Praise for A Full Life with Autism

Lars Perner, Ph.D., Chair, Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism Advisors for the Autism Society of America, and Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing, USC, had this to say about A Full Life with Autism:

Each individual on the spectrum is unique and will need personally tailored supports.  At the same time, because of autism’s complexities and seemingly contradictory characteristics, it is often difficult to get a view of the “big picture” of a life on the spectrum and the challenges that it presents.  In their very comprehensive—yet highly readable—book, Chantal and Jeremy succeed in addressing both of these concerns.

Although ample resources for addressing the diverse needs of individuals on the spectrum are presented, the case Jeremy illustrates the types of challenges, surprises, and opportunities  that may come up as an individual develops.  Chantal talks about initially not expecting Jeremy even to finish high school and subsequently being able to help him not just graduate but go on to college.  An especially intriguing issue discussed involved helping Jeremy understand that a girlfriend is not something that can just be “hired” in the way that one can secure aides and support workers—an issue that only the most clairvoyant parent might have anticipated. Although optimistic and filled with humor, the book clearly acknowledges challenges that this family faced and those that will likely be faced by others—including obstacles to finding long term housing opportunities and healing from traumatic events.

Although much of the writing is done by Chantal, Jeremy is a consistent, creative, and innovative contributor, talking candidly about his own experiences that have led to the lists of tips that he presents.  I especially love his observation that rights of disabled individuals “are founded on the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.”  The book’s extensive list of issues that may come up will unquestionable leave many families much better prepared for handling the challenges that will come up over the years.

More Rave Reviews: A Full Life with Autism

Elaine Hall,  creator of the Miracle Project, author of Now I See the Moon, co-author of Seven Keys to Unlock Autism and  subject of the movie “AUTISM: The Musical” has this to say about A Full Life with Autism:

A Full Life with Autism provides parents of teens on the autistic spectrum understanding, guidance, hope, and resources to navigate the uncharted territory of adult living.  Thank you, Chantal and Jeremy Sicile-Kira for responding to questions that so many of us parents are aching to know.  Thank you for brilliantly weaving  the parent perspective with Jeremy’s internal dialogue.  Thank you, Jeremy  for bravely articulating what is really going on inside the mind/body of someone with autism. I will use your words as starting points in my discussions with my own son, Neal.

A Full Life with Autism reminds us that the true “experts” on autism are our children; and that we, the adults, must listen to their wants and desires, then find the resources to help them realize their dreams.  I will be recommending this book to everyone I know.



A Full Life with Autism: Comments by Dr. Cathy Pratt

Unfortunately, many adults on the autism experience high rates of unemployment or underemployment.  Some of our most gifted live in poverty and have few options in life.   Chantal and Jeremy have creatively worked to create an engaged life for Jeremy and his family.   This book provides very practical ideas for transition planning and provides a template that others can use as they support adults moving into adulthood.   I highly recommend this for any family or individual as they  prepare for transition planning.


Dr. Cathy Pratt, BCBA-D, Director- Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community; Former President of the Autism Society of America

Following Ezra: Lessons on Raising a Child with Autism

This post was originally published on my  Huffington Post blog.

Recently one of my publishers sent me a book, Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son. Having just emerged from many months of researching and writing book number five on autism, I was not predisposed to read anything associated with the A-word. However, being partial to interesting book covers, I couldn’t resist the urge to peruse this memoir. Once I opened it, I couldn’t put it down. Following Ezra by author Tom Fields-Meyer, is not just a book about raising a child with autism; it’s a very well-written book about the trials and tribulations of being a parent, period.

One reason this book is such a good read is that covering human interest stories is what Fields-Meyer does for a living. He is a former senior writer for People and has written for  the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. He is a master storyteller, and this time he recounts his own personal story and that of his son, Ezra, from age 3, when he was diagnosed, to his bar mitzvah at age 13.

Another reason is the approach that Fields-Meyer decided to take in raising his son with autism, who didn’t like to play with children when he was little, obsessively lined up plastic dinosaurs, and avoided eye-contact. In the prologue of Following Ezra, Fields-Meyer describes his quest of searching for the right doctors, diets, medicines and therapies. But what he discovers is that he has been focusing on the wrong thing: “It wasn’t about finding the right expert for my child; it was about learning to be the right parent,” he writes.

