Thursday, July 28, 2011

A little back story...

Now that Glee is big and all that, I have a little confession to make.

When I was at high school, I was a theatre nerd. And I loved every second of it.

I have always loved words. Since I was a tiny kid. I loved to read, more than write.

I went to a production of The Wizard of Oz, in Ireland (where I was born) when I was 5 or 6. I sat in the squishy seats, in the dark, watching the people on stage, and I knew I was home. Never knew anything more clearly.

As I moved from kid through tween to very, very awkward teen (and across continents), I found writing. At school, at home, anywhere... I liked that I knew I could string words together. I liked that people saw I could string words together. I liked stringing them together as I watched the cool kids doing their cool stuff, suspecting that my ability potentially had a longer life than their coolness.

At a point in high school when the arse threatened to fall out of my world, I found youth theatre. Amazingly, it was full of nerds like me, who were inspired by the same stuff I was. They were like family. Thirty years on, I am really happy to say, they are still family.

As I ventured off on my own, after Drama School and a life in the theatre, I found other ways to write. I found press releases, and articles, and magazine editorial and (eventually), television, book writing and blogging. Writing is one of those lovely things that pays off in so many ways. Nerdy ways, for sure, but many ways, nonetheless. It makes you the go-to person on birthdays (heavy pressure over the need for a witty statement on someone's birthday card), and the rational editorial head at funerals and company retirements.

Still, deep down, I am a theatre nerd. I hate wasting my money on crap, but I love the moment when you realise you are about to be transformed. I love the commitment, the belief, the transcendence of real committed truthful artistic expression.

So, as I grew older, I was excited about the possibility of taking my future children to the theatre. I spent a solid ten years working in the hey day of theatre-for-young-people in Australia, thinking it would be cool when I could walk into a theatre with my own child. I hoped that we could share that moment of awareness, the time when you left the real world at the door, and milled about (carefully) engaging with people's dreams.

And then autism came knocking.

Not just traditional autism, but the sort of autism that makes you terrified of crowds. The sort of autism that puts you on the most volatile edge 24/7 wondering if someone, somewhere is going to make a noise you don't expect.

Definitely, not the sort of autism that feels comfortable in a dark room, full of hidden musical instruments and folk given to hoicking out juggling balls and screaming at each other.

I grieved with my inner theatre nerd, in the same way my rugby loving partner commiserated with his inner Wallaby fan. It sucked, in my head, that the one (legal) thing that lifted me out of the everyday and lit up my mind, was out of my son's reach.

But I sucked it up. After all, Billy is awesome. And Billy's brand of autism brought us animals (of all shapes and sizes, and presented in all media). Animals are excellent, and I love them too. Autism also brought us trains. Not so exciting to me, but hey... you win some, you lose some.

Autism also brought us massive amounts of kid's TV, that lifted Billy out of the social pressure eof the everyday and taught him a massive amount. From Hi-5, we got school skills and child-like playful relationships. From Charlie and Lola we got siblings and passionate histrionics. And from Little Einsteins, we got classical music.

Thankfully, Billy's version of autism also brought us passion. Real, driving love for whatever it was he was into at the time. If he heard the word Mozart, he wanted to find out everything he could about Mozart. He embraced that passion as he learned to spell, and he learned to read using Google and YouTube. He drove himself through the skills necessary to uncover whatever he could about what it was he was interested in.

At seven and three quarters, it drove him to the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and their family concerts. It drove him to the Sydney Opera House, and the chance to sit with a group of other kids and take in the magic of the orchestra. In a theatre.

It drove him to the place I called home.

It's truly pathetic that I feel so happy about heading into the Opera House to see a show with my son. I see that... but I an happy. I love that he loves (for now, at least) something that I don't just love, I connect with... I learn from... I am inspired by.

Because when your child is diagnosed with autism, you are told to rationalise your dreams about who they are and might become. You are told to shorten your horizons and take them for what they are. You are told a lot of stuff.

Little Einsteins brought us the music. Daddy brought us the 'concert' idea. Life strung the rest together into a new experience.

Some days bite. Today didn't.

Next weekend might, when the screams of some random baby drive us out of the Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House.

But, for now... no biting. Just smiling. And Mozart.

1 comment:

Lisa said...

It's the dark art - ya gotta exploit those passions. Set them up, and let them drag the kids into new experiences. Yes, I know, it's evil, but it *works*.
Hopefully, the Mozart will be loud enough, and fascinating enough, that the boy will hyperfocus on that, not notice the babies (which of course you will ensure are on the other side of the room) and arrive home with the knowledge that he can 'do' concerts.
Which will be another step taken.