Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Review: What I Wish I'd Known About Raising a Child with Autism by Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas

Amazon summary
Bobbi Sheahan, mother of a child with autism, and psychologist Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D., did not write this book to lecture you on how to parent your child. Instead, they offer themselves as your scouts in the field, who have valuable information to share—from the moment you realize your kid is different ("My, what a quiet baby I have!"), to the self-righteous moms on the playground, to holding your marriage together in the realm of routines.

They candidly tackle ASD issues such as:

Picky Eating
Bedtime Battles
Potty Training
Speech Delays
Early Intervention
Sibling Rivalry
And much more!

My review
I always love to read books by other parents of kids on the autism spectrum. (Did you follow that?) It helps me feel like someone out there understands. Of course, I have several real friends I can share stories with, but being a bookish person, there's just something comforting about reading a book about it.

There's a favorite quote in the autism community: "If you've seen one child with autism, you've seen one child with autism." Books like this remind me how true this is. My son is very different from Sheahan's daughter Grace. Grace doesn't talk much, but she's a whirlwind who's frequently breaking something just for the sensory satisfaction. My son is hyper and talks constantly - and loudly - but he's mellow and extremely cautious. He never tore things up and he never broke things. Many times I wished he would so I could throw away those toys he was so attached to, but had "outgrown."

Reading books and blogs by other parents reminds me that so many behaviors that I've grown accustomed to (and not infrequently annoyed by) are things that he can't control. Like being distracted by his little brother singing or making a sound. "Just ignore him," I say. "I CAN'T," he tells me. "Well, you're going to have to learn," is my brilliant response. Of course, he does need to learn to function in the world where there are always annoying noises, but I need to be reminded that it's not as easy as him deciding to tune it out.

Sheahan also talks about things that I'd never thought about. As I've always homeschooled my son, I'd never thought about the sensory issues involved in a physical school. Think about all the lights, smells, sounds, frequent changes of location during the day, whether it's to lunch or recess or special classes like music. High school would be even worse with hourly class changes and the noise and crowded-ness involved. How often did you walk to class without ever bumping into someone else? We have enough trouble in the grocery store. I can't imagine a school day for these kids.

One of the things that really struck home with me was when she discussed special-needs programs, like sports programs. I always have the concern that we'll be taking a spot from a child who "really needs it". As Sheahan pointed out, if your child isn't thriving in "regular" programs, and he qualifies for special-needs programs, he is one of the children who "really needs it". Hello. Thank you for the wake-up call.

My favorite section is subtitled "Shut Up. Shut Up, Up, Up." It talks about those ever-helpful (not) strangers at the playground and grocery store who always have something to say about what horrible parents we are or how much better our children would behave if we would. Just. Discipline. Our. Kid.

Dr. DeOrnellas provides a professional's perspective without getting too wordy. She actually talks like a real person. It's refreshing. The whole book is written with humor, and I laughed a lot, in between cringing in empathy, and I have to admit there was just a little, "I feel a little better 'cuz my kid doesn't do THAT." Another bonus to reading these books. They can make you appreciate what you have.

Everyone needs to read this book. ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) parents, to learn a few things and to be reminded that we're not alone. If you're not a parent, then you probably know an ASD child. Probably more than one. Your empathy and understanding for the child and his family will skyrocket.

I could easily pick a dozen more quotes to share with you, but here are few of my favorites.
  • After advising parents to find a support group: "Nothing your child is doing is going to be any weirder than something their child has already done."
  • "...I often have to remember to join my child in her world, and not demand that it be the other way around."
  • "The fact that your child has an autism spectrum disorder is an explanation, not an excuse."
  • "You will figure out what works, and when it stops working, you will figure out something else."
  • "She does things for a reason, and if I am respectful of the fact that the reasons are perfectly reasonable to her, I just might learn what that reason is."
About the book
Title: What I Wish I'd Known about Raising a Child with Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years
Authors: Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D.
Publisher: Future Horizons
Release date: June 15, 2011
Pages: 250
Where I got the book: Free from the author in exchange for an honest review

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