For Fields-Meyer, learning to be the right parent meant developing a relationship with his son by following Ezra’s lead to learn more about his interests, motivations and way of thinking. Fields-Meyer discovers that Ezra has an incredible memory and an enthusiasm for life, and he decides to focus on these qualities to help him learn and grow. Ezra loves animals and going to the zoo; he loves Disney movies. At some point Ezra becomes obsessed with the calendar and celebrates important dates, such as the first time he set eyes on a Cardigan Welsh corgi, or the first of the month, by waking up at dawn and running around the house yelling “It’s the first day of May!” Fields-Meyer decides to celebrate with him. (On another note, having a child with a great memory for dates is certainly an added plus when you are writing a memoir.)

There is a scene in the book that helps explain Field-Meyer’s approach to parenting. Before Ezra was officially diagnosed, his parents took him to weekly visits to see a therapist, who tried to help Ezra by drawing him out. One day, when his wife tearfully expressed the frustrations of trying to play with him and just the situation in general, the therapist told them, “You have to allow yourself to grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be.”

As Fields-Meyer explains, many parents in this situation are in mourning for the child they expected and hoped to have, and they have to go through a mourning process so that they can move on, as the therapist rightly pointed out. Only, he didn’t feel that way, because he hadn’t had any expectations about the child he was hoping to have. Over the years he’d seen acquaintances who wanted their children to go into the family business or become lawyers, or who didn’t want them to be gay. These parents were disappointed in their children when they didn’t turn out the way they expected. Fields-Meyer never wanted to be that kind of parent.

Most parents of children with regressive-type autism (children who developed normally and then lost the skills they had gained) would understandably have a different outlook. In those cases, parents mourn for the child they did have, the child that was interacting with them, that they saw change before their eyes. That’s a different situation. I have met many parents of children like mine, who showed signs of having significant developmental challenges from early on, and many of them mourn the child they wish they’d had, while accepting the child they do have. Personally, I relate to the author’s point of view. Raising Jeremy, who still requires 24/7 care at age 22, is exhausting and not without struggle. But whenever I read the news of the day, I am grateful that my son will never be maimed in war, become a serial killer or turn out to be a stockbroker on Wall Street who bilks trusting clients out of millions of dollars.

It’s clear that it is not always easy for Ezra to be Ezra, or for Fields-Meyer to be the parent of Ezra, and Fields-Meyer does not gloss over the challenges and weariness. He may not mourn for the child he did not get, but he certainly does not consider having Ezra as being a special blessing or a miracle. Parents will recognize the painful situations that many of us share: the haircuts where Ezra feels so tortured he grabs the scissors and throws them at the hairdresser; the times that Ezra runs out of the house clad only in his underwear; or clothes shopping expedition when Ezra licks his image in the mirror and then puts the shirt on — backwards.

Raising a child who has obsessive thoughts and who verbalizes them constantly can be truly exhausting. Fields-Meyer describes how, a few weeks before Ezra’s bar mitzvah, he helped Ezra put aside his obsessive thoughts about the Complete Star Wars Encyclopedia and gift cards he hopes to receive. Fields-Meyer takes him for a walk and listens to Ezra explain the mental jam he is in. Fields-Meyer instructs him to take all his thoughts about the coveted presents, put them all in a black lump in his head, pull the black lump out of his head through his ear, and leave the lump under a tree. He instructs him that if he has more obsessive thoughts before the bar mitzvah, he should send them there. This seems to work.

There are humorous yet embarrassing situations in this book that parents will relate to, such as the time Ezra asked the obese neighbor how he got so fat, or the day Fields-Meyer learned that Ezra could read. When Fields-Meyer asked why he set off the fire alarm, Ezra replied, “It said ‘pull down.'”

In a blog post on Fields-Meyer’s website, he describes a family custom that explains his attitude toward raising Ezra:

We have a custom in our family. When somebody breaks a glass, we celebrate. As soon as you hear the shards shattering on the kitchen floor, the rule is that you say: “I hated that glass! Thanks for getting rid of it for me!” Because what else can you do? Get angry? Make the person pay the price? It’s not going to bring the glass back. So we make the best of what we have, and we always try to make life a celebration. And then we clean up the glass.

