17 Slices
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Cold War

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Cold War

Joining forces for Ben, Sue and I looked for a place to settle in

together. During the spring of 1997, I drew circles and lines on the map—school, Bachman Recreation Center, routes to work. All pointers intersected at a block of older apartments just a short hike from

Gooch Elementary, Ben’s school. The once-proud apartments, gone to seed and drug dealers, were being gutted and renovated, like me.

Southern-mansion style, low-rise, verandas, hanging gardens, oversized rooms, lavish space; real plaster on the foot-thick walls, steel and brick superstructure built to last a century. Bay windows looking out on the oak-shaded lawn. Playground and a swimming pool just around the corner. Foliage at the bottom of the stairs where Sue could plant a garden.

We rented a three-bedroom apartment on the second floor: master for Sue, study/bedroom for me, cubby for Ben. My Mom and

Dad bought us a new washer and dryer set, blessing our reunion.

The dining room table doubled as Ben’s therapy desk, where trainers could sit. Searching the Salvation Army for treasures, I selected a Queen Anne sofa and matching chair recovered in green fleur-delis. I paid from my savings and offered it as a gift to Sue, an open hope chest. She branded the living room with a red fleur-de-lis mismatched chair. Her mark.

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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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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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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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Sunrise

Dan E. Burns University of North Texas Press PDF

Sunrise

The collision with Dr. Hitzfelder whiplashed us into action. There

had to be a medical treatment for Ben. She had just not been keeping up. Sue and I were going to beat this thing.

“Dan, the doctor didn’t say he was autistic.”

She didn’t have to.

I supposed Dr. Hitzfelder was trying to spare us. For her, the word autism was a label that would lock Ben forever in a padded cell, no medical treatment, beyond help. For me, it was the key that would let him out.

The battle began.

Sue and I had a secret weapon. In the early days of the Internet, few doctors had network access. But I had a dial-up modem.

Screech! Bawk! I logged into Medline, gateway to five thousand biomedical journals, and typed in “autism.” A stream of green letters scrolled across the screen: “Clonidine, an Alpha-adrenoceptor

Agonist, Reduces Melatonin Levels in Mice.”

Hieroglyphics. Would Clonidine help Ben? The article didn’t say. How about the next article? Hundreds of titles. Which of these arcane texts contained clues to the cure? I was going to need a medical degree to decipher the mind-numbing jargon.

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