[Note: This post was originally shared on the former Dallas Moms Blog; since the post went up, Now I See the Moon has been read far and wide and is currently listed as Amazon’s #3 Book for Special Needs Parenting! If you have not already read it…I strongly encourage you to do so!]

 

Aug 2010 – During the Autism Society National Conference, Elaine Hall, author of Now I See the Moon: A Mother, a Son, a Miracle (HarperStudio, 2010), and founder of The Miracle Project, took time out of her schedule to meet with me. It was a true pleasure to interview this petite, vibrant woman who exudes kindness and contentment.

 A former film and television coach for children, Elaine worked with the likes of Dylan and Cole Sprouse from the Suite Life of Zack and Cody, long before they became “Zach and Cody.” (My son, Ethan, is a big fan of these handsome, talented boys!) Elaine’s work as a “baby wrangler” helped prepare her for motherhood, but when she could not biologically carry children, Elaine turned toward her Russian heritage to adopt a boy from a Russian orphanage. In Now I See the Moon, Elaine details this difficult, yet moving journey to find Neal, bring him home and raise him. When they arrived back in the States, Neal was just shy of 2-years-old and not well; it took a good 6-to-8 months just to nurse him back to health. Not long after that, Neal’s Autism diagnosis took center stage. Elaine shares in the book, “Now comes the reckoning. I am not ready for it. I do not accept that anything is really wrong with Neal. I see his soul. Neal’s soul is whole. Why would anyone imply that he is broken and needs fixing?” In reading Elaine’s words, I felt her pain…I relived my own.

Once Elaine came to terms with Neal’s diagnosis, she began a quest to find ways to reach him and bring him into her world. It was not until she entered his world that they truly connected as mother and son. When I met with Elaine, she shared a story with me which is also in her book; a story about pulling Neal through parking lots, even though he would resist time-after-time; so much so she sometimes felt she was dragging him to the car. One day, she slowed down and allowed Neal to guide her to stop and examine his particular fascination with the cars in the parking lots. Elaine recalls, “Now, following his lead, I stop with him, kneel down, and stare at the hubcaps. What I see is the most beautiful thing: the sun falling on a hubcap creates a starburst of brilliant, shining shards of light. They are magical, mesmeric.” As Elaine retold this story to me at the Hyatt Regency Dallas, I teared up and apologetically wiped at my eyes and nodded in understanding. But, Elaine didn’t mind my tears…we connected then and there. The truth is, when I force myself to slow down, my sweet son – Ethan, like Neal, is able to astonish and astound me with profound understanding and appreciation for the beauty in the world surrounding us. Like Elaine, I feel truly blessed to be a mother of such a special child!

As Now I See the Moon progresses, Elaine shares about the challenges that Autism brings to her family; she is candid about her marriage and frank about what happened to friendships when her sole focus became helping Neal and tending to his therapies and needs. Elaine shares about working with Dr. Stanley Greenspan to learn to better enter Neal’s world. With deep sadness in her eyes, Elaine asked if I was familiar with Dr. Greenspan’s work; his passing was felt across the ASD community this past spring…I could literally “feel” Elaine’s pain when she shared about how powerful his impact was on their lives. In the book, Elaine details working with Dr. Greenspan to create a home program for Neal with coaches (often theater friends Elaine trained) enabling Neal to make slow – but sure – connections. With many other therapies peppered in over the past 14 years, Neal – now 16-years-old – is doing incredibly well. He has become a phenomenal hiker and communicates well by typing and signing.

Elaine’s love for singing, dancing and the theater, paired with her passion to help children with Autism, turned into The Miracle Project; aptly named if you ask me. Elaine credits prayer and a friend’s help to obtain a special needs grant which came through at the ideal time. For the initial Miracle Project, Elaine spent hours and hours to train volunteers to follow the lead of students with Autism for 11 weeks, combining sensory and emotional needs with theater training. Working together, Elaine and the volunteers focused on the students’ interests and gifts to create a unique and beautiful theater production. When the second Miracle Project was set to start, HBO asked to make a documentary about it…and so a miracle (another miracle) was born! I feel I should share that initially, before I had the opportunity to speak with Elaine and read more about the Miracle Project, I mistakenly heard the title of the documentary and had visions of a very awkward, difficult-to-watch High School Musical. I couldn’t have been more wrong!

The documentary, “Autism: The Musical” wowed audiences and won 2 Primetime Emmy awards in 2007-2008. And, best yet, the Miracle Project continues today in California under Elaine’s thoughtful guidance. It is a beautiful connection between children and adolescents living with ASD and caring, giving volunteers interested in entering these kids’ worlds and helping them find joy in song, dance and theater. In fact, dedicated people are now implementing the program in New York and Elaine looks forward to seeing it reproduced (under her guidance) in cities like Dallas, too. I would love for Ethan to be able to partake in something so powerful!

Additionally, “Fly,” a new CD, is available in association with the Miracle Project. The title-song “Fly” was written by a non-verbal teen living with ASD and, on the disk, different celebrities paired up with children living with ASD to record songs. Elaine’s hope is that typical kids will see that all of these kids living with ASD got to record songs with some great A-List names (think Jack Black and Kyra Sedgwick, among others). “Autism is cool,” is Elaine’s message!

I encourage you to visit each of the links within the post to learn more about Elaine:  The Miracle Project, Fly, Elaine’s blog and Now I See the Moon. I fully enjoyed Elaine’s book and highly recommend it. Further, I encourage you to watch the interview Elaine gave on Good Morning Texas while in the DFW area in July 2010. Her genuinely loving and happy attitude is contagious, isn’t it?

Posted by Leigh, filed under Advocacy, Asperger's Syndrome, Dallas Moms Blog, Family, Therapy and Treatment of ASD. Date: April 22, 2011, 8:04 am | No Comments »