Ezra is now 15, and Fields-Meyer has helped him find a way to channel his interests and obsessions through the use of technology to give him an outlet to express himself, and perhaps to have a future career. Next month, Ezra will be the published co-author of a children’s book E-MERGENCY with New York Times bestseller Tom Lichtenheld, based on an animation Ezra made when he was 12. I’m looking forward to reading it. The book cover is pretty cool.

Dear Governor Brown: Is There a Future for the Disabled — Including Adults With Autism — In the Golden State?

This first was published on,  May 18, 2011

Dear Governor Brown,

Recently, I read a an article in Disability Scoop discussing a 50-state analysis from United Cerebral Palsy that compared services to the disabled offered across the country, giving preference to states where more individuals are served in the community as opposed to institutions.

California ranked as one of the highest states, coming in at number five. This should have made me happy, considering I’m an autism advocate known for my expertise on transition to adulthood, and I have a son who is now at that magical age of 22 where he is now eligible for adult services.

However, the looming budget cuts remind me of the old Prop 13 days. You were opposed to the passage of Proposition 13, the People’s Initiative to Limit Property Taxation, when you were governor back then. This amendment of the Constitution of California enacted during 1978 cut property taxes, and this decrease in property taxes had a negative effect on public education.

California public schools, which during the 1960s had been ranked nationally as among the best, have decreased to 48th in many surveys of student achievement. Until 1985, California’s spending per pupil was the same as the national average, when it began decreasing.

Years ago, after the passage of the Lanterman Act which gave civil rights to individuals with developmental disabilities in California, I helped prepare young men and women from de-institutionalization so they could live in their own community. Now, my son is 22 and I fear that with the looming budget cuts, the civil rights of many like him will be destroyed, and that institutionalization will once again be the norm for people like him.

Money may not buy happiness, but it does help in providing people the tools to have an education and become a productive member of society, as well as the right to live fully included in the community.

Can you imagine even trying to cut the hard earned civil rights of the African-Americans, or women — two groups who had to fight to be given the same rights as any other (read white male) American? Yet, the state of California is getting ready to cut the civil rights of the disabled and no one seems to notice. The parents of the disabled are so tired caring for their dependent adults and trying to make money they don’t have the time to march or protest in full force.

My son, Jeremy, would be glad to visit you in Sacramento if you need to put a face on the possibilities of the disabled when given a chance, and when families are given the supports needed. You can see how far he has come thanks to his hard work, IDEA and the hard-working public educators. Now, we are struggling to plan his future as budget cuts loom. He wants to become a contributing member of society, but without some help, he won’t be able to do so. What will happen to him, and those like him?

Governor Brown, please think carefully about the civil rights of those with disabilities when you reflect on the budget cuts. They need and deserve our support.


Chantal Sicile-Kira


Liberté, égalité, fraternité – Happy Bastille Day!

In honor of Bastille Day, I am posting my Huffington Post piece on Autism and Education in France published on June 14, 2010 (one month ago).   France is moving slowly, but at least forward, to have Liberté, égalité, fraternité for children and adults  with autism in France.

French flag - le bleu, blanc, rouge

Photo from

Recently I was invited to Paris to present at a prestigious international colloquium on autism and education, which was organized by the INS HEA, the French Ministry of Education’s training institute for special education teachers. Seventeen years earlier, I had left France because in those days, children with autism did not have the right to an education, and my son, Jeremy, was severely impacted by autism.

It was an emotional moment for me, standing there, addressing 500 attendees in a lecture hall of the Universite Paris Descatres in Bolulogne – Billancourt, explaining my son’s educational experience in the United States, where all children have the right to a free and appropriate education under IDEA.

In 1993, my family left France, where we had been living since 1981. Both Jeremy and his sister, Rebecca (who is neurotypical), were born in Paris at the time when children with autism were considered mentally ill, not developmentally disabled. They had no right to an education. Instead, they were enrolled in day programs on hospital sites, where they were treated with psychoanalysis. Parents had no right to visit the day program, nor did they receive any communication about what went on during the hours their child spent there.

