Monday, August 9, 2010

Introducing: Firefly and Friends

I've written a bit about how Ben connects so strongly to, and learns so readily from videos, movies and TV shows.

He doesn't so much watch videos; he studies them, turns on captions so he can read the dialogue, memorizes scenes and acts them out, mashes up the stories and characters into his own creations, and eventually generalizes the ideas into everyday life. After writing about it, I heard from other parents there are plenty of kids out there who do the same thing.

I found myself thinking, "Someone should take the shows Ben loves and learns by heart and fill them full of social thinking content. That would be a great idea for a children's television show."

After all, it would probably appeal to families with kids who aren't even on the spectrum. I've been in more than a dozen conversations with friends who have typically developing kids and when I tell them about the social skills group Ben attends they ask, "Why can't MY kid get that?"

This idea would not let go of me.

Pretty soon, I had written a decent treatment for a show that I was going to somehow convince someone else to make.

Chris informed me that I was, in fact, making the show, as much as I might protest that I couldn't possibly do it.

And while it seemed crazy it didn't seem entirely impossible. I've developed scripts for educational videos and online content and written a children's television show in college that won a College Emmy award (okay, that was 20 years ago). On top of that, I thought about the amazing people in my network who work in film and video, as animators, musicians and performers who might be willing to help get something off the ground.

Chris encouraged me to just write, come up with something awesome, and worry about the details later. So I did. Then I quietly and nervously sent it to Jordan Sadler and Lisel Wenzke Hartmann of Communication Therapy to see what they thought, from the point of view of a practitioners. I was thrilled when they liked it so much they said they wanted to work on it with me.

So now we have an official project that's taking shape and gathering steam:

Firefly and Friends, a series of videos designed to teach social smarts to kids ages 6-10 using humor, story and music.

Think of it as The Electric Company for the bright-but-quirky set.

Our goal is to write and produce one pilot episode that we can use to convince a sponsor or production partner to fund an entire series. At some point, I'll ask you to kick in a few bucks to help us do this, but not right now.

In the mean time, please check out the website and follow our blog to keep tabs on our progress. Share the link with people you think might be excited to know that we're doing this*.

And please comment and let me know what you think: Do you have potential Firefly and Friends viewers in your family? Would you buy a DVD like this? Educators, would you use this in your classroom?

Firefly and Friends is a bit of a long shot, maybe even a big long shot. But for the moment I'm trying to ignore that fact and just keep working bit by bit as if it's really going to happen.

Maybe, with your help, it will.


* Especially if those people happen to include any experienced video producers located in the Bay Area. Or rich people. Very, very rich people.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Getting it

Today's post on The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, How Do People React When They Learn Your Child Has Special Needs? by Emily Willingham is terrific and I suggest you read it.

When she writes about how it feels to meet professionals and other parents of children on the spectrum who "get it," I was reminded of an experience I had two years ago when I crashed the BlogHer conference in San Francisco, where a then-new friend of mine, Susan Etlinger, was moderating a panel of special needs parents who blog.

After the panel, I accompanied a group of women from the panel and others out to dinner in Chinatown. All of them were parents to kids with special needs or professionals who worked with that population.

I hadn't met any of them before, except Susan, but I remember thinking how easy the conversation was, how it felt I had known these women for years, how grateful I was for being people that didn't need much of an explanation of my kid or our life and how I could just get to the really funny and interesting bits right off the bat.

And mostly I felt really fortunate that these women, who obviously had all been close friends for years and years, invited me - a random newcomer - to join them at dinner. I wrote about it at the time, referring to them as My New Old Friends.

Only much later did I find out that the group was not a bunch of longtime friends (well, a few were) but that many in the group had only just met in person for the first time at that conference.

And that's the thing about finding people who share your story or some important thread of it. There's no audition process, there's no probationary period where you have to prove yourself worthy, there's no casual acquaintance stage.

You're in. You're with us. We get you. As Emily says, "We get it."

I'm thinking a lot about those women this week and others to whom I feel close from our online connections because many of them are convening again and BlogHer in New York right now. I wish I were there to tell them all in person how much they mean to me, but a solo trip was neither in our plans nor in our budget this year.

I know that in their group this week, at their gatherings and at their table, there will be no newcomers and everyone is a longtime friend, even if they are meeting for the very first time.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

What's new?

Hello? Is this on? Hello?

Regular readers may have noticed posts have slowed to a drip lately. But that doesn't mean that our lives are uneventful.

Ben finished Kindergarten and is now, in the parlance of his schoolmates, "a grader." The year ended with, among other things, a tearful goodbye between him and his amazing aide who (sniff) is leaving next year to complete her master's degree. She cried and hugged him. Ben wiped away her tears and told her, "I love you."

He's running with the NTs this summer at his former Montessori school with several kids he knew from preschool. When he arrived, they actually jostled and shoved each other out of the way in order to be the first to hug him. The staff have all remarked on how much he's grown, matured and mellowed out since they saw him last summer.

Not every moment is rosy, of course. I could have done without the 3 a.m. visit to the ER with croup, for starters. But there have been way more ups than downs and no classic summer regression and that's pretty damn good.

There's a small group of parents-writers-advocates extraordinaire that I've had the great fortune to get to know over the past couple of years who have started a blog and book project called The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. They're publishing amazing essays and no-nonsense resources - a new one every weekday! - and I'm honored to have a guest post on their site. I've written about the joys and complications of having a child who "passes" for typical.

Over the last several months, my focus has shifted from blogging to a project that's in the early stages: something I promise to write about very soon.

It's a leap of faith, inspired by the mindset that is captured in this post by Dave Holmes that I found via my Twitter feed (where people you hardly know point you to great content from people you don't know at all!) He nicely nails the necessity of being aggressive with your big ideas, even if it seems crazy. And this is a mindset that's quite foreign to me at this stage in my life.

Pretend you’re giving it all up and going back to school in a year. Act like you have one year to make it work before you give up and try something else. What haven’t you done? Where aren’t you being aggressive enough? Go do it and embarrass yourself with your pushiness- after all, you’ll be doing something else in a year anyway, so who cares what people think? Push until you feel uncomfortable, and then double it.

The trick is: when you do that, good things start happening right away, and you get yourself to a point where you can’t imagine giving up, one year from now or ever.

Good things are happening. Stay tuned.