As my friends and family know, I have found great inspiration, spiritual strength, and deepened faith from Pastor Joel Osteen’s weekly-televised sermons as well as his best-selling books. At the end of every sermon, he offers a prayer in which he says, “Keep God first place in your life. He’s going to take you places you’ve never dreamed of.” While I’m not certain that I always keep God first place because Alex seems to demand that position in my life most days, I try to honor God in all that I do. I’ve always wondered what those places I’ve “never dreamed of” might be until this week when a feature article about my family entitled “Caring for Alex” appeared in the November 2012 issue of Woman’s Day magazine. Although I’ve known for a few months that this article was being published, seeing the story of my family and our pictures in print is still amazing to me—one of those places I “never dreamed of.”
In July, I was reading through comments people had made on my blog site and noticed one from Marjorie Ingall, who told me that she was writing an article for Woman’s Day about raising an adult child with autism and asked me if I’d be willing for her to interview me. Knowing that I tend to be a bit gullible [Ed is now laughing as he’s reading this because he thinks I’m very gullible. He’s actually right, but I prefer to think of myself as trusting instead of gullible.], I reined in my initial excitement and Googled Marjorie to make sure she was a legitimate writer. [Now Marjorie is laughing if she’s reading this because I never told her I’d investigated her background.] Once I discovered Marjorie’s impressive credentials as a published writer, I e-mailed her and told her I would be happy to talk with her about our experiences.
In our various conversations by phone and e-mail that felt more like old friends chatting than a writer interviewing a subject for research, Marjorie put me at ease in talking candidly about raising a child with autism. Since she had already read all of my blog posts on One Autism Mom’s Notes, she had a good sense of Alex and our family dynamics and how autism affects our lives. Her warm and sympathetic nature made me trust that she would describe us accurately as parents just trying to do what’s best for our special needs child. Keeping the mood relaxed, Marjorie and I spent a good deal of our phone conversations laughing because we share similar senses of humor, and Alex—my favorite topic of discussion—is a funny guy, as he’s proudly told us himself.
While Marjorie was putting together the written part of the article, Woman’s Day Photo Editor Roni Martin contacted me requesting photographs of Alex and our family to accompany the article. As I went through various digital pictures we had of Alex, I realized that we had very few recent photos in which he was not wearing sunglasses. Because his eyes are sensitive to light, he rarely goes outside without his sunglasses, and most of the pictures we had of him were taken outdoors. Nonetheless, I found some pictures and sent them to her. Then, she suggested that they send a photo crew to take new pictures of our family, explaining that the process would take about four to six hours. Knowing that Alex would not be patient for that long, I proposed instead that we take the pictures ourselves and see if they would be acceptable. Understanding of our situation, she agreed to our request and sent suggestions for what we should wear and how the photos could be staged. Since the article would be published in the fall, she recommended that we not wear summer clothes, even though we were taking the pictures in 90-degree weather. She also suggested that our clothes be solid-colored with no patterns, which made me realize that Alex did not own a single shirt without some sort of striped pattern, so we bought him a couple of solid-colored polo shirts at Target for our photo shoot. In addition, she advised that a park setting works well for the background, and we headed off to our local park, Ogden Gardens, a beautiful place filled with trees and flowers. Fortunately, Alex was fairly cooperative as we took pictures, and we were pleased to have some good photos as a result.
After we sent the new pictures to the magazine, Roni contacted me again to let me know they wanted some pictures of Alex when he was little to help tell his story. Again, I went through our photographs and selected some of my favorites: a family portrait taken shortly before Alex was diagnosed with autism, a picture of Alex and me on the first day of school as he was headed off to special education preschool and I was off to teach my seventh grade students, and probably my favorite photo of Alex taken when he was two-and-a-half years old and happily reading [with his hyperlexic precocious reading skills] the business section of the Sunday New York Times. Working with Roni was a pleasure because she was so helpful and accommodating.
A few days later, Woman’s Day articles editor Stephanie Dolgoff contacted me to ask some information about the old pictures and a few more questions about Alex. As she explained to me, this article was “especially close to [her] heart” because she has an older brother with autism who is now in his forties, and her parents had gone through experiences similar to those Ed and I had. Moreover, she expressed her desire that this article would “raise awareness about adults with special needs and their caregivers.” I appreciated her empathy, devotion to telling our story accurately, and her kindness.
Before the article could go to press, Maddi Scheier from Woman’s Day needed to fact check the article by reading aloud passages to me over the phone and making sure everything was true. Just as everyone else had been in this project, Maddi was friendly and pleasant, putting me at ease with her friendliness as well as New York accent that reminded me exactly of Ed’s sister. Now that all the pieces of the article had apparently been assembled, we waited until this week for the November issue to arrive at newsstands.
I suspect that my dad has been checking stores for the appearance of the November issue ever since October arrived, and apparently he talked with a CVS Pharmacy clerk who told him that grocery stores typically receive the new issues about a week before other stores. Somehow, he knew that grocery stores in our area were supposed to have the new issue on sale around noon this past Wednesday, and he immediately headed out in search of a copy for my mom and him and one for Ed and me. Successful in his quest, he immediately brought me my copy shortly after noon on Wednesday, and I was very pleased with the article. A surprise bonus was that the Woman’s Day Editor-in-Chief Susan Spencer previewed the article in her editor’s column with a very warm and thoughtful note about us. Needless to say, I have been very impressed with and appreciative of the Woman’s Day staff who worked on this article and showed great understanding and compassion, which has been a blessing.
As happy as we were with the article, we were overwhelmed by the response of our family and friends, who have shared their enthusiasm for our story being told in Woman’s Day. From my brother and Ed’s sister who couldn’t wait to read the article, so they read it in the parking lots of the stores where they purchased their copies, to the kind e-mails and hugs from friends and family, to my very sweet first hour seventh grade honors English class who applauded when my principal told the school on the morning announcements about the publication of the article, this has been a week where I have been reminded how blessed we are to have such supportive and loving people surrounding us. Although I wish our lives had never been touched by autism, I am thankful for the people whose love has blessed us and for those we have met on the journey. Just as I pray that my blog will help others dealing with autism, I also hope that the Woman’s Day article will help families like ours. And as I always promise in my prayers, “Lord, I will give You the glory!”
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20