Susan's Blog

Friday, October 13, 2006

Oh Canada

On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
Oh Canada
With your face sketched on it, twice
Oh, you’re in my blood like holy wine
–Joni Mitchell, “Case of You”

I am totally in love. With a city. With people in this city. Maybe with a country. I love Toronto. I love Canada! I would love to live here. In parts it looks like midtown Manhattan – and certainly the women are every bit as stylish – and in parts it looks like Greenwich Village, with funky, beautifully painted storefronts mixed with old-fashioned mom and pop stores. Some areas look like Georgetown. Other parts look like Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, with large turn-of-the century Colonials and Victorians, and still other parts look a little more blue collar, with 1930’s brick houses, like neighborhoods of Queens.

The people are a very interesting mixture of sophisticated and varied ethnicities, and yet also wide open friendly, like the Midwest, like the people I met in Minnesota and Ohio. I had the opportunity to take a walk this morning down Avenue Road to a classic diner, where they took very good care of me; there was a grandmotherly waitress and the flirtatious owner, who told me I was beautiful and made me a fantastic feta omelette (“Poof! You’re a fantastic feta omelette!” my mother would say.)

But this is just skimming the surface of all that happened. Going a little deeper into my two days here, I spent a good deal of time (lunch in and tour of the CN Tower, with my old Israeli boyfriend Gabi, whom I met while I was on Kibbutz HaHoresh for two weeks in 1978. I was fifteen, Gabi was twenty. He was an ebullient young man back then, quite handsome, like a Jewish Alec Baldwin, with droopy blue eyes that I just melted for and, husky voice and easy smile. He showed me a very good time when I was in Israel – too good to go into here – and at the same time he was a good boy.

He is still a good boy. And a really good soul. (Still very handsome, too! Those blue eyes now have crinkles on the sides, even better…) I was so pleased to see that that high spirited young man still exists. He has two lovely kids (a girl Max’s age) and just seems brimming with warmth and generosity, like the rest of the people I came across here.

And then, there was the Conference. I saved the best for last. I am just beginning to process it all. The Autism Acceptance Project that Estee Klar-Wolfond put together on her own, where she assembled a week’s worth of lecturers – authors, academics, and artists, some of whom are autistic – and all of whom, like me, wish to shift the paradigm around autism. This was a very moving and informative evening, with equal participation between panelists and audience.

One of my fellow presenters was author Valerie Paradiz, along with her teenage son Elijah. Valerie wrote the book, Elijah’s Cup, several years ago, a memoir of Elijah’s and of her own increasing self-awareness and incorporation of autism into their lives (both Valerie and Elijah are somewhere on the spectrum. They call themselves “Spectrumites.”). Valerie covered a few points in her talk, about what adolescents with autism need, for nuturing, and to know about themselves and the world. Valerie is the founder of the ASPIE School, (now known as the Open Center), which, in my view would have already been enough (dayenu). How many of us fantasize about starting a school for our autie kids – I know I do but Ned says I need to get real – but we just don’t because it is mind-blowingly difficult. Yet Valerie did it, and it has been a success. She is now researching gender and autism, questioning whether there may be more females with autism out there, but that the symptoms are different because women and girls are generally more outwardly adept at social skills (no offense, hombres, mais c’est vrai) but that inwardly there could be the same confusion and overstimulation, sensory-defensiveness, etc. (This stuff made me think: could I be on the spectrum? Would that explain some of my feelings of alienation, confusion with how certain kinds of relationships work, discomfort with same, and

The huge need/desire to have space/be alone
on the computer rather than phone,
and with very few friends that I can really really tolerate and call my own?
The inexplicable vicissitudes that happen with friends
The alienation that sometimes never ends.

(Who knows? I am interested in finding out. And since autism is most often genetic, why couldn’t I – and Ned, for that matter – be Aspie-ish?)

Valerie is also in the midst of creating a model program for Aspie adolescents at NYU, which I find thrilling news. The adolescent period in the life of any child can be agony but for someone who has difficulty understanding or navigating social conventions, it can be deathly. Valerie had some very good common sense ideas for how to talk to a child about his autism – and she is very much of the mind that one should, in order to reduce potential anxiety and confusion that child may have about himself vis a vis the rest of the world. It made me think that I should and could talk to Nat about his autism. I really do not know for certain how much he is capable of understanding, but there have been many times in his life where he demonstrated that he knew everything that we were saying and that was going on around him. Certainly with our new home program (that has now met three times) I have already seen evidence that Nat knows quite a bit, but just needs to feel confident and needs more comfortable practice. These therapists really know how to make him smile and still do work. There is none of that forced ABA-style drilling, although they are drilling. It is much more organic and fluid, even though they are covering a lot of material in terms of vocabulary and grammar training. Here is an example of how even a “break” works:

“Hey, Nat, it looks like you want juice! ‘I want juice, please,’”
“I want juice, please.”
“Sure, Nat! Hey, Nat, what do you drink out of?” looking at the cup.
“’I drink out of a cup.’”
“I drink out of a cup.”
“Yay, Nat!” Gorgeous smile. “And what do you like to drink?”
“Juice – “
“’I like…’”
“I like juice.”
“Great, you like juice! I like juice, too.”
And so on.

Probably the best thing about our own home program, however, is Emily, the young therapist. I think Nat has a crush on her. She could be played by Anne Hathaway, the young woman who was in The Devil Wears Prada. Emily seems to really enjoy Nat. One interesting thing that happened was that he started touching her hands, and I tensed when I saw that because that is almost a
lways a sign of his tention, that he is going to scratch your hands or pinch them.