When Jeremy showed autistic tendencies, I was told by the powers that be to take him to see a psychoanalyst. The psychoanalyst concluded that Jeremy was autistic because he suffered separation issues from breast-feeding. This the analyst gleaned from watching him spin round objects (which reminded him of his mother’s breasts) and chase after one that he had “lost” when it fell and rolled under a piece of furniture.

The French genetic specialist who handed me my son’s diagnosis, also handed me some advice. She told me to look for and find a good institution for Jeremy. I have — it’s called public school. On June 18th, both Jeremy and Rebecca will be graduating from high school. Jeremy will have taken seven years to do so, in comparison to Rebecca’s four. I am equally proud of both of them.

I am not sharing this information to knock the French; I have heard similar stories in the UK and in the US: Parents seeking help were often blamed for their child’s autism and were given no hope and no answers. The big difference however, is that back then there were no French laws allowing children with autism to be educated; and now there are.

Yes, the laws have changed in France, and now things are beginning to move slowly but surely. Not fast enough for all the families in need of an education for their child, but at least it is moving forward.

During the two day colloquium, there were presentations by teachers and other educators, parents, principals from different schools and different regions of France, sharing their successful experiences of how they were educating students with autism in their schools and classrooms. It was wonderful to hear the passion these people shared. We also heard presenters from Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Canada and Brazil. It was apparent that no matter what country or region, student success was based on the same foundation in all countries: parents who fight for the rights of their children, administrators who believe in these students and support their placement, trained staff who are enthusiastic and creative about teaching, good teamwork and communication between the school and the parents, and clear goals that are shared by all.

After my presentation, a gentleman came up to me and said,

“Madame, do you remember me? Do the words Notre Ecole mean anything to you? I was the director of that school.”

I was surprised, and then I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony of it all. Notre Ecole was the only institution in Paris at the time 19 years ago that were accepting children with autism and were teaching them (using TEACCH), as opposed to just providing psychoanalysis. I had hoped to get Jeremy into Notre Ecole, but it had not been possible. Perhaps, if he had gotten into Notre Ecole, I would never have left France. I would not have written the books that I have, as it was my frustration that inspired me to write books in order to provide hope and information to save other parents a little grief. My son certainly would not be graduating from high school in a few days, if he had gotten into that school.

Things happen for a reason.

The Horse Boy: Looking for Answers to Autism With Horses in Mongolia

On Tuesday, May 11, The Horse Boy airs nationally 10pm EDT on the PBS series Independent Lens.

The Horse Boy is a film about a dad (Rupert Isaacson) and a mom (Kristin Neff ) who are trying to do what hundreds of thousands of families in America do every day – search for a way to reach their child with autism. Only, we don’t look so good doing it and we usually stay pretty close to home.

Rupert is a past professional horse trainer, writer and journalist as well as a human rights advocate for tribal peoples. Rupert’s wife and Rowan’s mother, Kristin, is a tenured professor of psychology, and has been a practicing Buddhist for more than 10 years. She is well known for her researches into the Buddhist concept of self-compassion and its correlation with positive mental health. When Rupert witnessed the amazing way in which their son Rowan, who had autism, connected with their horses in Texas, they started to wonder if there was a place on earth that combined healing and horses. They discovered that the nomadic horse life is still lived by most of the people Mongolia, and it is also the one country where shamanism–healing at its most raw and direct–is the state religion. So off they went.

All right, so maybe we all can’t grab our kids with autism and take off for Monglolia and ride horses and experience ritual healings with the reindeer people. I know my area’s Regional Center isn’t going to pay for it and neither is the school district. However, the point of the movie is best highlighted by Michel Orion Scott (director and cinematographer) of “The Horse Boy” when he is asked what he thinks ‘healed’ or helped Rowan. His answer:

“I don’t know … but what I do know is that, if there was one thing it could be contributed to, without a doubt, it is that the parents took that extra step to follow their child into the unknown. To allow themselves to trust the love they have for their son and to do whatever it took to find a way into his life.”

It’s a good reminder, as parents to follow your instincts, observe and listen to your child. Cheesy as it may sound, follow your heart. It’s sound advice. Though Rowan, Rupert and Kristin are in Mongolia, they encounter the same trails and tribulations that most parents with autism do. We hear Rupert exclaim,

“Sometimes it is like he (Rowan) is leaping forward and sometimes it is like he is totally regressing.”

