Autism is one of those disorders that gets tossed around quite a bit as an entertainment hook in movies and television shows. The symptoms (most commonly, difficulty in social interactions and verbal communication) are mysterious and intriguing, because talking and interacting are at the heart of the human experience. These skills are so essential to living a "normal" life that the absence of them marks a person as an outsider, or somehow damaged. Autism is often portrayed as a severe handicap -- but entertaining, in a quirky way. Like Rain Man.
The truth is that autism's a "spectrum" disorder; not all autistics exhibit the same symptoms to the same degree. And the range of behavior can be very frustrating for the person with the disorder and his or her family. Imagine not being able to understand why your child won't look at you, why she won't respond when you say her name. People remember the "gotta watch Wapner" part of Rain Man, not the frustration of being unable to tell your brother you love him.
But even in severe cases, autism is not an impenetrable wall between the autistic and the world. Humans are resourceful, and there are many nonverbal ways to communicate. Art, for example. A special exhibit of art created by children with autism, Autistic Endeavors, reveals something of their world. According to show organizer Bevin Fahey-Vornberg, "A lot of the art made by children with autism represents the intense interests of the child." The art pictured is a drawing of Motown legends the Temptations, created by a child who Fahey-Vornberg says "sings the Temptations' songs all the time. He made a large drawing that shows them walking, singing, dancing -- with the big pompadours and sideburns." Fahey-Vornberg notes that most of the children in the show draw the same scenes or ideas over and over again -- but she likens it to "rewriting, or editing. In school, the more art you made about a particular idea, the more thoroughly you understood the idea."
Autistic Endeavors is on display at the Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts (3151 Cherokee Street; 314-772-3628) from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday and from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday (May 13 and 14). A $5 donation is asked at the door, and select pieces will be available for purchase. -- Paul Friswold
Welcome to the Jungle
We'd really like to get the name of the designer who created the new Donn & Marilyn Lipton Fragile Forest home for the Saint Louis Zoo's chimpanzees (such as Tammy, pictured) and orangutans. The RFT offices are nice, but the chimps and orangs now have burbling streams to enjoy, trees and vines to climb, and wireless computer access. OK, the computers are for visitors, so we can access biographical info about the primates and read the keepers' notes about the ape families, but trees and streams? What office couldn't be improved by a couple of climbing trees? The Fragile Forest opens to the public at 9 a.m., and more information about the free Saint Louis Zoo in Forest Park is available at www.stlzoo.org or by calling 314-781-0900. -- Paul Friswold
A stroll down Cherokee Street in the early 1900s might find the fellas in the saloon, Lemp lager in hand, while the ladies visit the dressmaker and bakery. Glimpse the past during the Cherokee-Lemp Historic District's fourth annual Preservation Week Celebration. From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday (May 14 and 15), the six blocks of antique/collectibles shops between Jefferson Avenue and DeMenil Place host live music while volunteers in period costumes and automobiles patrol the area, and vintage-postcard and -photography displays depict the Cherokee of yore. There's even a free trolley to get you from one end of Cherokee to the other, in case all that history is a bit overwhelming. For more information visit www.cherokeeantiquerow.com, or call Hammond's Books at 314-776-4737. -- Amy Helms
Right now, area beauty salons, barber shops, shoe stores and clothiers are packed with folks carefully primping and piecing together the perfect parade ensemble. Why all the fuss? Well, the Annie Malone May Day Parade, the second biggest black parade in America, isn't just a parade. It's the parade. And everybody -- you hear me? -- urrrrbody will be there. At 1 p.m. up to 100,000 folks line up along Natural Bridge to watch the floats, motorcycles, souped-up cars and high school marching bands go by. The free parade begins at Union Avenue and Natural Bridge Road and spills out into Fairgrounds Park. For more information call 314-531-0120. -- R.L. Nave