Norman Rockwell’s History Lessons; Grandparents and Autism

22 01 2008

“It was a great day! Wonderful! I am a good boy!” That’s how J summed up our day out. 

He was prepared to go to the Rockwell exhibit.   Now, we know that preparation isn’t always going to pay off… but, the more the merrier!  We had looked at a Rockwell book, talked about what he would see and do so, he had some idea of what to expect.

When we got to the Museum we split up– Dad (the artist) went off to study the paintings while J, Grandpa and Mommy went to see the Saturday Evening Post covers. There was a crowd– we kept J close and focused– lots of questions for him: “What do you see in this picture?” “Look at this– what does it say?” Then, we transitioned into telling him about the history of the picture– “This is Grandpa’s birthday month– July, 1935” “This is Grandma’s birthday month– What does it say?” And, grandpa told him– in just a couple of sentences– what was happening in the world then.”

Grandpa told him about Pearl Harbor and how Uncle Tommy (whose picture is on our mantle) had been called up from leave when the Japanese attacked. We told him about World War I, Rosie the Riveter, John Kennedy and Civil Rights. Snippets of history… short explanations, memorable stories.

Norman Rockwell brings back a lot of memories to my parents generation– and, even a few to mine. For J it’s all new. His memories are of us telling him our memories. That’s not unlike other children.

When you look for a learning experience you will find them. When you know how to communicate– you will.  J’s Grandpa understands that he is a literal thinker. Flowery words defeat the purpose. He can communicate with J so that he is understood and, so that their bond is strengthened.

Let me tell you about my dad; He’s a great guy. An overseas missionary for more than 35 years, compassionate, generous and with a temper. He is a good communicator in two languages and several cultures. He’s an avid reader and loyal to PBS. He’s impatient, set in his ways and spoiled– first by his mother, then by mine. He’s lovable, gives great hugs and has a fantastic laugh. He’s sensitive to the feelings of others and is hurt when he hurts someone else.  He and J are quite a pair!

My dad used to be a little afraid of J. I know– that’s terrible but, it’s true. The meltdowns, the lack of communication and not knowing how to relate to him.  Things have changed. They have a relationship. My dad has learned to go with the flow.  My dad has learned to communicate with J in terms that J understands and J is learning his Grandpa’s history.




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