Dan Marino and the Information Highway

Dan Marino autism

In 1994, this commercial for the “Information Highway” had me losing my mind. I remember watching a young Anna Paquin being kind of creepy and then looking at my husband and saying “What the hell does she mean?!” I couldn’t stand the commercial because I felt like I had just watched some clip from a 70’s hippy movie and must be lacking the drugs to understand it.

What was this “Information Highway”? I would soon learn that 1994 was the beginning of the future with the Internet, AOL and Yahoo (Google would come much later) although I really wouldn’t get the full comprehension until five years later.

After Taylor’s first diagnosis, I began to explore this new world of the internet, complete with Yahoo searches and chat rooms, trying to find as much information as I could. The internet was nothing like today. Only people in their 40’s and older can really appreciate what it means to spend hours trying to download a file. That being said, this was a whole new world of resources available to me and I spent a lot of time on the internet just trying to find someone who was going through the same thing we were.

I met my sweet friend, Mary in a chat room on Parent’s magazine website. Both of us were dealing with the same issues with our 3 year-old sons. I had finally met someone who got it! She understood my situation and my fears. We became each other’s support system in those early years. Although we lived in separate states, this internet thing made it possible for us to connect and I am so grateful for that.

Then there is Dan Marino.

I have been a Miami Dolphins fan since I was fourteen. I am from Alabama and we do not have an NFL team but every Sunday my friends and I would get together to watch NFL football. I had to choose a team, right? My reason for becoming a Dolphins fan was perfectly reasonable… I loved their uniform colors! It only took watching a few games though before I knew I had chosen the right team. Dan Marino was amazing!

Over the years, I became more of a Dan Marino fan than a Dolphins fan and watched every special on him that I could. Okay, I may have been a little obsessed.

After Taylor’s diagnosis, I remembered back to an interview with Dan Marino when he talked about his son, Michael who has autism. I began to search for more information on this to see what I could find. What did Marino and his wife do? When did they find out their son had autism? What was their son like now?

This search gave me a job to do but more importantly I think, I began to feel less and less alone. I know that is silly, but here was my football hero since I was a kid and yet we had this in common. I became aware instantly that autism was not prejudice. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, who your parents are, what kind of money you make, what color your skin is. Autism doesn’t care.

In my on-going search for answers and solutions, I came across a transcript of an interview with Marino where he talks about the first signs of autism that he noticed in his son. The more I read, the more it sounded like he was describing Taylor! In this transcript was a section where they talk with one of Marino’s sons, (he has six children).

It was reading this part, this insight by his fourteen year-old son, which gave me the most hope. When I started reading, I thought it was his older son they were talking with.  Then, a few paragraphs in, his son says “People ask me all the time what it is like to have a brother with autism. They are always surprised when I explain to them that I am the one with autism.”

WHAT?!

I read it again. This was Michael Marino?! Now I was REALLY intrigued! My very first thought was “he can talk and he can talk well!” Could this happen for Taylor?

As I continue to read, I was fascinated, holding onto every single word. Michael then said something that would stick with me and help me with Taylor for years to come.

He said that he remembered when he was six-years-old and his mom would always demand that he look at her while she was talking.

I did this to Taylor all the time. Most parents do, no news there, right? Courtesy and respect. It’s important.

Then he went on to explain that all he knew was that he couldn’t do it. He could look at his mom or he could listen to her but he was unable to do both. More importantly, he did not have the words to explain to his mom that he could not do both.

Oh WOW! This was LIFE-CHANGING for us in the South household and after we tested this theory out, immediately changed the way we talked with Taylor. First, I experimented just to see. I would have Taylor look at me while I was talking to him and ask him a specific question then I would wait until he looked away and ask him the same question.

Nine out ten times Taylor only responded when I allowed him to look away.

This was just the beginning of things but it gave me hope. It was a solution to a problem. I am a fixer and I felt like I had just accomplished something HUGE!

So, Dan Marino, in case you EVER come across this blog, I want to thank you from the depth of my heart. Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you, Michael for sharing your story. You both changed our lives and I am forever grateful.

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