This guest blog post is by standup comedian Scott Long who discusses the journey of his daughter Maddie's autism during his performances. His latest comedy CD is titled Good Dad…Not a Great Dad. Scott and Maddie also have a blog at itsanautismthing.com.
Madeline Long is a 10 year old girl on the autism spectrum. She has become a minor star among people who watch her weekly Happy Monday videos, as these fans have been taken in by the sweet charisma that she has for life. Maddie greets people at the start of the week with the phrase Happy Monday. I’m sure most of you are wondering, And what is so great about the start of the week? The answer is pretty simple. When you are someone who craves a schedule as much as Maddie does, you are confused by the lack of structure that a weekend brings and love nothing more than going back to the regimented life that school provides.
How would I describe Maddie? She’s manic in her energy levels. Her attention span is very limited. Because of these things her interests in life are active be it basketball, swimming, or pretend play. Those of you that think most kids on the spectrum are like zombies sitting in front of the TV–well spend a day with Maddie and that notion of yours will disappear. Here’s another thing that might surprise you. She’s very much a people person, as long as they are adult people who facilitate helping her do the things she wants to do. She rarely connects with peers because despite her sharing the same chronological age, her developmental age is more like a 4 year-old, so her play reflects that.
I give you this background about Maddie so you can understand how rare it is for her to display the calm nature Maddie offers up in the video above. I have seen Maddie be this way very few times and it’s always been when she is around another person with a developmental delay that is more global in nature than her own. She has no Rainman savant-like gifts, but Maddie does have an instinct to go inside herself and be the calm vessel that the person she is with needs at that point. As much as I would like to have someone to help me beat the Vegas house at blackjack, I wouldn’t trade it for the sensitive trait my girl has in dealing with people with bigger challenges than she even faces.
The other person in this video is 11 year-old Matthew. Besides being on the spectrum, Matthew was born with tuberous sclerosis. The very non-medical description is that he has non-malignant tumors that can pop up all over. When he was in-utero he had one of these tumors in his heart. He has battled way more than what you and I have had to do to survive in life. Don’t be fooled by his sweet smile, this little guy is 100 percent American tough guy. Matthew would have the right to call Chuck Norris a wuss.
Maddie and Matthew met through Special Olympics basketball. On the court Maddie is like a lot of NBA players, as her focus wavers when she is on defense, but she had a successful season as she got through the noise and distractions that in the past often had her emotionally unable to stay on the hardwood. Basketball was newer to Matthew and he struggled most of the year to even take his hands off his ears. The whole thing often just seemed too much for him, but that is one of many of the great parts about the Special Olympics. No judgments. I’m not a big fan of cliches, but I do truly believe that so much of life is just showing up and my man Matthew did, despite how tough it often was for him.
At the end of the season, Matthew’s wonderful parents invited the families of the teams to a celebration party at their house. When you have a child on the spectrum you don’t get invited to too many parties and you are very unlikely to attend anyway, as the atmosphere isn’t generally conducive for the challenges that are always at hand. This was a different type of party, as the vibe was perfect for all the kids. One player was absent, though, Matthew. He was holed up in his room the whole time. At this point I should mention that the one teammate that I had noticed during practice and games that Matthew would take his hands off his ears for was Maddie. He had even hugged her a couple of times. Knowing this I mentioned to Maddie that we should go into Matthew’s room and see if we could get him to join the rest of us at the party. The video below is what happened when we did this.
Life is much different for Maddie and Matthew than it is for typically developing kids. Having said that, what I see in this video is a 10 year-old girl who wants to be a good friend. And I see an 11 year-old boy who has fallen for the charms of a pretty girl. Autism spectrum or not, that seems pretty typical to me. The world can be so complicated, but so simple at the same time.