Monday, 26 March 2018

Autism How to raise a happy autistic child (Book review)

For World Autism Awareness Week which launches today, I've decided to bring you some autism book reviews. I mentioned in my post last week that I suspect most parents of autistic children amass a certain amount of literature on autism following a diagnosis. That's understandable, as it's a topic close to our heart and we need to conquer that steep learning curve.

Where to begin though?! There are a huge number of books about autism out there now, from factual versions, to personal accounts, through to novels with autistic characters. I'm starting this week with a new release and a title I love. It's called 'Autism - How to raise a happy autistic child', and is written by Jessie Hewitson, The Times award-winning journalist.

As the title infers, this book is packed full of positive and practical information, and it takes you through sixteen chapters covering everything from diagnosis to playdates, mental health to siblings and education to holidays. 

It includes interviews with academics such as Simon Baron-Cohen, autistic adults, education lawyers, paediatricians, psychologists, speech and language therapists and parents, who include the author David Mitchell and Melanie Sykes. There are many tips and shared experiences from these groups of people and I particularly enjoyed this aspect of the book.

I'm delighted to be able to share a short extract from the book with you here. I think this helps give a flavour of the tone of the writing which is something I always look for before purchasing a book..


'Waiting for an assessment is unlikely to be a high point of your life. We waited a year for my son to be assessed and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2011. 

By today’s standards a year is lightning quick – almost four times faster than the average waiting time. Even so, it was tough. My husband and I responded in a very gender-stereotyped way: I knew early on that my son was autistic; my husband was unsure. 
Our approaches to the situation – mine to roar into action to try to ease the anxiety I was feeling, a coping strategy; his to put the brakes on and hope things would be fine – worked in opposition to one another. The result, inevitably, was a lot of rowing. 
The NHS assessment felt like an endurance race. Getting to the end involved telephone calls, emails, lost referrals, the chivvying along of professionals, arguments with speech and language therapists, two meetings with a community paediatrician to double-check our son suddenly wasn’t autistic. Then the big day arrived. We arrived at the NHS assessment centre in Hackney, in London: a large, airy, modern building with knackered toys in the waiting room. A female clinical psychologist played with my son while the diagnostic paediatrician, a kind Irishman in his fifties, asked us questions. He wanted to know when my son crawled, walked and started babbling, and was very skilled at maintaining eye contact while scribbling all my answers down. 
He observed my son, trying and failing to get his attention until a pot of bubble mixture was produced. They went outside to confer while my son sat bashing the daylights out of an electronic drum. After all that waiting, the diagnosis came quickly: my son was officially autistic. The psychologist bluntly explained to me that my son had not been playing with her as a human being, but using her as a toy-fetcher. 
I felt like Dorothy at the end of the Yellow Brick Road: weary, anticlimactic, sad. I wanted my son to be interested in people as human beings. The paediatrician, meanwhile, stuck to the facts and didn’t speculate about the future, though he chose his words carefully. Hints were made that schooling would be tough. 
I can understand why the medical community focuses on not giving false hope at a time when the future is unknowable, but sometimes I think clinicians could worry a bit more about giving false despair. Perhaps my son wasn’t so interested in the psychologist, whom he had never met before, but he’s now a sociable seven-year-old who loves his friends and family, even when there are no toys at stake. 
Dr Luke Beardon, writing a piece for my book, explains his views on a diagnosis: ‘My belief is that being autistic is, simply, being autistic. It is not a curse, blessing, miracle, personality decider, predictor of the future, disability, impairment, disorder, nor indicator of savant ability. It can be an extremely powerful and important identification in terms of understanding of self, others’ understanding of the autistic person, and a huge help in explaining what various support mechanisms might be useful (and which are not).’ 
If I were in a position to advise paediatricians on what to say when it comes to telling parents their kids are autistic, I would suggest they tell them that a diagnosis doesn’t mean you won’t be close to your child; if anything, it probably means you will be extra-close. It doesn’t mean they won’t have friends. It doesn’t mean they won’t have a job and live a fulfilling life. It doesn’t mean they won’t be happy. Not all of these things will happen organically, which is where you come in – the parents, grandparents, family, friends and carers who love the little person lining up toys in neat colour-coded rows. There will be challenges, naturally, but most will have less to do with your autistic child than with the structures, society and world around them.' 

Autism: How To Raise a Happy Autistic Child by Jessie Hewitson is published by Orion Spring in trade paperback, out now at http://bit.ly/AutismJH 






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