This article was originally published in 2012
In May, a Texas news show spotlighted Mallie, a child of one of our RDI families. Below, Mallie’s mom, Jenny, recounts this remarkable experience.
Our news interview story actually has it’s beginning earlier in the spring. We had an experience at the Ft Worth botanical gardens with the butterfly exhibit. We walked into the conservatory with our pamphlet already opened up, ready to identify the butterflies we were going to see. There was a lot of one particular kind of butterfly, mostly feeding on fresh fruit hanging in baskets from the tree branches. Mallie commented that they looked like owls. Well, we looked all over the inside of the pamphlet and didn’t find the picture of the common butterflies. When we were almost leaving, I turned the pamphlet over to look at the cover…there was a picture of the common butterfly aptly named “Owl Butterfly.” I showed it to Mallie to spotlight the moment, and she said “I’m smart!”
We’ve talked with Mallie about her autism before; how it makes her brain different than others, and that it has given her some special gifts such as having a memory like a vault! So for her to have that moment in the butterfly exhibit, and proclaim to herself, and me, that she is “smart” was a truly remarkable thing for us. Through the years, along with her sister, we’ve praised her for her efforts, celebrated her successes, but I don’t know that Mallie herself has ever had that sort of positive self-assessment. Parents of only typical children may not fully understand how such a simple statement from their child can be so profound!
When I got a call from a friend in May about the news interview, it was perfect timing coming so recently after the butterfly story. My friend told me about a new North Texas agency, Non-Pareil Institute, that recently opened about an hour’s drive from our house in Arlington. This new agency trains and employs young adults with autism in the technology field. She asked if we could bring Mallie to the agency to be interviewed for a local news station. She said the focus was just going to be on autism awareness, no slant for treatments, causes, etc. At the time, I wasn’t really sure what to think…really, would they put my child on the news? All I knew was that it was going to be an adventure, an opportunity to learn something new. So, I cleared our schedule for the next day, called my semi-retired mom to see if she wanted to come…and don’t remember telling Mallie about it until the next day before we left.
When I did share with Mallie where we were going in the morning, she wasn’t exactly excited. She learns a lot from her older, typical sister…and fell right into a whiny, “I don’t want to go” moment. But, off we went, along with “Nana”. I told Mallie a little bit about it on the way; there would be a news camera, and they wanted to talk to her about having autism. I think we practiced some introductions in the car, which is a very natural exchange for her that has recently developed.
When we arrived at the Non-Pareil Institute, there was already a family waiting. We didn’t know what to expect. I began to wonder, if the news crew was just going to feature this agency, which is a really fabulous place…and what would our involvement be? I was skeptical. So, we met some other families and the founders, toured the facility, then waited. Finally, it was our turn to meet Megan, and the camera operator. She handed me a business card, and it wasn’t until later back in the car that my mom saw the business card and realized the interviewer really was from the news station.
We were amazed when Mallie introduced herself and shook hands with Megan in the hallway. We were patient while they attached the microphone to Mallie’s shirt and adjusted the lighting in the semi-dark room. We were laughing out loud when Mallie kept trying to keep her chin tilted down to get her mouth as close as possible to the microphone attached to her shirt. We were totally blown away once they started filming and Mallie started talking…
The interview lasted less than 10 minutes, and I am certain I had tears in my eyes 9 of those minutes. Megan joked that she hardly had to ask Mallie anything, Mallie just kept it coming. And not in an dominating-a-conversation kind of way. She would pause, say “ummmm…” and I could almost see the processes going in her brain as she was trying to think of something else to add. I was glad we had some gestures mastered from early RDI work. I could signal with my hands for Mallie to wait, so that Megan could interject a question, about what Mallie likes to do, etc. I was also glad that Mallie, at this point, does not even fathom the idea that someone else might be forming opinions about her. Not caring what others think, or the reality of not even realizing that others think about her at all, is a gift. I may be disappointed one day when that develops, but for now it keeps her charging forward.
The smile on Mallie’s face during the interview was priceless. I felt like all of our hard work through the years culminated in this awesome experience. The interviewer was talking about communicating with us with the date that the broadcast would air…and I didn’t even care about it at that point. Just witnessing Mallie there in that room, was enough.