Who can’t relate to that? What parent doesn’t feel that anguish every time there is a ‘setback’? Your child or teen goes back to some disruptive or unhappy behavior, and you are filled with the double anguish of not being able to figure out how to make him feel better, and the fear that it may not be just a temporary regression.
With all the ups and downs we parents of children with autism have to face, it’s nice to see inspirational movies such as this one from time to time. The scenery is beautiful and it’s a pleasure to watch a movie about autism that doesn’t take place in a classroom. It’s also good to know that Rupert and Kristin have used the profits from the book The Horse Boy to found the nonprofit Horse Boy Foundation, which offers the chance to ride and benefit from close contact with horses, other animals, and nature. They welcome families to spend time there.

My favorite line in the movie is when Rupert says:

“We’re gonna climb up 12,000 feet to perform 4 hour healing rituals with shamans, isn’t that what all families do?”

Rupert was being sarcastic, but the answer is, “Yes.” Yes, it is what all of us parents do. We get up and we climb mountains every day, in order to help our children. Sometimes the shamans are helpful, and sometimes they are not, and often it is hard to tell the difference. Watch this film, and you’ll be inspired to continue climbing those mountains. You know it’s worth every step.

Temple Grandin: The HBO Movie starring Claire Danes

Temple Grandin, a world-renown designer of livestock handling facilities and a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, is arguably the world’s most famous person with autism. Temple has written many books about autism, others about animals, and even more about both. Last week I called Temple (who wrote the forward to my first three books) to get her input on my latest book, 41 Things to Know About Autism. Temple told me that the long-awaited “Temple Grandin” directed by Mick Jackson is finally premiering on HBO on February 6. The screenplay by Christopher Monger and William Merritt Johnson is based on Temple’s book “Thinking in Pictures,” as well as “Emergence” by Temple Grandin and Margaret Sciariano.

For Emily Gerson Saines, Executive Producer, this movie has been a labor of love for nne years. A parent of a child diagnosed at three, she was given Temple’s autobiography, “Thinking in Pictures,” by her own mother. The book became a source of inspiration for her in raising her own child.

Temple is well-known for her ability of thinking in pictures, and I was therefore curious as to how she would react to seeing her life in images created by others, not necessarily the same pictures she has in her mind about her life. Temple discussed her thoughts with me about the movie.

How much input did Temple have on the making of this movie?

I gave input into the screenwriting, spent a good amount of time, four days, with the writers and two days with the director. I think they did a great job. They built a cattle dipping vat based right on my original, off of my drawings. My drawings are all over the movie; I really liked that. In a scene near the end of the movie, I am selling a job to one of the meat plants, my drawings are out on the conference room table. Well, not my originals, I copied them at Kinko’s! They did really cool animations of the conveyor system for handling cattle at the slaughter plant from those drawings – really cool animations taken form my drawings – they really emphasized my projects. The cattle stuff was very accurate. They showed all the sexual discrimination I had to put up with in the livestock field. Women did not work in the yards back then just the office. It’s a lot better now.”

What was it like for Temple to see Claire Danes playing her?

“Weird. It was weird to see me on the screen. It was like going in a weird time machine, going back in a time machine into the 60’s. They put a wig on Claire and dressed her up in clothes and she had to wear these ugly false teeth apparatus. She looked like me, except she was shorter than me and we couldn’t do anything about that, but she sounds and moves just like me. She does accurately portray how I would act in the 60s and 70s. Claire did a great job.”

How did Temple help Claire prepare for the role?

“We met in New York for a half a day and I gave her all my tapes of me, of old lectures from the late 80’s, early 90’s and an old Larry King show I did. I only had still photos from childhood; they didn’t take video in our house then. Claire had a voice and movement coach.

Did the film attempt to portray how Temple’s mind thinks in pictures; and if so how did they do that?

“The movie is great. They really showed how my mind works. They have a neat scene where they show how I think in pictures, very effective. I love how they showed that. They showed sequentially pictures of ‘shoes’ that is exactly how I think – like snapshots of different types of shoes: high heels, flats, all different types and shapes and colors.”

What was Temple’s favorite aspect of the movie?

