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Oliver the Shaman? June 17, 2010

Posted by caizooka in autism, autism parenting.
Tags: , , ,

Thanks to the direction of a few friends, I watched a fascinating special on PBS, Independent Lens called ‘The Horse Boy“.

Honestly, the beginning was intense and quite painful to watch. A sweet autistic boy screaming uncontrollably on a mountain top in Mongolia. Next you see the parents getting whipped whilst kneeling on the bare ground, by the shaman; but are forced to withhold screaming. Brutal. Are they crazy? I don’t follow. I am starting to dismiss this family as ‘nuts’, but I keep watching because I am intrigued and trying to fathom why someone would do this to themselves. I soon catch on. I understand the primal need to do ANYTHING to help your child. I don’t really connect with the mom at first because she seems distant and removed. But, I end up crying with them. Uncontrollably. There is a definite change in the boy in the documentary where the boy went from screaming to playing and laughing. Did they just push this kid so hard that he cracked and gave in to it?

Throughout the documentary, they wrangle with many, many issues. Rowan had a really difficult time on their journey. He refused to ride the horse, and opted for the bus instead. He had potty issues. He went into this having potty training issues, as do many autistic children. The family heads through the interior of Mongolia in an old VW bus, ultimately arriving at a nomadic encampment at a tribe called the Duka Tribe. Apparently they are known to have unique healing properties. They have to travel entirely by horse from then on. It’s hard for the parents to get Rowan on the horse. Rowan had been battling riding on a horse the entire trip. He finally liked the horse again. I’m happily surprised to connect with Rowan’s mom. I see that she is made from incredibly strong, versatile fabric. She plows through and guides Rowan in a sweet and gentle way.

The finally met with the Duka Tribe’s shaman and he had a very fascinating connection with Rowan. He told them that Rowan would become gradually less autistic over the next 3 years and that the potty issues would end today. And, indeed, it did. When they rode away and down the mountain, that was when everything began to change. He actually pooped on the potty. (for those of us whom have had to struggle with this, you know what a true triumph this is!) He was running around playing with the other kids. He actually bonded with their guides’ son who was about his same age. They didn’t speak a common language, but they were communicating. He was enjoying the horse riding with his dad again. There appeared to be a breakthrough.

People that are shamans typically have had a life of suffering from neuropsychiatric symptoms. They have special senses and feelings that guide them differently than others. They aren’t elected shaman from birth, they become it because of their symptoms and their clarity. They become guides for their tribes. I’m not surprised after watching this and really taking a significant amount of time to wrap my brain around this concept to see the truly unique connection between the shaman and Rowan. It sparked a further interest in me to seek how other cultures accept (or deny) people whom are different neuro-psychologically. One psychologist in the documentary talked about autism and how some cultures determined that these people have an illness. Other cultures say that this is simply a different type of person and there is a prescribed role in society for them. He further elaborates that we are one of the few societies that treat neurological and psychiatric differences by creating institutions where we actually separate people completely from society. This makes me think and think and think… are we trying to change them to be something that they innately are not? Trying to make them like us. This really offers some pause.

I do love Rowan’s parents sense of wonder and joy. It is captivating and true. I sympathize with them when I see their son Rowan struggling. It’s taken me a long time to ponder how to write this blog entry. I hadn’t been able to figure out why until now. I didn’t understand how the parents could be so removed, yet so connected at the same time. I’ve had some clarity on that lately. I realize how numb to the chaos I have become. Sometimes it’s too much. I simply can’t react to every plate being hurled at my head, every insult screamed at me, every stressful situation that I have to choose how to navigate. I’m numb to it, and it saddens me. Don’t get me wrong, I feel happiness and everything else, but when chaos ensues, I have to filter differently. I get now why those parents appear to be disconnected. It’s a matter of survival. To be able to see clearly through the haze. So, when Rowan is having a meltdown, I now feel his parents’ panic and fear that I feel when Oliver is having a meltdown. Rowan was diagnosed with autism when he was 2 and he was 5 in the documentary so the parents had 3 years of dealing with their reality. (we’ve had less than one year since Oliver’s diagnosis)

The dad breaks down at one point and questions himself. Did he make Rowan do too much? We all question our decisions and reasoning when our parenting decisions aren’t working out as we had hoped. Rowan’s dad, Rupert is honest and true to himself. I love it when he says that he’s a better father because of Rowan’s autism. He further explains that Rowan’s autism forced him to listen to his son. I can tell you that I wish that more parents were more in touch with their children like this. To not take them for granted and to stop and listen and learn to love your child. What a wonderful thing.

The dad, Rupert, asked in the end of the documentary if Rowan was cured of his autism. No, he answered. But, he was healed of some of the symptoms of it. And, from the outside looking in, it appeared as if Rowan, and his parents looked happier. That is what we are all striving for, isn’t it?


1. Cass - June 24, 2010

this is really eye-opening, thanks karen! our society is so good at creating fear of all kinds of difference–and is so sneaky about it. your self awareness and open mind really show here. much love to all you guys!

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