Back Story as Way of Introduction
While on one of many journeys in our efforts to help our son heal from autism, we found ourselves in the Washington. D.C. area to visit Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a child psychiatrist who.specialized in autism. While walking to his office, we came upon the cast and crew of the TV show, The West Wing. Actor Bradley Whitford was filming a cab scene. Sam ran over to the actor and said, “I know you. You’re on The West Wing,” and then he promptly averted his eyes. Mr. Whitford graciously got down on his haunches and aligned his eye contact with our son’s averted gaze, making visual contact with him. I noticed his focused connection, thinking that he must know a child with autism. Sam and the actor had a brief interchange, we took a picture, and off we went to the doctor.
After that, every time we watched the show, Sam would chant: “Bradley Whitford, he’s our man. If he can’t do it no one can. Bradley Whitford, Sis boom bah, Bradley Whitford, rah rah rah!” It became a new Sam ritual to do the chant whenever the show came on—one of Sam’s many rituals, as rituals and sameness are big things with kids with autism.
Fast forward thirteen months, we were back in D.C. for a follow-up appointment. The West Wing crew, which apparently only went to D.C. twice a year for location shots, was there again. I said to Sam, “Okay, kiddo, what’ll it be: The Capitol Building or Bradley Whitford?” Hands down, it was the familiar.
We stood out in below-freeing weather, waiting. I told the guard who Sam was waiting for and when Bradley emerged, the guard said, “Mr. Whitford, I have a little boy waiting here for you.” The crowd parted like the Red Sea and we ended up meeting the actor again. He remembered Sam from the time before and asked us, “Do you live around here?” I said, “No, we live in Oakland, California,” explaining that we were here again for a doctor’s appointment with an autism specialist. He said, “Wow! What are the odds?” Then, he told me that he and his wife were attending an autism fundraiser in our area the next month and invited Sam’s dad and I to be their guests. He gave me the number of his assistant to make the arrangements.
Up to that point, my husband and I had only gone on two or threes date since Sam’s diagnosis. With every cent we had going into therapies, dating was not in the budget. But we jumped on this and a friend came over to watch Sam. For once, we wouldn’t be splitting the usual PB&J alone on the front porch and calling it a night out.
At the event, I shared with Brad my experience of Sam going from a normally progressing boy to his regression into autism after a routine childhood vaccine, something I had learned not to talk much about publicly due to the McCarthy-like vilification towards people who are perceived as “anti-vaccine.” Brad responded by saying that his children’s pediatrician had told him, “Not vaccinating is a form of child abuse.” There you go. In that moment, the story in this bool (a fictionalized version of what we, as many families, have experienced) flashed through my brain. I went home and wrote it as a screenplay in nine days. I pitched it to HBO, but they said, “Oh, we’ve already done autism with Temple.” Really? But, I didn’t pursue it further. That was 2002, fourteen years ago. I was too involved in saving my son to pursue it further, at that point.