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Review: A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Autism

  • Posted on July 18, 2012 at 4:19 PM

I received an unexpected package a while back.  One day I went into class and a box was waiting for me, care of my graduate school advisor.  Inside were two books and a card.  Apparently, my advisor had talked with a former student and I came up in the conversation.  The former student, who is also the mother of a child with autism, sent me two collections in which her writing on her experiences raising a child with autism had appeared.

A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Autism, edited by Colleen Sell, and published in 2007, was one of the two books.  Mostly, the writer was trying to make a connection—and she succeeded.  I’m reviewing the book because it’s just part of what I do.

First, though, I must caution my readers.  I don’t review a whole lot of memoirs and have yet to review an essay collection on this site, mostly because I avoid them.  Early on in this beautiful mess, I received (and purchased) many memoirs.  Most of the stories were dark, degrading, desperate attempts to find a cure for their child’s autism—some even claiming to have succeeded.  I got jaded on memoirs like that pretty fast.

So, when making any kind of recommendation, especially when a book promises “Stories of Hope and Everyday Success,” part of what I’m looking for is a break from this effort to capitalize on the darkest possible view of autism.  I strongly prefer books that challenge the preconceived notion that autism is some horrible thing that is done to unwitting families—a malignant force.  In my experience, prejudice and stigma is the much stronger, much more pervasive malignant force.

I started with the writer’s story, of course, and responded to her.  (You can find Leaving Literalville on page 176, and it’s a very good essay, highly recommended.)  I have since gone back and read the whole thing.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the promise of this book was fulfilled.  Most of the stories were written by parents who had come to see the value and worth of their children, and had either always cherished them just as they were or had come to do so.  Of course, there were a painful few who boldly claimed they still needed to cure their children—and that seems to rather discredit their claims of acceptance and value, but, then again, it’s impossible to know whether these parents have thought about what that cure might cost their child.

What should a reader get from such a book?  Tears, smiles, laughter, joy, a sense of renewed hope and a feeling that accomplishments are possible.  Yup—it’s all there.  Most of the stories were fresh and compelling.  A few dragged.  A few seemed like the writers’ were trying to force what they really wanted to write about within the confines of the anthology’s objective.  But, mostly, I would say the book was a success.  A few stories surprised me.  Others made me wonder.  Overall, I found most of them familiar and uplifting—or at least not depressing.

One of the things I really and truly love about this piece, however, is the wide selection of points of view represented.  It seems most of us gravitate towards those we agree with, and there are some pretty compelling reasons for that, but in order to grow we need to be challenged.  We need to look at things through different eyes, at least for a while.  That, of course, doesn’t mean we don’t have to like what we see.  We don’t have to get comfortable in that point of view.  But the people we disagree with deserve to be heard, too, and maybe if we all did more listening (or, in this case, reading) we’d be able to work together much, much better.  Imagine what we could accomplish then!

Katara & Holly

  • Posted on October 2, 2010 at 3:11 AM

Sometimes, when life gets difficult it takes focusing on the simplest pleasures to help you take a step back and see progress.  Really, think about that word for a moment.  Progress.  We live our lives moment to moment, day by day.  Yet, our dreams often involve transformative shifts.  We want the big changes.  But it’s the small, incremental changes that get us there.

Once, what seems a long time ago, I sat in a sterile room, holding my writhing child in my arms.  I was physically and emotionally and mentally exhausted; and, had I only known then, he was over-stimulated and unable to cope with all the new things, all the people, and all the ridiculous demands those new people placed on him.  After it was all over, the doctor sat across from me, assaulting me with his words.  He told me many things that day.  One of those things was that my son—the child writhing in my arms—would never practice pretend play.  He also told me that I should institutionalize my son.

The child from that memory has undergone some of those transformative shifts we so often long for.  He’s now a talkative, happy little boy who seems to be doing quite well in middle school.

He also has a helluva imagination!

Never practice pretend play?  Well, he leapt over that hurdle with Thomas the Train.  But, now as things seem rather difficult, I go back to that accomplishment. 

Today (though, not for the first time), Willy introduced us to his sisters.  You see, apparently I gave birth to two young girls that I have never met and cannot see.  Katara was my first child, according to Willy, and is now fifteen years old (which means I was fifteen when I had her).  She’s also a star on Avatar: the Last Airbender.  Holly is fourteen.  She is a star on Monster Rancher, the anime show.  (Yes, apparently, I am able to bear cartoon characters as well as live, flesh-and-blood children.)

These two young girls are my son’s sisters and they play with him regularly.  They’re never mean to him the way his older brother can sometimes be and they never think he’s doing the wrong thing.  In fact, Katara was quite helpful today as Willy rowed his canoe across a lake, because Willy was terrified they’d go too far, but Katara wasn’t scared a bit.

Imaginary friends are simple pleasures that some would claim are denied to autistics because of their inability to exercise their imagination—or their entire lack of imagination.  I know now that’s just rubbish.  But it’s nice to have such a bright, spirited little boy who’s always willing to give me a reminder when I need a lift.

Those big transformative shifts do come.  In a way, they’re kind of like imaginary friends—you can’t see them if you look at them straight on.  But if you step back and open yourself to the possibilities, then you just might find they were there all along.