“The visualizations and they way they used my drawings. They showed the optical illusion I built, the science teacher challenged me to do that, the Amesʼ “Distorted Room. They built a working squeeze machine I designed and the gate at my aunt’s ranch.”

What was it life for Temple being on the movie set, watching them put her life story into pictures?

“I only watched a small part of it being filmed. I watched it through a monitor because I didn’t want to make Claire nervous. What really interested me was the number of people on the set that had Asperger’s Syndrome. Smart people. Let’s just say they weren’t sweeping the floor. They are all part timers. There are a lot of technical jobs in production and it was like a big construction project.”

What message does Temple want people to take away from seeing this movie?

I hope one of the things they get from it is the importance of a good teacher and mentors. Mr. Carlock (David Strathairn) saw that I had some areas of strength and he developed that. He spotted my ability with science; mentors are attracted to ability. Sometimes you find the mentors in the oddest places. In fact, the first meat plant I ever went to, I got in because I met the wife of their insurance agent, because she liked my hand embroidered shirt.

People are going to hire you because of your skill not your personality. You need to have a portfolio to show them what you can do. When I first went into the American Society of Agricultural Engineers, they thought I was weird, they didn’t even want to talk to me. Then I whipped out the cow dip vat drawing and that made them respect me.

Also, it’s important for people with Asperger’s to understand they need to make things that people want in order to make a living. Like the opening gate at my aunt’s farm – I would get upset at my aunt, but I ended up building the gate my aunt (Catherine O’Hara) wanted. I figured out how to open the gate without getting out of the car. This gate – it solved other’s people’s problems. That’s something you can make money from. The gate was an early project at age 16 before I made the squeeze machine. I hope this movie inspires a lot of parents.”

What is it like for Temple to know that there is a movie of her life out there?

“Well, I’ll never get a fat head. I’ll go on the movie tour, and go on my book tours, and then I’ll come back here. I never forget what my real job is, which is my livestock stuff. Today, I’m having lunch with one of my students to discuss a project we are working on together. That’s my real job.”

A few days after talking to Temple about the movie, I was given the opportunity to see it. I have to agree with Temple. It’s a great movie and not just for people interested in autism or cattle, because It’s a wonderful, inspirational, and entertaining story. The messages that Temple hopes people will take away are true for everyone, not just those with Asperger’s, especially in this economy. As a friend of Temple’s I was impressed with Claire’s interpretation of her: she really sounds and moves like Temple. As a former production professional, I appreciated the effort and care with which they took words on a page and translated them into sounds and images that accurately portrayed a person who is a hero to many of us – not an easy thing to do. As a parent of a child with autism, I could not help but relate to Temple’s mother, Eustacia Cutler (Julia Ormond), and was moved to tears during the final scene. Watch this movie, you’ll be glad you did.

This article was first published on, January 13, 2010.

Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

This year, I am not asking for a cure for breast cancer, or cures for world hunger, ignorance, the crappy world economy, homelessness, the negative aspects of autism, greediness, war, global warming, or any other crisis facing the world today.

This year, I am being purely selfish and asking for fulfillment of a few basic needs for my family. I realize that compared to others, we are a very fortunate family because we have a roof over our heads, and my husband and I still have work (although we are making only 2/3rds of what we were making the year before and the cost of living is way higher, but why quibble?).

At the risk of appearing greedy, here is my wish list for what I would like to find under the tree this Christmas :

1. $100,000 for a college education for my daughter, Rebecca. She is graduating from high school in June, and according to the local papers, she will be lucky if she graduates from a state college or university in 5 or 6 years, if she gets in at all. Our beautiful state is broke, so there will be less students admitted to the colleges in fall 2010. Rebecca is applying for scholarships, and working some, but it’s not going to be enough. There is not much in the way of student loans anymore. We have equity in the house, but we need to save it for real emergencies, like if our income continues to spiral downward (oh, and our son requires 24 hour support, and how are we going to pay for that?). Please, can you help us here? We’d be grateful even for a quarter of that amount.

