Since Alex was diagnosed with autism nearly fifteen years ago, I have read hundreds of articles and dozens of books about autism, trying to understand how this condition affects him and how we can help him overcome the challenges he faces. In addition, I have bought many books on autism for reference, and my family room bookshelves are filled with medical books, psychological texts, and parent memoirs, all focusing upon how autism impacts daily life. One of the blessings of having been an English major as an undergraduate and graduate student is that I learned to read very quickly out of necessity. Moreover, I had excellent teachers who developed critical thinking, research, and communication skills, which helped me learn to assimilate what I’ve read into what I already know to give it meaning and context. While I don’t have Alex’s photographic memory, I can remember the gist of what I’ve read. Like Alex, I can quickly find information I need, whether by using the index of a book or a Google search on the Internet. Just as his research skills have enabled him to learn more about pi, meteorology, and astronomy, mine have led me to interesting discoveries about autism that have made our lives better. Of the many excellent books I’ve read, six stand out as especially important and useful. I often recommend these titles to other parents of children with autism, and I pull my own copies of these books from the bookshelf frequently for reference.
Recently, a friend asked me about how to help her child with sensory integration disorders, and I immediately recommended The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Integration Dysfunction by Carol Stock Kranowitz, a teacher who worked with children with sensory issues for many years. This book not only clearly explains why some children react as they do to sensory issues, but also offers many helpful and practical ideas and suggestions about how to help children deal with these problems, which often affect children with autism. Another excellent book written by a professional who has worked with children with autism is Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies—The Groundbreaking Program for the 4-A Disorders by Kenneth Bock, M.D. and Cameron Stauth. Dr. Bock does a wonderful job of detailing the increased incidence of these childhood conditions, the possible links between them, and ways to manage them through nutrition and diet, supplements, detoxification, and medication. Since we have taken the biomedical approach to dealing with Alex’s autism, Dr. Bock’s book reinforced our commitment to making Alex healthier through the gluten-free and casein-free diet, nutritional supplements, chelation of heavy metal toxins, anti-fungals, and Prozac. Dr. Bock’s book is not only thorough in its explanation of these childhood conditions and the ways to treat them, but the writing is also very readable and interesting. Of all the medical books I have, Biological Treatments for Autism and PDD by William Shaw, Ph.D. is the most dog-eared and highlighted text. Moreover, I have probably read this book more times than any other autism book I own because it offers a wealth of information about the medical issues related to autism. Dr. Shaw, a biochemist who founded the Great Plains Laboratory, has extensively researched autism and the aberrant lab test results children with autism often display. (Once when I called the Great Plains Laboratory to ask a question about Alex’s results, I got to speak directly with Dr. Shaw. I probably sounded like a groupie as I enthusiastically told him I’d read his book many times.) After running various hair, stool, urine, and blood tests on Alex through the years, we discovered that he, too, showed unusual results that needed to be addressed to improve his health, which ultimately improved his behavior, as well. Like Dr. Bock, Dr. Shaw takes a biomedical approach to autism, explaining the benefits of diet, chelation, supplements and medication. While Dr. Shaw’s writing style is not as easy to read as Dr. Bock’s because of the technical nature of his topics, his book is worth the effort, for all of the information he presents offers hope and healing for children on the autism spectrum.
While the books written by professionals have been helpful, I especially like books written by parents of children with autism. Karyn Seroussi, the mother of a child with autism, wrote one of my favorites, Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: A Mother’s Story of Research and Recovery. Not only does she describe her experiences parenting a child with autism, but she clearly summarizes the biomedical research she discovered that helped her son improve. In addition, she shares helpful tips that she learned along the way. Every parent who has a child with autism should own a copy of this book for reference. Another book written by a parent that I highly recommend is Beth Kephart’s A Slant of Sun: One Child’s Courage, a beautifully written memoir about her son with an autism spectrum disorder. Throughout the book, she describes her experiences in such vivid detail that she allows the reader a true glimpse of what her life is like, and I identified with her as a mother, especially when she notes: “In these years as Jeremy’s mother, I have learned how to be wary—how to go out into crowds a perpetual two steps ahead so as to reconnoiter, assess the risks, and steer a sheltered path.” As I described in another blog entry, “Remembering the Roses,” much of my life involves clearing paths—literal and figurative—for Alex so that he doesn’t stumble along the way. While most memoirs about children with autism are written by mothers, I am especially fond of one written by a father. Running with Walker: A Memoir by Robert Hughes is a candid account of life with his son who has autism. Despite all the challenges Walker faces, his father maintains a sense of hope and finds humor in the unusual circumstances autism often presents. I believe that the best books are those that make us laugh and cry, and Running with Walker moved me to both tears and laughter through its honest look at life with autism. Having celebrated Thanksgiving this week, I am thankful to those professionals and parents who have shared their knowledge, experience, and lives through their writing so that others can understand and help those children we love with autism.
“Wise words come from the lips of people with understanding…” Proverbs 10:13