Parents of autistic children in Ventura County, there is a musical show just for you. A production is arriving at the Thousand Oaks Civic Plaza on April 3, which has the potential to be both entertaining and life altering. But be prepared to laugh and cry because “Thing to Thing to Thing from Crazy Sane…with Autism, Biofeedback and the Brain” was written by a woman who intimately knows the drill.
Lynette Louise is presenting a one-woman show about her life and her groundbreaking methods of successfully treating autistic children. Louise is the mother of eight grown children, six of whom were adopted and four were diagnosed as autistic.
Louise had a difficult childhood. She grew up in Canada with a mother who she says was not easy to live with.
As she gathered up children to become her own family, she was pathetically uninformed about the true nature of autism. “All I knew about autism was I had seen an Elvis Presley movie called A Change of Habit. In that movie they have a little girl who is autistic,” Louise says.
Louise says at that time, the prevailing theories about autism were relatively crude. “Way back, they thought autism was caused by moms not being affectionate enough to their kids. They called it Refrigerator Moms. If we can’t see an injury, like a spike sticking out of some guy’s head, we assume somebody did something to them. That’s what they blamed it on for a long time, and it still shows up in the older practitioners.”
With that theory as the only available information, Louise said, “I had this little guy, and I thought his mom did it to him. I thought I could just love him out of it. Behold, I was on big learning curve.”
But Louise was up to the challenge. She is now an internationally renowned autism expert. Some of her own family in Canada was adopted, so it was natural for her to look to adoption as a way of having more children.
“Adoption is really great, and autistic kids are different in a really neat way,” Louise says. “They bond, but they bond in an unusual fashion. You have to have the eyes to see that bonding, and I have the eyes that can understand what it is they are attracted to or not attracted to. I have a gift in that.”
Louise says she has empathy for autistic children which can only spring from personal experiences that are similar. “For me, it was almost like kindred spirits, because when I was young, I had a lot of sensory issues.”
Louise had her own scrambled brain signals to deal with, which she refers to as sensory integration issues.
“Sound was colorful to me,” she says. “I would watch the radio — synesthesia. You usually grow out of it. I did.”
Some of her unusual brain signals made growing up more difficult, yet she had no idea her perceptions of life were different from those of other children.
“For example, it took me a long time of knowing someone before I could recognize them,” Louise says, “because I would first, maybe, capture their eyes, their nose, how they talked, and eventually I could see the whole picture and recognize them. It is a temporal lobe problem. I didn’t even know I had it until I was an adult.”
Before Louise had celebrated her 30th birthday, she had adopted four toddler boys with autism in varying degrees. Then she added two troubled teenage girls into the growing family. After her third marriage ended, she had to work an assortment of jobs to support her large brood. She says she was on her own, and her family in Canada was not offering any help. She worked as a mail carrier and as an advice columnist. She performed stand-up, acted in films and even hosted her own cooking show on Canadian television.
Throughout those years, Louise home schooled her children, providing the individual attention each required. She relocated her family to the United States in 1996 because Canada did not permit such an arrangement. For a year and a half, Louise traveled the country in an RV with her family in tow. During that time, she developed a one-on-one treatment based in play therapy where the parent serves as the therapist.
This breakthrough did not come all at once, and Louise says each child needs to have their therapy individually tailored. Louise says she was open to any option which held even a glimmer of hope. “Medications, diet, auditory integration, play therapy, family counseling and neurofeedback all became part of the mix.”
It was then that Louise found Dr. Harold Burke, the clinical director of the Brain Therapy Center in Westlake Village. Louise offered to work for him, and together they explored using neurofeedback with autistic children. It was due to Louise that Dr. Burke was able to include autism in his practice at the time. “Neurofeedback is biofeedback for the brain and is the most effective treatment for ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder],” Louise says. “It has been subjected to double-blind studies, and the efficacy has been established.”
Burke agrees. “Neurofeedback is effective but flies kind of below the radar screen of a lot of doctors. There are now two controlled studies which have been published. Lynette has tapped into that.”
“It is like getting glasses and all of a sudden they can see,” Louise says of how the patient feels when neurofeedback is effective. “When your brain is balanced, the world is so bright and clear that they call it the Windshield Effect. It is as if someone cleaned the windshield.”
Louise has a unique approach to her therapy. She travels to the home of the patient and stays there for a few days. While there, she shows the family that neurofeedback has the possibility of making inroads to helping autism in a matter of days.
“When I go into a home, the family is so on-edge about the problems the child faces,” Louise says. “I tell them to relax, they are going to have a different child in three days. I have technology. I treat the whole family. I teach them how to use the tools.”
Recently, Louise says, she had a child experience a breakthrough. “I was just working with a family and, after a few days, the child said, ‘You found me again.’ It helps their brain to stabilize enough to express an emotion. They experience a clear, happy comfort. They feel relief immediately.”
In 2004, Louise founded the Brain and Body Clinic in Santa Monica. But most of the treatment still takes place in the child’s home. She also has a home in the tiny Texas town of Teague where two of her children now live.
Louise decided to use her best skills as a performer as a way to communicate this treatment for autism to the public. She said the idea came to her after having some success with one of her own sons. “All of a sudden, I have this methodology where my son is not hitting himself, and it is so easy to do,” Louise says.
“How could you not want to do a show? I felt I had to write a show. It was six hours and I had to bring it down to three hours.”
The show is a unique approach to teaching and stands on its own as entertainment. Louise shares the stage with a rack of costumes, which she casually slides into just as she seamlessly takes the audience through her often painful personal experiences. Louise has the eternally beautiful face of an actress, and skillfully puts her arms around the audience in order to share her most intimate moments. She bares her private life and events, which cannot be easy to reveal, such as when she learned that her third husband had molested one of her daughters. There is nowhere for Louise to hide as this is her truth, not that of a character or a playwright. This brave vulnerability is the thread which runs through the 20 years of learning how to be a parent to her four autistic children.
Even more daring is her addition of music to the show. The songs were written by Louise, music director Mitch Kaplan and Clifford Bell. The stark simplicity of the production has enabled Louise to take the play out of the theater and into professional conferences about autism across the country. Louise is on a passionate one-woman crusade to help autistic children and their families live fuller and less stressful and demanding lives. Families of autistic children will leave the theater with renewed energy and a rare glimpse of optimism for the future.
Burke says the show is simply great theater. “It has a combination of poignancy and education and some humor,” he says. “The part that I am most attracted to is the educational message that there is a treatment out there called neurofeedback.
“What she is trying to accomplish in the show is to get this across to the public in a way that is not just a lecture,” Burke says. “As much as I have been around people with autism or acquired brain injury, I teared up a couple of times watching the show in her own personal moments working with her own children.
“I am hoping she will get a wide audience with it,” Burke continues. “Lynette’s show is pioneering and I’ve never seen anything quite like it.”
Lynette Louise’s Thing to Thing to Thing opens April 3 at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza’s Janet and Ray Scherr Forum Theater (2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks) and runs every Thursday through May 1. Tickets $30 available at the box office (449-2787) or through Ticketmaster.
Parents of autistic children get in free when you bring a photo of your child to the box office.