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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Interview with a Unicorn


How did we come to be in front of the camera?  Well, it started with the University of Pittsburgh.  See, they’re doing a study on the effects of environment on the prevalence or symptoms of autism in the surrounding area.  Apparently Pittsburgh is quite a little hotspot for it, and so this study is geared toward…well…something about the environment...in their words, "The Research Study of Environmental Risk Factors for Childhood Autism is a multi-year study which began in 2010. It is being conducted in southwestern Pennsylvania (Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland Counties) by the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health. The aim of the study is to help identify environmental and other factors that may put children at risk for developing conditions within the ASDs."  See more here, "Study of Environmental Risk Factors for Childhood Autism"

They're making the stretch run, trying to drum up additional interested participants to complete their study, and so they've approached the local news channels, and presumably they're whoring it up a little with some local ‘eye candy’…to humanize it; put a face or faces to the story.  They approached a local autism charity bigwig in order to troll for potential interested eye candy...er...parents.  First one network, then another, as they scrambled to put a more human face on an academic story.  And more specifically, they approached a friend of mine, Jennifer, whose autistic son goes to school with Lily.  And she and her family agreed to do an interview with WTAE. 

A day or two later, we were approached.  Were we interested?  Did we want to be interviewed by the local network?  I wasn’t so sure.  I don’t really have my head wrapped around what I think the environment has to do with autism, so I deferred to my wife who was interested and our family agreed to do an interview with WPIX.  Leslie had only to work out the details with the station.

But before this courtship could manifest itself, I messaged my friend, Jennifer, and gave her a mission to fulfill.  Her job:  At some point during her interview, say, “Iguana”.  She laughingly took up the gauntlet.

Back home (Leslie was off that day) WPXI was scrambling to get the interview with Leslie scheduled prior to WTAE’s interview with Jennifer's family.  They wanted it done that night.  But it wasn't to be.  We scheduled our interview for Monday at 3:00.

Over the weekend, Jennifer and Leslie saw each other at an All Abilities Fair in the local mall and compared notes.  Jennifer sent home one word with Leslie:  “Unicorn”.  I laughingly took up the gauntlet.

UNICORN!!!!
We talked about how this would be accomplished "seamlessly" and Leslie said something about just saying "Lily likes unicorns".  Just...you know...blurting it out.  Or, she said, perhaps just put a unicorn head in the background.  That sounds sillier than it is, since we actually have a unicorn head in-house.  Not everyone has a unicorn head.  Regardless, Emma and I felt her approach lacked subtlety and possibly I mocked it, imagining it would play out like this:

Reporter:  So, Mr. and Mrs. Walter, can you tell us a little about yourselves?
Leslie:  UNICORN!!!!!



Please lord, stop mommy from screaming
"Unicorn" at the nice reporter.
And so we thought about it over the weekend, and one night as Emma and I snuggled after her prayers were finished I offered this last little bit to God...

"And please Lord, stop Mommy from screaming "Unicorn" at the nice reporter." Emma giggled.

I brain stormed a few ideas, but honestly wasn't sure how I'd get it in there.  

The day of the interview, I took a half day off work and came home early to collect the kids from school.  Leslie hadn't been sure she'd make it in time, but by the time I reached Emma's school, she'd gotten home and so collected Lily herself.  WTAE was interviewing Jennifer's family at 2:30, so we'd be able to compare notes on how it went immediately afterword. 

When the crew arrived (producer who asked questions and camera man) they interviewed us first and we sent Emma downstairs to entertain Lily while we fielded their questions.  We were mic'ed and sat at our kitchen table.  They asked us to spell our names and then they began the interview.  I imagine the different and important things we wanted to cover running through our minds at that moment were probably...


 And then the interview was on and we were talking, and the more we talked the more natural it seemed, and then without even really knowing what I was about to say I found myself talking about acceptance:  Acceptance of Lily and autism and our lives together, acceptance of the future and with its uncertainty, planning for the worst but hoping for the best, and how we were in a good place with it...and then...
What the...why not chase me?

"...and we're no longer chasing the unicorns of autism cures or desperate questionable treatments and are just enjoying Lily for who she is."

Nailed it.  

And Leslie got a big smile on her face and told me later she had stifled the urge to nudge me under the table and giggle, and the interview went on.  

We talked for about 20 - 30 minutes, and then they brought the kids into the room, mic'ed Emma, and filmed the two of them interacting.  Lily was on fire (not literal fire, no children were harmed during the filming), because she was being so good with Emma and was so responsive, so I think they probably got some cool footage of the two of them.

As they set up, I grabbed a couple quick pics so I could send them to Emma to show her friends.  And then just as quickly they were tearing down and putting away and thanking us for our time and telling us they'd be in touch and they were out the door.  They were very polite and friendly. 
Leslie putting the mic on Emma.

Roll cuteness...
After the dust settled I wondered what they'd take from the interview.  I didn't know how long the finished story would run.  Would it be a three minute segment?  More?  Less?  What three minutes would they take?  Would they include all the positives we had mentioned?  Would they cherry pick only the negatives?  

I guess that's the risk you run when you agree to do something like this, as exciting as the opportunity might seem.  Our bit may be 30 seconds of actual air time from 30 minutes of talking on camera. Will it reference how sometimes autism parents isolate themselves, bullying concerns, being kicked out of church for being too noisy?  Or will it talk about accepting the diagnosis and the child and celebrating the little things?  Will the unicorn make the cut?  We really don't know.  

