Let me start this one out by saying that I didn’t start watching the TV show Lost until mid December 2008. A good friend had given my wife and I the first season DVDs as a gift the preceding Christmas, and I didn’t find time to watch them until almost the next Christmas! You parents with kids on the spectrum can relate, I’m sure. So, the wife watched 10 minutes of the pilot with me, saw the guy get sucked into the jet engine and said “I can’t handle this.” That left me to watch by myself. Naturally, loving a good story told by gifted writers and actors, I was hooked. I have spent every free moment watching Lost for the past month, and I’ve managed to make it through all 4 seasons in time for season 5.
Now let’s start comparing the two. First off, the characters are involved in a plane crash that strands them on a deserted island. I feel like our plane, made of expectations for our son, crashed and left us stranded on the autism island. Like the island, autism is a mystery, with scary possibilities and very real and concrete dangers attached to it. Maybe there is no smoke monster, but there are plenty of other challenges! Not just that, but immediately after the “crash” we were totally in shock. However, once we saw the passengers, or our son, needed help, we sprang into action. We started out a little like Jack, full of immediate solutions but no long range plan. We were hoping to be rescued.
Then, as time passed, we began to accept that there was no rescue. That’s when Hurley showed up, and told us to enjoy ourselves a little. After all, the island is very lush and beautiful, and provides some opportunities for fun. Once we began to understand how to play with Raymond, we started having a good time again. The island also provides nourishment to the survivors. The nourishment I have received from my son has been spiritual in nature, and has fundamentally changed my attitude and beliefs. This seems similar to the way the people in the plane crash had to adapt to survive.
Now let’s talk about attitudes and philosophy. My favorite character on the show, Locke, represents faith, belief and hope. He knows the island has wonderful potential, and he has seen it heal him and others. I feel in some ways that autism has done that for us. I’m not trying to belittle the pain and suffering it causes, because it is hard on a family. The divorce rate and financial woes are well documented. However, when your dreams are shattered and reduced to nothing, you are forced to take stock of what you believe. At that point you have to make a decision: Do I approach this with a poor attitude and live my life in misery, or do I approach this with hope and faith? Hope, when realistic, is a powerful emotion. Faith can move mountains. I’m not talking about moving a mountain all at once. I’m talking about waking up every day and carrying away a shovel full of dirt. Every day, without exception. That’s how mountains are moved.
We started small. We hoped we could help our son learn to use verbs. When he learned to use verbs, we tried to help him make short sentences. He did that, and we moved on to the next goal. That’s how we make progress. Do we hope that he “recovers?” Yes, but if he doesn’t that doesn’t matter. The concept of “recovery” is not the panacea some folks hope for, at least not in my mind. Recovery for me is improving function to the point that the symptoms are gone, and the way to do that is to keep chipping away at it once piece at a time.
Back to the point, we know the island can heal people and work miracles. I’ve seen miracles in my son since we started. Every time he looks at me and says “Hi Daddy” I get the same feeling I did when Locke first wiggled his toes, only 1000 times stronger.
Life is hard on the island, but luckily the survivors aren’t alone. They have each other. The other survivors are the people I talk to on the internet. These people who, like me, don’t have time to go to meetings, protest, organize, or the like, but still want to help and do so online when they get a spare minute. We know we might get off this island someday, but as long as we are on it we have to work together. Live together, die apart. So I want to thank my fellow survivors for helping me, telling me stories, warning me of dangers, and showing me pathways in the wilderness.
So if you’re new to this, I want you to know that there are other people on the island, and we will help you. You have a choice in this. Will you live moment to moment with doubt, like Jack, only acting when forced into a crisis? Or will you choose faith and hope, like Locke, and me, and so many other folks who are on the island?