Teenagers with autism need life skills and job training. Life Skills & Life Lessons: Autism Dad 3 is a personal memoir told with humor and grace that looks at the unique challenges facing special-needs children transitioning into young adulthood. This collection of essays not only details a father’s take on raising a special-needs child, but tells the story of a family shaped by the everyday challenges and rewards of raising a child with autism.
* What Causes Autism And Can It Be Prevented?
* Teething Pain Is Only The Beginning
* Autism And The Art Of Toilet Seats
* Help Wanted: Employers With Open Hearts And Minds
* Celebrity Autism Insults Real People Struggling With ASD
* Precocious Pre-Teen And Racy TV Ads Yield Parental Torment
Autism Dad 3: Life Skills and Life Lessons ISBN-13: 978-1983499593 ISBN-10: 1983499595 $10.99 print/$3.99 digital
We create rules as a way to manage our time, personalities, and behaviors. We make rules in order to control our lives and give order to the world around us. Rules let us agree on a common way of acting, of certain expectations being met, and of certain boundaries not being crossed. Rules tell us how to live.
Following rules and finding our place in the world is central to Cynthia Lord’s Rules, a powerful young adult novel about a fifth grade girl, Catherine, and her autistic brother, David. Along the way they befriend a non-verbal, wheelchair-bound boy named Jason, who, despite his physical limitations, helps set Catherine free of her self-imposed and restrictive “rules.” After all, rules are meant to be broken.
Catherine wishes her brother’s autism would simply disappear, that he’d just wake up “normal” one day. But in case that doesn’t happen, she’s compiling a list of rules so “at least he’ll know how the world works, and I won’t have to keep explaining things.”
Catherine gives voice to the siblings of special needs individuals everywhere when she notes:
“Everyone expects a tiny bit from him and a huge lot from me.”
Later, Catherine talks honestly with her father.
“I have to matter, too. As much as work and your garden, and even as much as David. I need you, too.”
Catherine ponders the nature of her brother’s disability. As the father of a son with autism I found her insights packed an emotional wallop. (Note: Cynthia Lord is the mother of boy with autism.)
“How can his outside look so normal and his inside be so broken? Like an apple, red perfect on the outside, but mushy brown at the first bite.”
Catherine struggles with being both embarrassed by her brother and protective of him in equal measure. She hates when people treat her brother “like he’s invisible. It makes me mad, because it’s mean and it makes me invisible, too.”
Two of Catherine’s most simple rules are the most profound.
There are flaws in all of us—not just those with special needs.
We all try to do the best we can to fit in, but things don’t always end up the way we intend.
There are quite a few laughs here, and a few weepy emotional moments, too. Some of the most profound highlight the differences in Catherine and David’s mental capacities. At one point both kids get a chance to make a wish. Catherine says:
I wish everyone had the same chances. Because it stinks a big one that they don’t. What about you?
David wishes for grape soda.
Cynthia Lord plays it straight in Rules, and doesn’t overdo it on the sentimentality. The result is an engaging read filled with light and love. A couple of Lord’s rules are bound to stick with you after the novel’s close:
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism (2007) by Naoki Higashida
KA Yoshida (translator) David Mitchell (translator)
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida is like a Rosetta Stone, a secret decoder ring for autism’s many mysteries.
Author Naoki Higashida is a non-verbal boy with autism living in Japan. He’s able to write using a letter board, and this book of essays was published in 2006 when Higashida was 13 years old.
While Higashida doesn’t represent everyone on the autistic spectrum, his book certainly helps explain many autistic behaviors from the inside out. Higashida answers questions on a variety of topics, like, “Why do you flap your hands?” and, “Why do you like to jump?”
Higashida’s answers show amazing insight into the autistic mind, detailing a unique system for filing memories, as well as a perpetual struggle with sensory input, and the concept of linear time.
The mental gymnastics needed to overcome autism’s obstacles are tremendous, and sometimes brilliant. But it’s exhausting being inside Higashida’s head — you can only imagine how he must feel.
A quest for consistency — for something true and unchanging — is behind many autistic behaviors, as seen in Higashida’s response to the question, “Why do you like to spin things?”
“Watching spinning things fills us with a sort of everlasting bliss — for the time we sit watching them, they rotate with perfect regularity. Whatever object we spin, this is always true. Unchanging things are comforting, and there’s something beautiful about that.”
