Buddy: Did I ever tell you about the oysters?

Idgie: Oysters?

Buddy: I didn’t tell you bout the oysters? Think about all the millions of oysters lying around on the bottom of the ocean. Then one day, God comes along and he says, “I think I’m gonna make that one different.” and you know what He does? He puts a little piece of sand in it. And guess what it can do that the others can’t.

Idgie: What?

Buddy: It can make a beautiful pearl.

Idgie: What if God made a mistake?

Buddy: Well, the way I figure it, He never makes mistakes.

                 ~  Fried Green Tomatoes at The Whistle Stop Cafe

I’ve been asked to present to a graduate level neurology class studying autism at M.I.T.

So, like, did I sound all, you know CASUAL when I just said that? Cause I’m like totally trying to sound like I’m all ‘Oh, I’ve so been there before. I mean, hey, it’s only like M.I.T. You know, like, whut – ever.’

All except NOT.

M.I.T. has asked me to speak. I mean, honestly? I can assure you that there would be a line of my former teachers and professors who would get a good hearty laugh out of that one. Or at the very least a good head scratching. And an even longer line of professors who would say, “Jess who? You say she was in my class? Are you sure?”

But as it turns out, a woman whose title is longer than my resume seems to think that I have something worthwhile to say. And you know what? It’s taken me a little while to come around to this, but I think she’s right.

I have a parent’s perspective to offer. I have experience to share. I have my beautiful, wondrous, amazing daughter to brag about.

The daily life of autism is not about the nuts and bolts of mirror neurons or serotonin levels or the intricate workings of neurotransmitters. For us, autism is about people. It’s about experience. Autism is a set of criteria that loosely links a group of people that represent an entire spectrum (pun intended) of the human condition. It is NOT a definition of a person or even a description of any one person’s set of behaviors or challenges. And this Assistant Professor of Visual and Computational Neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at M.I.T. (Huh?) sees that. Thank God there are people out there who see that.

“The intention of the class,” she said, “is to try to distill some coherent threads from the somewhat heterogeneous research and clinical literature on autism. This will be very useful for the students as they try to identify research avenues that they might want to focus on in their careers.”

So I get the (daunting) privilege of helping to guide the next generation of researchers. Wow. I mean, WOW. I get to offer them the color commentary that can help direct or at least help to flesh out their reams of data. I get to thank them for committing their formidable brain power to this incredibly worthy and desperately pressing pursuit.  I get to remind them why it all matters so much. 

And, get this – I get to recommend reading. Seriously? I think that might be the coolest part. I briefly considered telling Professor Really Long Title that I’d like the class to read  Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Granted, it has nothing to do with autism, but I whole heartedly believe that no human being should go through life without at least once invoking Towanda, the Avenger. Certainly no mom. Absolutely, positively no special needs mom. If you don’t know Towanda, click thee to Amazon post haste.

But instead, I chose to stay on topic. I suggested, of course, that they start with Temple Grandin’s Emergence and John Elder Robison’s gripping tour d’Aspergia, Look Me In the Eye. Nothing beats a first hand account.

I was starting to feel pretty darn confident about this whole thing. And then Professor Really Long Title told me that the class would be eighty minutes long. So, um, hmm. Maybe I’ll include Fried Green Tomatoes after all.

15 thoughts on “towanda

  1. I *love* Fried Green Tomatoes. That book is amazing in many ways. One of my favorite of those ways is how Idgie parents “Stump.”

    You’ll do a great presentation. Towanda!

  2. Remember performing at the World Cup at Madison Square Garden when you were 10? Remember when that top Olympic gymnast (I can no longer remember his name but I think it was Kurt something) picked you up and said, “You can do this” and you responded, “I know I can”. You boggled my mind then and you continue to boggle my mind now. Towanda!

  3. I am laughing out loud at the last paragraph.
    Towanda rules,
    and you will be fabulous. How fortunate those students will be to get to listen to you for 80 minutes.
    plus….When do you ever run out of words??? 😉

  4. Again Jess I bow to you! I do not think you get just how wonderful and selfles you truly are. You have alot to say. You say it for all of us parenting a kid rocking the spectrum. What’s more you say it with passion, conviction and determination. You speak for our little ones who can not speak for themselves.(or speak French in Holland) And for those of us whose eloquence is not nearly as fabulous as yours.

    So ummm can I audit your speech? 🙂

  5. I bet in those 80 short minutes you will transform the way these doctors-in-the-making approach their patients and families. Go for it Towanda! “Right of Wrong, Queen Beyond Compare!”

  6. I’ll see if I can get a few of us to sneak into the class, be your cheering section. We’ll stay in the back, hold up “Go Jess!” signs, and start applauding after every point you make.

    It’s official: you have groupies.

  7. Holy sh*t! Really? Can we attend you lecture online? Did I already say “Holy sh*t!”? Isn’t there an old Chinese proverb (or a fortune from a cookie) that says: “May you live a full life”? I think you got that fortune somewhere along the way.

  8. Oh, babe, teaching’s a breeze! Especially when you get to do the part where you tell stories that are important to you. That gets students riveted like nothing else. It’s my “go to” when I think they’re getting bored. 🙂 And, more importantly, you are WAY smarter and more eloquent than my poser ass and I managed to get myself a gig at a pretty good school. So go ahead – be as nervous as you want. Bathe in it if you want. But rest assured that even if you just went in there and a) read your blog out loud or b) improvised for 60 minutes and took questions for the rest you’d STILL rock their socks off.

  9. WOW! First off they couldn’t have picked a better person to TEACH those students than YOU! I hope a lot of MIT Mucky Mucks attend as well. Secondly, Fried Green Tomatoes is one of my ALL time favorite movies. I love it when Cicely Tyson says to that Georgia detective “secret’s in the sauce!” and I think there just might be an autism metaphor in there…Thirdly (is that a word?) I think you should consider embarking on a lecture tour of schools (in ALL that spare time of yours) and Fourthly (I’m just going with it) you also might want to consider suggesting they watch Autism, The Musical. I thought it was beautifully done and very thought-provoking. Thank you so much for being such an amazing Ambassador.

  10. Hooray for you. You’re going to be great. And a big, big HOORAY for brilliant minds at MIT further devoted to thinking about autism. That is huge.

  11. Those students are so lucky.
    And yes, they will be riveted, because you are giving them a personal connection to autism, and frankly, my dear, nothing beats that.

    Do you sleep?

  12. Best wishes, Jess. We all know you’ll be great. I’m very glad this professor wants to bring in a more personal perspective. I’m sure these students will never forget you and your family’s story.

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