2. A bigger iPhone for my son, Jeremy. I know this may sound like a weird request, but he can’t talk very much due to his autism, and Apple has this great program called Proloquo2Go which can give him a voice. Problem is, the iPhone keys are really too tiny for him. Jeremy uses another assistive technology device, but it is heavy, hard for him to push the buttons, and frankly looks very ‘special ed.’ Not only that, but it costs a small fortune compared to the iPhone, and breaks down often. Communication is key to being an active part of society, and looking cool is important at his age. Please tell me you agree and grant this wish.

3. If you don’t have any pull with Apple re: the iPhone, another wish high on my son’s list is a girlfriend, because besides communication (and $$$) what is life without love or a warm body to hug? I’m sure living at the icy North Pole, you and Mrs. Santa can relate to that. Seems like something a mom shouldn’t have to ask for her son, but although my Jeremy is buff from working out at the gym and really cute, he’s not typical boyfriend material what with his autism and all. Funny thing is, Jeremy doesn’t understand why I just don’t run out to Costco and get him a girlfriend – I’ve been getting him everything else he needs all these years like occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, vision therapy; why not a little massage therapy? Maybe you can help with this one?

4. For my husband and I, my request is not that you give us anything, but we would like you to take back the 15 extra pounds each that we have put on stressing out on #s 1,2,3 above on our wish list. Feel free to re-gift them to someone else who could use a little fattening up. We would be happy to know that we are helping a family in need.

5. Last, but not least, For our dog, Handsome, and our cat, Gabe, a year’s worth of food would be helpful. We’ve had to start rationing and Gabe keeps trying to get outside to hunt for her dinner, and we really like the birds in the area – we don’t want them to end up in Gabe’s tummy.

I guess that’s it for what we’d like to see under the Christmas tree this year. I know there are people worse off than we are, and I feel guilty even sending you this letter. I hope you understand.

Thank you in advance, Santa. We wish you and Mrs. Claus, all the elves, and the reindeer, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Open Letter to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

Dear Arnie,

I hope you don’t mind me calling you Arnie, but I feel like we have a lot in common. My family also immigrated from Europe to follow the American Dream, and a couple of years ago I had the pleasure of meeting one of your wife’s relatives — Anthony Shriver — when we were both invited to speak at the Shafallah Center for Children with Special Needs in Qatar. Also, your oldest daughter, Catherine, was born the same year as my son, Jeremy, and my daughter is a few months younger than your Aurelia. And did I forget to mention? We live in the same state. So, I feel close to you.

Arnie, I’m writing to you today in regards to a topic I know you are sick of hearing about. I promise, I’ll keep it short. It’s about the budget. I just want to know, have you forgotten the nice things about living in the old country? I’m not sure about Austira, but I know from personal experience that in France, Germany and the UK, they take care of their young, their sick, their old, and their disabled — those who are now who are suffering the most from the budget cuts here in California. By the way, I’m still trying to figure out how we got into this position; I heard that if California were a country, it would rank among the ten largest economies in the world, interesting, huh?

Speaking about budget cuts, my friends are always picking on me about the French only working 35 hours a week and how the system over there is going broke. Well, now all my friends working for the different California state departments aren’t laughing anymore — they are being forced to work as little as the French (you know, those unpaid furlough days they have to take?) — and our beautiful state is still broke. Big difference — in France — the same workers are getting health care and 5 weeks paid vacation, nice pensions, can you beat that? Weird, huh?

Granted, Europe is not perfect and it was hard to be a self-made man back then in the old days, (easier now, so I have heard). When I was over there working in TV and film, I could not get an education for my autistic son (I hear that, too, is beginning to change). But when I was pregnant with my daughter, Rebecca, the French doctors realized from the pre-natal care that they had insisted in providing me,  that she was going to be born with a certain medical condition. Rebecca required shots, blood tests, medication and frequent monitoring. They gave her excellent medical care (all for free) for a year and continued to monitor her afterwards. Thanks to that preventative and early intervention, today she is healthy, and on her way to becoming a productive member of society.

My French grandmother lived in Paris till she was 96, bless her heart, and she did not have to worry about having a roof over her head and enough food to eat (what with rent control and all). Memere had health care workers visit once a day, and when she could not climb the stairs anymore she went to an old age home which was an old Victorian house — where many of her former neighbors lived. She enjoyed the last of her days without worrying about how she could afford to eat and sleep. Memere was a factory worker, and she had her pension, and medical care, too.

