Susan's Blog

Sunday, December 9, 2007

I Pick You Up

One of my most poignant memories of all time is of walking up three flights of stairs to our top-floor condo. As I walked, I was holding Baby Max, stroller draped from my elbow, and Little Nat was reaching up to me, stumbling over my legs, saying, “I pick you up, I pick you up,” in classic, autistic echolalia.

But no, I could not pick him up. It was not humanly possible to carry both of them. There was nothing I could do to help Nat understand that I really, really, wanted to, but I just could not.

I do not ever think to myself, “Why did Nat have to be that way and need me to pick him up?” Instead, I will always grieve the fact that I did not have more arms. And now, as the mother of much older boys who would never in a million years say such achingly adorable things to me, I only wish I had sat down on the stairs and let Little Natty just climb aboard for a few seconds. Why was I in such a sweaty hurry to get upstairs, anyway?

What really matters is for parents to be able to love their children, help their children be who they are, while still being able teach them to stand on their own as much as possible, and being wise enough to know the difference.

The above is the NYU Child Study Center’s latest ad campaign. (please click and follow instructions about how to express your reactions to this campaign) It gave me ugly chills. As my readers know, Ned and I have been going through the guardianship process for Nat now that he is 18. We are doing this guardianship because we do not believe he can make decisions for himself in terms of his best care. So I look at this ad and I understand that what they are getting at is not untrue. It is the “caring for himself” part, in particular that is hard to argue with. What parent does not worry about how his child will care for himself? But Ned and I can see that Nat cannot — yet — take a trip to the store on his own, crossing streets safely and interacting with the clerks successfully, remembering to count change, etc. Ned and I would dearly love, would give chunks of our own flesh if possible, to help Nat be able to do these things. Why? Because no parent wants to be able to entrust their dear child to the care of others. It is too uncertain. That uncertainty makes me feel like I never can die. That is such a hard thing to bear that sometimes it actually makes me feel like I want to die.

Still, all of that does not mean that Nat is somehow wrong as he is.

Raising our children means, in part, to teach them how to survive on their own in the world after we are gone. To pick themselves up. But some people cannot do this. And it is, at best, misleading of the NYU Child Study Center to promise that they can succeed somehow where Ned and I and so many others have not. Nat, in many ways, is exactly as they threaten in this ad. Did we call the wrong Child Study Center (Children’s Hospital of Boston, and Massachusetts General, along with many Harvard-trained physicians and specialists)? Did we not do enough for our son, to care for him and teach him the ins and outs of the world? Hmmm. Or is he very heavily autistic and nothing would change that, and what he has needed all along is high quality education, encouragement, help — more picking up.

Nat is all that they say in this ad. Yet, he is a wonderful, loving young man — and I’m not just saying that because I’m his mother; I have proof! Seriously, he is that same person who asked me for love as a three-year-old, who cringes when his brothers are mad at him, who makes us laugh with his off-the-wall jokes and “silly” talk, who bakes a mean corn bread, who led 60 people in prayer at his Bar Mitzvah, who blesses candles in Hebrew any time anyone lights them (even at Christmas dinner!) who helped his swim team get the gold medal, who dependably delivers Meals on Wheels to needy people …. I could go on and on.

The NYU Child Study Center is trying to scare parents into action. Okay, it is true that people with autism, ADHD, depression, etc., need help coping so that they can lead worthwhile lives. It is way true.

But isn’t there a positive way to offer help and treatment? NYU CSC seems to be saying that if you don’t call them, your ADHD, Autistic, or Depressed, child will end up isolated, or horribly sad, or even dead. Plus, they are equating being like my son with being like those things: the worst thing on earth. You and I both know that it is not. Difficult does not equal fighting a kidnapper. Challenging does not equal dead. Treat depression, educate and support autistics, and their families, find the right learning or medical approach for alleviating the symptoms of ADHD.

Offer help, education, support, resources — without reviling the way some people are. Do no harm.

I prefer that society help parents like me pick our children up, in all their glory.


Boy, this ad campaign will get some angry backlash, I’ll bet. The problem I have with it is that it’s just so black and white. “Call us, or your child will be doomed to a life of utter hell.” Oookay then.

I think you hit the nail on the head – ugly chills.

— added by redheadmomma on Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 12:59 pm

that’s a blunt piece of propaganda there.

— added by Someone Said on Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 1:14 pm

oops, we forgot to pay the kidnappers! Silly us.

This hurts a bit ’cause it is so much exactly like this. But yeah, like we haven’t paid a thousand ransoms already. I want a money back guarantee this time. No, I want a life back guarantee!

— added by Nancy Bea Miller on Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 5:27 pm

Wow. But I was interested to learn that their “Ransom Notes” campaign doesn’t just target autism, but other disorders as well. You can see all the ads here and learn more about the campaign, too. — Cathy in CT

— added by Anonymous on Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 5:29 pm

I find that ad deeply offensive. I have lots of understanding of and compassion for the fact that we all see with different lenses and I truly believe that most people/organizations who communicate about Autism want to help. The implication, though, that my beautiful child was kidnapped by some malevolent force is just an affront to her as an individual and to me as her Mom. Ugh!

— added by Em's Mom on Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 6:35 pm

WoW!! What everybody else here said, plus… what about consideration for families of children who actually have been kidnapped?

This series of ‘ads’ is wrong on so many levels. So dark, so fatalistic. As a parent of child with multiple disabilities, isn’t what we do hard enough already?
What ever happened to hope?

If this ‘campaign’ is supposed to be public awareness, it fails miserably. Do they really think they are helping anyone?

SLT — mom to BCTH in PA

— added by sisonprize on Monday, December 10, 2007 at 10:44 am

That campaign is horrifying.

Great letter in the next post. Ugh. They need a swift kick in the rear.

— added by drama mama on Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 9:39 am

We live in an era marking the ripple effect of “shock jock” performance. Various celebrities have ignited public and media attention with high and very low behavior… to what end? Perhaps the public relations industry takes the “any news is good news” approach.

Given that autism is the “malady du jour”, it strikes my cynical self that there is money in it. Every fly- by- night offer out there is advertised on web sites. The hook is simply waiting to grab needy parents who want so desperately to help their children. The “miracle cure” brigade is integrated with links for medical researchers, when autism is googled. Parents and caretakers are frantic, like the mice on a wheel, going nowhere fast. They are the quintessential target audience, needy and afraid.
I have explained further:

— added by resilientmom on Tuesday, December 11, 2007 at 8:43 pm

Beautiful post, and on such an ugly topic. My son still says ” pick you up”–all 52 pounds of him. This is a great reminder to slow down. As for the campaign, i’m not sure what’s worse–if they thought about all these issues amd proceeded anyway, or if they’re just clueless.

— added by Susan on Thursday, December 13, 2007 at 2:46 am

“Still, all of that does not mean that Nat is somehow wrong as he is.”


— added by Ettina on Friday, January 11, 2008 at 10:55 am