Autism activists such as Temple Grandin, Donna Williams, and Valerie Paradiz make the case that rather than trying to eliminate an autistic person's preoccupations, that these areas of hyperfocus ought to be cultivated — used to expand learning and future career opportunities.
And that is why, this week, we find ourselves in Hershey, Pennsylvania, the birthplace of Milton Hershey and the home of Chocolate World. Yes, Sweet M is fond of sweets, and none more than chocolate.
I'm hoping, of course, that vacationing with a chocoholic at Hershey World isn't akin to encouraging an alcoholic to take a tour vineyards and get a job at a winery.
In our two days here we've gone on the trolley tour of the town of Hershey, where Chocolate Avenue's street lamps are shaped like Hershey's Kisses and there is a perennial scent of chocolate in the air downwind of the still-operating factory. We've seen a documentary about the cultivation of the cacao bean in the equatorial climate of South America and Africa. We watched the 3-D cartoon extravaganza promoting all of Hershey's products. We visited the Milton Hershey Museum to learn about Hershey's life.
And M had the Hershey Factory Experience: she packed Kisses into a gear shaped plastic box and delivered them to the conveyor belt.
After she'd put her box of chocolates on the conveyor belt, the chocolate factory "supervisor" said that M would make a great factory worker. I couldn't help but hope that I can set my sights a little higher for her. Industrial chocolate making is backbreaking work, or so the Hershey Museum says . . . .
The Hershey Museum also offers the story of Milton Hershey's life. Hershey was an interesting character. Although he is counted among America's tall tales self-made success, he had several business failures before finally succeeding with his Crystal Caramel Company. In other words, his road to success was paved with failure after failure.
After his fourth candy business failure, Hershey had borrowed money from an aunt, who had mortgaged her house to finance his final caramel company. Fluctuating sugar prices were, once again, threatening to put his company out of business. The bank was just about ready to foreclose on his aunt's house when a British company ordered all the caramels he had in stock, and then some. Hershey's fortune was made, and within a couple of years he sold his successful caramel company to invest in the even riskier chocolate business. Or at least that's the story the tour guide told us.
Another story had Hershey borrowing the money to start his last caramel business from a former employee who'd worked in his Philadephia candy shop. It's not easy to get the real story behind these layers of choco-mythology.
But what struck me about the overall Hershey story was the fact that this quintessential self-made man was actually "made" by the support that he had from his family . . . from his aunt who was willing to put everything on the line for him to his former employee, depending on who you believe.
How like our kids all this seemed to me: so many failures on the road to basic successes, successes that are buttressed by our willingness to mortgage, figuratively, and sometimes literally, everything we have.
One hopes the investment will pay off, but there are no guarantees and you have to just keep trying everything. Hershey moved from Derry, PA to Lancaster to Philadelphia to Denver to New York and back to Lancaster, then on to Derry, PA in his quest for success. Austim parents who have the means — and some who don't — move their kids all over the country in search of school districts and medical centers with appropriate programs.
Like Hershey, you have to call in all your favors—from family, friends, and even former employees—to get what you need for your kid.
And in the end, you just hope that it will all work out, somehow sweet.
Our trip to Hershey has been.
Keywords: autism • Asperger's Syndrome • ADHD • family vacations • Temple Grandin • Donna Williams