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A GOOD READ: Wise words and good stories on autism
Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability today. In the last six years, it has been reported that its prevalence has increased by about 80% in Canada. Environmental factors and their interactions with genetic susceptibilities are considered likely contributors to increase in prevalence and are the subject of numerous research projects.
The books I will introduce here are not so much concerned with autism research as with more practical aspects of living with this disease.
Autism Tomorrow: The Complete Guide to Help Your Child Thrive in the Real World by Karen L. Simmons and Bill Davis and Autism Spectrum Disorders: What Every Parent Needs to Know published by the American Academy of Pediatrics are manuals on how to deal with the various aspects of having a child on the spectrum. They help understand definition and diagnosis of the disorder, and provide parents with information on current types of therapies as well as how to access community and educational resources. Other themes include transition into adulthood, independent living, sexuality and gainful employment.
Many novels deal with the experience of having one’s child diagnosed with autism. In Daniel isn’t Talking, a novel by Marti Leimbach, an American woman living in England seems to have it all: a rich husband, a vivacious daughter and an adorable son. But after a normal infancy, the boy starts behaving strangely — throwing tantrums, walking on his toes, still seeking his mother’s breast and refusing to talk. Eventually, the marriage falls apart but the mother becomes a passionate advocate for her disabled son.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is the first-person account of a 15-year-old self-described “mathematician with some behavioural difficulties” and his family issues. The mystery novel won prizes as both adult and children’s book.
Much has been written for children on this topic, most of whom know others with autism, yet often find it hard to relate to them. In How to Talk to an Autistic Kid, 14-year-old Daniel Stefanski describes what it feels like being autistic. With frankness and optimism, he provides personal stories, clear explanations and supportive advice about how to get along with kids on the spectrum.
A novel for children, Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin describes the life of 12-year-old autistic Jason Blake living in a “neurotypical” world. Most days, it’s just a matter of time before something goes wrong. But Jason finds a glimmer of understanding when he comes across a girl who posts stories to the same online site as he does. Jason can be himself when he writes and he thinks that Rebecca could be his first real friend. But as desperate as Jason is to meet her, he’s terrified that if they do meet, she will only see his autism and not who Jason really is.
For younger kids, there are picture books. Waiting for Benjamin: A Story about Autism by Alexandra Jessup Altman and Ian’s Walk: A Story about Autism by Laurie Lears are stories from the point of view of siblings of children on the spectrum. They tend to have some extra challenges in their lives: disappointment and embarrassment with the sibling’s behaviour; additional responsibilities taking care of the autistic sibling; and, last but not least, the diversion of parental and other resources toward the sick brother or sister. As one author puts it: “There are opportunities for personal growth in having a sibling with a disability. The healthy sibling learns valuable lessons of responsibility, compassion and toleration of differences.”
Maybe we all could do with a healthy dose of those.
A Good Read is a column by Tri-City librarians that is published every Wednesday. Christiane Hewer works at Coquitlam Public Library.