But Emily did not know this, which was a good thing, because she put the best possible spin on it, and she smiled prettily at him and said, “Oh, you want to squeeze hands?”
And Nat said, “Yes.” And that’s what they did. So now that’s something he asks for and she gives him. With this training: you ask, you get.

(See, flirting goes a long way. It can build happy connections, but you need to keep your wits about you. Like mother, like son.)

My mind is full and jumping all over the place, from last night’s conference and thinking about what this means for Nat. I guess it means that I am far more optimistic than I have felt in a long time. Valerie and the others gave me such a feeling of the way the autism spectrum sometimes works. One woman kept standing up and asking questions, making comments, and it turns out she is autistic and so full of things to say. Maybe when you are delayed in your language development, and then you finally find speech, you are just overflowing with it. I can completely understand that.

She and others made it very clear that with autism, development can happen very, very late in life. We all know about the late talkers, for instance. Valerie’s son Elijah was a late talker, and then an echolalic talker, and he eventually found that watching comedy was a good way to learn about social timing. He started by watching Charlie Chaplin. All of the silent physical comedy was easy for him to understand, without words to process. He then moved up to other comedians, until he started telling jokes and now writes his own material – at sixteen – and performs it in comedy clubs! And he is very funny, and very dear. I had dinner with him, Valerie, and Estee. Elijah reminded me of Max, in his interests and affect (interesting to note that Max does NOT have a diagnosis…I’m filing that one away for further inspection). But he reminded me of Nat in the way his language progressed over time. I got to thinking that perhaps with time and the right approach, Nat could definitely become more limber in verbalizing his thoughts and more practiced at conversation. This may seem painfully obvious to some of you, but to me it is a revelation. To think that that door is still partially open is like a miracle to me, in fact I’m sitting here in Pearson Airport trying not to cry. I am putting my foot in that door with our home program and I am keeping it open with my will and hope. Very strong stuff; don’t mess with a mother’s will and hope.

Valerie, Elijah, Gabi, and Toronto, you are now in my blood, like holy wine. Oh, Canada.


I love love love Toronto!
I miss living close to it. I’ve really missed visiting it. Oddly enough, I even miss the traffic and hustle of it sometimes too.
I’m glad she cast her spell on you too. 😀

— added by Anonymous on Friday, October 13, 2006 at 5:53 pm

oh, susan! this post makes me sing! this post IS like singing! and not because of your quotes from that lovely celebratory song which has long been one of my absolute favorites! i love the feeling of openess, of possibility, of discovery, the connections made. it all has a feeling of reunion, as if you met a part of you up in canada and the two of you had a passionate embrace of recognition and renewed spirit! yay to you! to canada! to nat! to your home program! and to estee and all those gathered at that amazing conference!!!

— added by kyra on Friday, October 13, 2006 at 6:18 pm

SusieSaurus…I told you that you’d love Toronto! What an awesome post, as well. I could use a Feta Omelette right about now, though…I’ve been craving Greek food for a few weeks. And Ouzo. But that’s another story.

Genetics and Autism…interesting. I went and read some of Ned’s posts on Python (code) and think that there’s a touch more of the spectrum in people who write code, than people who write “stories.” Could be both, of course.

Heck, I do both. Not remotely on the spectrum, though.

Or am I???

Hell, we’re all on the spectrum in one way or another. Right? Of course, right!

— added by Wise Young friend on Friday, October 13, 2006 at 7:55 pm

Wise Young Friend —
I know who you are and you are NOT that much younger than me!!! 🙂
But you are wise, I’ll grant you that.

Kyra —
Thank you, you are a sweetheart.

Jen — you are right about that traffic! I kept joking to Gabi about how I was getting old on “Yonge” Street because we were in traffic there for so long.

— added by Susan Senator on Friday, October 13, 2006 at 8:53 pm

True, true…but I am still younger! Neat shot of you…I miss Toronto…and need to get back.

Didn’t get that Feta omelette I wanted tonight, but I did have something equally ethnic.


— added by Wise Young Friend on Friday, October 13, 2006 at 10:49 pm

She is now researching gender and autism, questioning whether there may be more females with autism out there, but that the symptoms are different because women and girls are generally more outwardly adept at social skills (no offense, hombres, mais c’est vrai) but that inwardly there could be the same confusion and overstimulation, sensory-defensiveness, etc. (This stuff made me think: could I be on the spectrum? Would that explain some of my feelings of alienation, confusion with how certain kinds of relationships work, discomfort with same,[…]

no offense, but… self-dx autie women have been saying this for ages.

and hey, maybe we will say welcome to the spectrum (~_^)

ps: i have only been to Ottawa, but i do like Canada very much. would like to know Toronto one day.

— added by Natalia on Friday, October 13, 2006 at 11:07 pm

My ears perked up when I read those lyrics. It’s quite a song — “I could drink a case of you / and still be on my feet”

It sounds like you’re having an awesome trip. Say hello to my ancestors!

— added by dave on Saturday, October 14, 2006 at 12:12 am


This is so lovely…I’ve been so busy and just got a chance to read your Toronto experiences here.
Me too — I’m brimming — with ideas for Adam, for next steps on the path to acceptance. Meeting you and Valerie and Elijah was a wonderful and enlightening experience for me, for all the visitors who attended your talks and an inspiration. Thanks for putting joy and humour back into our lives!!

— added by Estee Klar-Wolfond on Saturday, October 14, 2006 at 10:05 am

…one of my favorite joni songs…can’t you just picture her, on a barstool somewhere, living out the lyrics?

— added by Barry on Sunday, October 15, 2006 at 1:59 pm

If you loved Toronto, you should drive up to Montreal. You’ll love it.

— added by Guy on Monday, October 16, 2006 at 11:03 am