17 Chapters
Medium 9781574412697

Aftershocks

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Aftershocks

Within a few months, Sue’s apartment deteriorated, the second

one she’d trashed. Roaches erupted and multiplied as if by spontaneous generation, hatched from festering food. The apartment smelled like a cat box. Judy refused to do therapy at Sue’s. She brought Ben over to my apartment. “Sue said something about my mother that was so repulsive and hurtful that I can’t repeat it.”

“Oh, that wasn’t really Sue,” I explained, “That was the White

Bitch.”

“I’m not going back there.”

Sue didn’t see her apartment as a rattrap; she saw it as a treasure box. She’d dubbed herself the Salvage Queen of Dallas. When an old

Highland Park mansion was scheduled for demolition, she’d sneak into the site looking for collectibles, pull up in her red Ford Escort, branded with yellow-and-green sunflowers the size of basketballs painted on the car. Camouflage, she thought, but it stood out like a circus clown car. She packratted chandeliers, fancy light switches, window boxes, exotic plants, carpets, drapes, and once even ten pounds of wild rice, found in the upper reaches of an abandoned pantry. She made art, kinetic sculptures, wind chimes, hanging mobiles, vases, and planters out of these recovered treasures, and she populated her living quarters with them.

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Going Home

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Going Home

In September, Ben and I marched in the 2008 Alan Ross Texas

Freedom Gay Pride Parade with our church, Cathedral of Hope.

Marchers wore red, blue, green, or yellow shirts, rainbow colors, and the church’s theme, A Rainbow People, reminded me of The

Wizard of Oz.

As Ben and I waited for the parade to start, standing in the shade of a huge old cottonwood tree and sharing a blue snow cone, I thought about how far we had come, and not come. Two decades earlier we began our journey. Me, the Cowardly Lion, kicking holes in the wall and fearful that I was not up to the task of raising a disabled child. Sue, our Tin Man, rusty with grief. Ben, our Scarecrow with a head full of straw. The Yellow Brick Road is an image of the changes taking place in our lives, our journey, the gifts we have received.

Ben is a work in progress. The full force and fury of the autism storm have passed. Like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, damage is extensive and repair work is underway.

Standing there in the shade, sipping my melting blue snow cone,

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Sue, Me, and Ben

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Sue, Me, and Ben

I visited Tyler State Park to hike in the Piney Woods with Ben and

Sue. Though we were divorced, Sue and I still enjoyed occasional family outings together. Sue brought camping gear, a tent, a back-

seat full of sleeping bags, pillows, blankets, black trash bags erupting with Tupperware, tin foil, and bean cans. That evening, seated beside the campfire, I played the guitar while Ben foraged for food and drank my Coke. Sue read him some stories, played telephone with him. She was relating to him well, becoming more behavioral in her approach. We had a lovely time.

“Would you like to stay the night?” Sue asked.

No thanks. I had plans.

Driving back to Dallas, I couldn’t shake the image of holding

Ben’s hand while we walked down the park road, his head bent back to see the tops of the towering pines, face awestruck. I should have stayed. What plans, what task could be more important than healing my poor, broken little family?

I decided to spend more time with Sue.

The Christmas holiday of 1995, Sue, Ben, and I went to visit

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Diagnosis

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

24 

saving ben: a father's story of autism

“We tried that but he cried.”

And he kept the other kids awake, I thought.

Sue was having no more of this discussion. She hurried us toward the door.

“I’ll bring some Gas-X tomorrow. Dan, let’s go.”

The next day, Ben was in a corner by himself, rocking in his rowboat, staring in the mirror.

“He fusses when we try to make him sit with the other children,” the teacher said, glancing at Ben. “When he’s crabby like that he crawls to the corner and we just leave him alone.”

I didn’t blame her. Do Not Disturb a Quiet Baby.

“Did he take a nap?” I asked.

“I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that, Mr. Burns. No, he did not. Do you have a number where you or your wife can be reached during the day?”

On Friday, at naptime, the teacher phoned me. Ben was screeching like an ambulance siren and the other kids were going off like car alarms.

“He’s a lovely little boy,” the teacher said. “I’m afraid we can’t keep Ben.”

I shouldn’t have been surprised. I couldn’t keep him either.

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Progress and Challenges

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Progress and

Challenges

I’d done my part: set up and run the pilot program, hired six thera-

pists, and facilitated the first difficult year of therapy. I handed the reins of the recovery program to Jon Beckman, a Lovaas-trained consultant. On June 3, 1995, Beckman ran a sixteen-hour workshop for my therapists, then stayed on as project coordinator.

By October 1995, eight-year-old Ben was making stellar scores

(80 percent–100 percent) in attention, facial imitation, receptive color, receptive names, building blocks, beads, sorting and picture communication. We planned to follow up with two years of discrete trial therapy, twenty to forty hours per week, then mainstream Ben into the public school system.

At work, I was proud to be associated with a real research university and working on a Defense Department project. The God’s

Guarantee Committee at our church had been praying that I would be “fully restored” from all my losses. I thought that might be asking a bit too much, but I started saving for a house and I bought medical insurance for Ben and me, thankful for my new position.

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