Many of Higashida’s introspective insights are universal, and written with a poet’s hand.
“Invisible things like human relationships and ambiguous expressions … these are difficult for us people with autism to get our head around.”
Invisible things are hard for all of us to grasp. Thoughts, emotions, memories, and faith; germs, virus, and disease. Our lives are ruled by Invisibles. They get us all in the end.
Asked what causes his panic attacks and meltdowns, Higashida’s response is perceptive and poignant:
“Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours, with feelings we can’t properly express, it’s always a struggle just to survive. And it’s this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy, and brings on a panic attack or a meltdown.”
Higashida’s apologetic tone resonates throughout this collection. He longs to connect, but he knows his strange behavior makes others uncomfortable, and it breaks his heart. It will break yours, too.
But The Reason I Jump is a double-shot of hope for parents of children with autism, especially those of us raising non-verbal / limited-speech kids. This book is proof of what we’ve known all along — our kids are thinking / feeling / loving people trapped inside uncooperative bodies. They wear their skin like an ill-fitting suit, constantly tripping on the hems, and getting caught up in the sleeves whenever they reach for something. Sensory Integration Disorder and the strange wiring of the autistic brain makes connecting with the outside world a challenge for our kids.
Higashida says the autistic mind focuses on details (flashing lights, a ladder, hoses, black tires, loud siren); while a typical mind will immediate recognize an object (a fire truck). Higashida sees a benefit in this reverse-engineered view of the world.
“Every single thing has its own unique beauty. People with autism get to cherish this beauty, as if it’s a kind of blessing given to us.”
Connect with a person with autism — see the world through their eyes — and you’ll be blessed, too.
[This is one of my wife’s favorites. Originally published in March 2002, and revised for Father’s Day 2013]
In honor of Father’s Day, June 16, I’d like to travel back to before I was Autism Dad, when I was just “a new dad.”
The moment my son was born, I realized I held the most precious gift in the world in my arms, a gift I was unworthy of, yet responsible for, nonetheless. I was in way over my head.
But I was eager to learn, and my son taught me a lot those first six weeks. Here’s how I saw it back in 2002:
Six weeks of fatherhood, and already I’m defining myself by the way my kid sees me. I am Thick, Hairy Arms that lift him up and down (which is different from Mom’s Soft, Smooth Arms). I am Smiling Moon Face with Glasses. I am Stinky Breath at 4 a.m. Beard Stubble Man. I am Waiter, Maid, Chauffeur, Personal Assistant, Wipe My Butt Guy.
Actually my wife is all of these things and more. I’m the Assistant Waiter, Assistant Maid, etc. But in the past six weeks I’ve gotten a good dose of fatherhood … and I like it!
Like any new job, everything’s fun and exciting right now. I’m sure there will be days ahead that won’t be so much fun. But after completing six weeks, I’d say fatherhood is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and rewarding jobs I’ve ever had.
My son, Rocco, taught me many things in a short time. We already have much in common, like big meals and long naps. Rocco helped me rediscover the joy of life’s simple pleasures. A warm blanket is good. A wet bottom is bad. A big dog licking your face is startling at first … but funny!
Rocco taught me to appreciate sunrises, which I have seen more of in the last six weeks than in all of my 34 years prior. In fact, the whole sleep deprivation aspect of parenthood is something my wife and I severely underestimated. It’s brutal.
Most importantly, Rocco shared one of life’s great secrets with me. When I wake up in the middle of the night and wonder, “Why am I here? What’s my purpose in the universe?” all I have to do is peek in his bassinet and go, “Oh. Yeah.”
It’s not that my life didn’t have meaning or significance before my son was born. It’s that everything up until now seems like practice. I have seen the future, and it wears a onesie. And when I cradle tomorrow in my arms, it feels as light as a feather.
The future has gotten heavier, and wears jeans, t-shirts, and beat up sneakers now. The future also wears pretty dresses and Hello Kitty hair bows (my daughter, Francesca, was born in 2003). The future is also getting hairy legs.
But I feel the same now as I did in 2002. My children continue to inspire me, and give my life meaning and purpose. Their wonder and devotion enriches every moment of every day. If anything, my love for my children has grown stronger, more intense, over the past 11 years.