With thanks to Susan Werner:
The first doctor told us that Josh, then just about two years old, was and always would be, "eccentric." I responded, not having filtered my words through my brain on their way out, that we were a middle class family and couldn't afford "eccentric." The best we could do was neurotic. He'd have to talk our son down. The guy responded with a look that indicated he'd found the genetic link he'd been seeking.
Later, we were informed that our son had auditory processing difficulties and couldn't figure out what was being said to him. Why that was supposed to have manifested itself in his biting other children was never really made clear.
At various intervals, experts told us that our son had anger issues, that he couldn't control impulses, that he needed behavioral therapy, that the problem was gluten in his diet, that he didn't actually want to have friends and my personal favorite, that we simply didn't know how to "discipline" our child.
When he was finally diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the age of six, we were beset upon by well-meaning neighbors and friends who would take our hands in their own, look as sympathetic as they could muster, and ask in hushed tones, "How is Josh?" When we'd respond that he was fine and ask how their children were, they would look disappointed or puzzled (or both), and add a more forceful urgency: "No. Really. How is he?" He was still fine.
I have been told that a few--not many--other parents preferred their children not come to our house because my son was "volatile." I have heard that some of the kids he went to school with (again, not a lot of them) would outwardly make fun on him because of self-stimming behaviors like hand-flapping, which he later learned to control. I have had it suggested to me that my son should perhaps not have been in "mainsream" classes, on the premise that being with other children was "holding him back." It was fairly easy to read between the lines on that one.
Well, the day before yesterday, that kid, who had to work harder than most and had to be taught things others pick up naturally, graduated from college with a degree in film and video. He completed his senior project, an ambitious 16-minute postapocalyptic drama called SCAVENGERS, and saw it shown before an audience who applauded it enthusiastically. He is now an alumnus of Drexel University in Philadelphia, a "mainstream" school.
Suck on that, naysayers.
Was it easy? It was not. From nursery school (he got kicked out of three) all the way through his days at Drexel, Josh had to do just a little bit more than most kids because there were things that wouldn't come naturally to him. To direct SCAVENGERS, he had to assemble and work with a crew of students and professionals, he had to see the props were built, costumes made, makeup designed and lighting, um, lighted. Sure, there were talented people responsible for those things, but the director oversees them all. Working in a group isn't always easy for Asperger's kids. Josh got through it and made his movie.
As with many on the autism spectrum, test taking never really measured Josh's intelligence. He could be having an off day, or overthink the question, or misread a word to think it was something else in his haste, concerned that he'd overshoot the time limit of the test. Sometimes, he'd do remarkably well in a subject on one exam and then do poorly the next time a test was given for no discernible reason.
But he never got a really bad grade in anything, and he has proudly received a diploma. His parents, his grandmother, his aunt and uncle, his cousin and his little sister, herself a rising junior at a major university, could not be prouder of him.
It hasn't been an easy ride, and there are no easy rides coming up (anybody in the film business looking for help? I know someone with a degree and talent who could use work). But Josh's natural humor, his determination and his Joshness, which can't be precisely described but is as real as the screen you're looking at, got him through it.
Here's to you, Joshua Cohen. Stay eccentric; we wouldn't have you any other way.
P.S. Congratulations to the winners of the audiobook contest: Jennifer Wenger won a copy of Damon Abdallah reading FOR WHOM THE MIVINVAN ROLLS, Sue Farrell won a copy of A FAREWELL TO LEGS and Mildred Whitehair won the audiobook AS DOG IS MY WITNESS. Enjoy the prizes, and thanks to everyone who entered!