor. He's smart, so maybe he'd be looking at scholarships to attend a top ivy-league college when he graduated from high school. It really makes no difference as these are realities that were never meant to be, so I can't miss what I never had.

It certainly felt good to laugh last night, and it was great to see so many people donating so much to such a worth cause. My own personal connection to autism may have deepened this appreciation, and I think that's a good thing.

In my world so long ago, this would have never seemed possible.

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