Interview with Coach E of HBO's Autism: The Musical
I had the pleasure of interviewing Elaine Hall – Coach E – of the HBO documentary Autism: The Musical. The movie premieres Tuesday at 8 PM. Click here for the complete viewing schedule.
JC: So what would you like to tell me about this project?
EH: It’s really about the ability within the disability. And we are so privileged to be part of HBO with this, that they picked this up…They are just amazing…
[We spend a moment gushing about HBO – both of us unabashed fans]
JC: The Miracle Project – you are the founder of it?
EH: Yes, I am. What happened was that 10 months after I brought my son Neal home from Russia – he was 2 years and 10 months old then – he was diagnosed with autism. Traditional therapies weren’t working and I got connected with Dr. Stanley Greenspan who was doing Relationship-based interventions. What I found was that I could get creative people – actors, artists, musicians to work with Neal more easily than therapists could. What we did was join Neal’s world – if he was spinning, we would spin and play ring-a-round the rosie.. If he sat under a table, an actor would sit under the table with him. We did this 10 hours a day, 7 days a week. Little by little, as we joined Neal’s world, Neal started to emerge into our world. Such that he was able to attend a regular school, full time, with an aide.
JC: So you kind of turned the model of using specially trained therapists – like Dance Therapists or Art Therapists or Drama therapists – on it’s head and tried something totally different?
EH: That’s right – because artists find it easy to relate to people who are different. They’re just like ‘OK, that’s interesting.’ Artists go into their own little world to create – so they can relate to these children who go into a different space… When Neal started going to school full time, it was time for me to go back into the work force. I started a theater program for children with autism and other special needs, and I trained actors and creative people to work with the kids. I called it The Miracle Project.Then this group of filmmakers with Trisha Regan saw what we were doing and wanted to film it…One thing I want to emphasize is that siblings and peers participate in the program. So we aren’t isolated and off doing this thing on our own…
JC: So the siblings and peers model interactive behavior?
EH: They model interactive behavior but the typical kids learn compassion and understanding from working with the special kids.
JC: One thing that struck me – maybe it’s just the way it came across in the film – is that while the children’s relationships improved, the mothers were having more trouble with their own relationships – with each other, with their partners. There was the one husband who referred to “…monomaniacal mothers...” and “crazed mom with disabled child”. How much of that is lack of a supportive society? What would society look like to change that?
EH: …providing support for families…taking the stigma away. It would be great if people – just regular neighbors in the community or schools – could reach out and call the family and offer to help. If the faith community could reach out more. Not looking at these kids as negatives and hiding them and telling them to be quiet. Raising these kids is challenging. I depleted all of my savings to get help for my son. Early intervention is essential, so in an ideal society, if the health insurance community could support preventive services, if in middle schools and high schools, working with kids with autism could be taught as a Peer Training Program…Autism is a sensory processing disorder. As a society we need to show that we value our children.
JC: You’re doing this in LA – have other communities started similar programs?
EH: We’ve gotten requests from all over the country and even China – we’ve created curriculum for the Miracle Project and our 1st training program will be in July. One Miracle Project Workshop incorporates many of the protocols recommended for autism… For more information please go to our website at www.themiracleproject.com
JC: And are these requests coming from the therapeutic community or schools, parent groups?
EH: A.B.C. and D…they come from all of the above. I am writing a book and a CD is coming out with Lexi singing a solo and Wyatt singing with Stephen Sills…It’s very replicable – it’s all about love, acceptance and joy. We presented at the International Occupational Therapy Conference and the therapists were excited by what we were doing. We were doing what they had been learning about all day!
JC: Thank you for your time. It was a pleasure speaking with you today. Best of luck.
Thank you, HBO, for use of photo of Neal & Elaine from Autism: The Musical, available on HBO.