Hopefully the words they include will be words that we feel comfortable with and that we feel represent us and our voice, but it's out of our hands now.  

Oh, as for Jennifer's iguana? ... 

Well, at least they got their eye candy.

The piece runs during the 5:00 news on Friday, 2/8.  I'll link it here, so check back after Friday if you want to see us...saying...words.  

UPDATE:
Here it is:  WPXI - The Walter Family

Meanwhile...the competition posted this:  WTAE - Jennifer's Family

If I'm being objective, I have to say I thought WTAE did a better job covering the overarching concern of much higher autism prevalence in our area, but WPXI got us...you know...so it was a tie really.  In the end the unicorn didn't make the final edit.  Like I said...30 minute interview...30 seconds of sound bite.

And it wasn't particularly damning, per se, but when you listen to what I say, what you're missing from what I've said is what is immediately after, "If there's something that we're doing environmentally that can be minimized that helps other parents and other kids, all that's great stuff, and that's important," Because what's after that, is a five minute diatribe where I say, BUT...it doesn't help any of the adults and children who currently need supports. It doesn't address what happens when these kids age out of programs and become wards of the state, because not every family has the sort of supports that Lily has.


But that's neither here nor there. The story is this study, and if the story is to look important, then the interview has to reflect the importance of that study to parents of autistic children...not be "Okay, BUT..."


Ultimately, what they really needed was more unicorns.

44 comments:

  1. UNICORN!!!Love it! Look forward to the link :)

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  2. NO WAY! You did not say unicorn! This whole post is just so full of awesome. And YES! MORE DRAWING! ALWAYS MORE DRAWING! SORRY FOR SHOUTING!

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  3. I'm shocked that you thought "unicorn" was an appropriate challenge. Penile implant? Sure. Copa Cabana? Maybe. Pft, you could have done "unicorn" in your sleep.

    Congrats on the interview. I'm sure they will edit you to look like the awesome family that you are.

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    1. Well, *I* didn't pick the challenge word. Thanks, Flan.

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  4. I now feel the need to watch just to see if unicorn and iguana made it on air.

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    1. Iguana did NOT. Cause it was never even said! You FAIL Jennifer!

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  5. Looking forward to seeing the piece on your family...and to find out if, indeed, they'll use your unicorn quote!

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  6. "Unicorns of autism" ... I'm seeing a future for that phrase, I am just not sure how ... tshirts ... grant writing ...

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  7. I am so impressed with your wordsmithing. To be able to flawlessly interject the word "unicorn" into the interview like that...pure gold.

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    1. Well...maybe not FLAWLESSLY...but thank you!

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  8. My son was diagnosed when we lived in Allegheny County...are you going to participate in the studay?

    We've been in a childhood bipolar study since 2002; it's my effort to help other parents who are dealing with the meerkats of bipolar (since unicorn and iguana were already taken).

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    1. I was not going to, honestly. But I'm not opposed to it. Iguana is actually still free...since Jennifer never got hers into the interview....

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  9. I'm still kicking myself for not saying iguana. Either way, 2 local channels are going to have some cute kids and hot moms to put on the air.

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    1. They're lucky. I've seen some of the people they interview...this will be a dramatic improvement.

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    2. Thank you Jen for that reference! UNICORN!

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    3. Yes, you both were extraordinarily photogenic!!!

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  10. I laughed out loud at the pic of you and your "thoughts". Did you draw the illustrations yourself? You should illustrate your posts more often! (Of course, I do have a bit of an obsession with illustrated blog posts, so feel free to just ignore me.)

    You're such a strong advocate for your daughter. You're lucky to have each other.

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    1. Thanks, Stephanie...yeah, I did the drawings in "Paper" an iPad app. I'm still learning it, but I may attempt to include more sketches moving forward. They'll make it more "mine" and help me practice!

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  11. I sat forward in my chair as I read this, breathless to see if you said "unicorn" during the interview! lol I look forward to watching the link!

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    1. I'm not particularly hopeful about hearing "unicorn" when it plays...but if I do?? It will be PRICELESS!!

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  12. I enjoy your family. You all make me happy.

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  13. You make me laugh! I was still all for you wearing the unicorn head during the interview!! Your sketches of us cracked me up!!

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    1. I feel bad about yours. You're way prettier in real life.

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    2. I meant to talk to you about this...you are sweet!!

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  14. I can't stop laughing... That is fantastic! Please do link it!

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    1. Will do! We got confirmation that the piece airs tomorrow during the five o'clock news. We shall see!!

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  15. Jim, this made me laugh so hard. I can't wait to see the segment. If they don't keep unicorn in, I'm writing a strongly-worded letter to the network, yo.

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    1. I can't wait to see the strongly-worded letter...because they failed to include unicorns.

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  16. We do need more Jim drawings. ;)

    Your girls are dolls.

    Interesting statistic about the Pittsburgh area. I absolutely believe my son's diagnosis was a result of environmental factors. But I'll refrain from my rant here.

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    1. Woohoo! THREE people have DEMANDED more Jim drawings.

      I'll be curious what the study shows. We may contact them to participate.

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  17. Next time work in this word: "bigwig." :D

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  18. I loved the post and the interview. We also from the burgh area and were tuning in to here the bit when we saw it advertised. Great study, great blog, and great work!

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    1. Thanks, Lisa. Where are you guys? I mean...um...y'unz?

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