In comparison, my mom has Parkinson’s, she is stuck in a wheelchair and lives in a nursing home down the street from me, and believe me — you don’t want to now how much it costs. I’m not sure what we are going to do when Maman’s money runs out.

Meanwhile, I have raised my son, Jeremy, despite his severe autism as best I could, and he has become an inspirations to many in the autism community. You can see for yourself on MTV’s True Life, in “I Have Autism.” In fact, his story was picked as the one of the tops 5 most inspiring moments for overcoming challenges from a couple of hundred True Life Stories. Last fall, he passed the California High School Exit Exam, all by typing with one finger. Pretty amazing, huh?

Arnie, I love the whole self-made man and the “American Dream” that made you move here years ago in the first place — which is why I was so thrilled when the state of California started some self-employment projects for people with developmental disabilities. My son and I have been involved in a few of these projects; he is all for pulling his own weight. ‘Course now with all the budget cuts, I’m not sure what is going to happen to him and his American Dream.

Which reminds me — right now, my husband still has a job, although it is in construction project management, so who knows how long that will last. I kinda worry sometimes what will happen to our family — our nice middle class tax-paying family if the construction business completely dries up. And I’m sure we can’t be the only ones losing sleep and worrying over stuff like this.

Now, I know I am rambling here — I’m almost done — but did I tell you about my Rebecca? I’m very proud of her, too. She is going to be a senior in high school and we are going on a road trip next week to visit some University of California and State College campuses in California. I don’t have the heart to tell her it is probably a waste of time — with all the budget cuts I’m not sure she will get in (even though she is an excellent student) because they are admitting less people next year — what with the budget cuts. Even if she gets in, I’m not sure how we can afford it, seeing how Rebecca’s brother and her grandma are going to be depending upon us more and more this coming year.

Hey, I read yesterday in the Sunday New York Times that Tom Arnold says he is making a movie with you in 14 months — it’s going to start shooting the day after you leave office? He says there is no plot or script determined yet. He said, “It’s not going to be called ‘True Lies II,’ but it might as well be…” Well, that’s pretty funny, though I don’t think he meant it quite that way.

But actually I have an idea for your first movie when you leave office — it goes like this: you take a wealthy state like California, and you take away the social supports in place for the children, disabled and elderly; you force those who have government jobs to close their offices a few days a month and take a cut in pay; drive the unemployment rate up to 10%; you mix in a few natural disasters like wildfires in San Diego, Los Angeles and Santa Barbara; add an earthquake in San Francisco; and — but wait! Didn’t these things happen already? LOL — I guess it can be a reality TV show!

Actually, I think we could all use a good, funny comedy when you are back in Hollywood, don’t you, to take our mind off our troubles? Come to think of it, going to the movies is not in our budget anymore. Hope it doesn’t effect your children’s future if most Californians can’t afford movie tickets anymore, either. Actually, it probably won’t even make a dent a your finances. “Funny the way it is, if you think about it, somebody’s going hungry and someone else is eating out.” Dang! This darn Dave Matthews song keeps playing in my head! So annoying.

Now please, Arnie, don’t get the idea I’m blaming you for all this. I understand it takes more than a few years and a few people to get us into a mess like this. But, right now, you’re the top man — “the buck stops here.” Which reminds me — I read the other day in my local San Diego Union Tribune that LA City Hall paid an estimated $1.4 million on police protection and other services at Michael Jackson’s memorial, including $48,000 on sandwiches brought in for police from 70 miles away. Those must have been some sandwiches! (You know, sometimes I’ll go that extra mile for a cheeseburger from In-and-Out, but I digress). Anyhow, I’m a big fan of Michael Jackson, but where did all that money come from to pay for this?

Well got to go — need to write a letter to President Obama. Gotta let him know I can’t afford to volunteer for the community anymore. Got to spend every free moment earning money or taking care of my mom and son. By the way, I’ve spent money traveling around to advise different autism taskforces around the state these last few years — do you think I can get reimbursed for expenses? I could use the gas money now.

Please give my best to your lovely wife, Maria. I really do appreciate all that she and her family have done for the developmentally disabled — Special Olympics, Best Buddies. God knows we need these volunteer programs now more than ever.

Thanks for all you do,