My son has been asking for a trip to California ever since he realized that both the Ellen DeGeneres show and Disneyland were in the same area. Ellen’s show was one of the first things in the “outside” world that really captured our son’s interest and he used the Ellen show to slowly add social components to his life. You ask, “How can a talk show host help someone with autism?” Well, read the open invitation that I sent her to attend my son’s art show. I have taken references to town and his name out, to protect his privacy. P.S. Ellen did not come, but we still think that she will reach out in some way once the letter makes it way to her.
I write this letter to let you know how very much you have meant to my son who has autism and has enjoyed and actually benefited from your show. You have been like one of our therapies and a big part of the astounding progress he has made in the last several years. He has made so much progress in communications and social abilities that we are having an Art Party to show off his creations. An Invitation was mailed to your offices today for tomorrow delivery.
Diagnosed with autism at age 4, my son’s first several neurology appointments were not very promising. One doctor said, “He’s my smartest child living deep in the bubble.” Meaning, very little could get his attention in our world, because he was so thoroughly enmeshed with his own. At 3, he didn’t speak, he was unable to sleep through the night, never answering to his name or paying any attention to other people. He would run off and scream if he was scared. I had one therapist tell me she was not sure if he would ever speak. We just redoubled our efforts and prayed and cried and searched for answers.
By age 6, after two years of intensive therapy, he was diagnosed at Johns Hopkins as High Functioning Autism. Since there is no known cause or cure for autism, parents are left trying to figure out how to help their children. We were encouraged to try play therapy, keep up the other therapies and to work to bring him more into our world, and less obsessed with his own interior world. Most therapeutic literature advises you to find the thing your child loves and to join him/her in their world and try to coax them more and more into ours. Little did we know that a TV talk show host (YOU!) would be one of the main things that our son gravitated toward as he continued to make progress.
He has been in therapies since age 4, lots of them—physical, occupational, speech, behavioral, social and on and on. We’ve spent a small fortune. But, it’s worth it. At age 5, he said his first complete sentence, “I am Jewish.” (we are not Jewish, he decided that he was). Then, he progressed to other very important milestones, but still the social awareness lagged for us. Out of desperation and at the urging of a social behavioral therapist, I started spending the afternoons after school watching TV with him. Oprah was just going off the air at this time and your show was moved from the mornings to our afternoon TV lineup.
And once he started getting to know you, he loved you. He would kiss your face on our TV screen. I think he might be more dedicated to you than Portia. At one point, he would tell anyone that would listen that he was going to marry you. (I have not explained that one yet.) He would get very jealous if you had other male children on and pout, “I am not Ellen’s favorite boy anymore.” He would scream with laughter at the “What’s so Wrong with these Photos Photos.” And he would not understand why he would get in trouble for saying words that he saw on your show, (Something like “Assman Funeral Home” or some other bad word he saw and repeated from “What’s So Wrong” segment got him in trouble at school) He never grasped why he was in trouble if he repeated something he saw on your show. His defense to “why did you say that?” was always, “I learned it on Ellen” thinking this was the perfect answer.
After you interviewed Johnny Depp a few years ago for Tim Burton’s Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, he drew a picture for you. I had a poster made for you and mailed with your invitation to the Art Show.
Art has always been the world that he spent the most time in before he could speak. He would draw from 2-5 a.m. from the ages of 2-4. He would draw every second that he was not in therapy or school. I have saved many of these drawings and they really express his inner world well. For that reason, he has been begging for an art show (he requested Austin’s Blanton Museum or NYC’s Metropolitan Museum) and for his birthday, I rented a room at a restaurant and we are having a show. We hope that you can come. Portia is invited too. An invitation was mailed to your offices today.
To our son, A.E. (After Ellen), there are two types of people in the world, “People that like Ellen” and “People that do not.” One of the only questions he used to ask someone was, “Do you like Ellen?” Not, “How are you?” or “What is your name?” but launch right into trying to figure out if this was a person he could talk to or not. The deciding factor was always you. If they didn’t like you, he would not continue.
I know you have bigger fans, but you probably don’t have fans that have you as a part of their window to the world from inside their autism. Our son has used you and your show as a way to connect with others and to understand the larger universe (although some of your material is not how he should understand the universe because he’s so literal and you are a comedian). He even got in trouble at an art museum for dancing behind people like you suggested. He always does whatever you say to do. So keep it clean and legal, please!
We are forever grateful for the role you played in our child’s development. Who knew you were an autism therapist in addition to a comedian?