My new book,* Parenting Your Child with Autism, is, in many ways, the book I wish I’d received all those years ago when my oldest son was first diagnosed. In the ten years since then, I’ve come to realize that my MIT training in science and management can help parents of children with autism. My co-author, Dr. Blaise Aguirre, and I packed this book with information and advice that we think will help parents choose the right treatments, educational approaches, and developmental goals for their child.
Let’s not sugarcoat this: parenting a child with autism will never be easy. Even with our book in hand, parents will still struggle with making tough choices amid incomplete information, limited funds and time to try new and different things, and not enough sleep.
My hope, though, is that my book arms parents with practical information that will help them make better parenting decisions about their child’s classroom placement or medical treatment. We’ve also included some advice on handling stress, navigating options, and gathering data, three areas of need for many parents of children with autism.
This is the first book I’ve ever written, and I have high aspirations for it. Beyond helping parents deal with the challenges of raising a child with special needs, I’d also like to help build a larger conversation among families, caregivers, therapists, specialists, people with autism, and other members of the community around neurological differences and disabilities.
Here is one small example of this: I am constantly trying to find new ways to help my oldest son, who is now 13, understand how the world works. Often I enlist the help of others: doctors, teachers, therapists, and sometimes even perfect strangers. One thing I’ve tried to teach him recently is how you pay for things you buy in the grocery store. To do this, I created a photo-story about how grocery shopping works. My son, like a lot of children with autism, tends to interact better with objects than people, so our homemade books are a good option for him.
To make the photo book, I went to the Trader Joe’s near where we live and took pictures throughout the store to illustrate how the food shopping process works. When I explained to the store’s managers and clerks and even other shoppers what I was doing, they were helpful and understanding, and happily posed for the camera. In my book, I have pictures of shoppers waiting in line to pay, cashiers checking them out, and baggers bagging up food. The resulting story was a good learning tool for my son, but equally important, it created a great opportunity to talk with other people in my community about my son’s disability.
It may sound grand, but I hope that my parenting book pushes the world toward greater acceptance of people with neurological differences. It’s no longer acceptable to discriminate against others because of how they look. Yet somehow it’s still okay to discriminate against people with neurological impairments? I’ve been scolded by strangers who’ve told me to control my child, and I’ve also felt the sting of embarrassment when my son has done something weird in public. Sure, on one level I understand it. A teenager muttering to himself at Starbucks might seem like someone to avoid. It’s unnerving to see an elementary school-aged girl intensely pacing in the movie theater lobby while everyone else is enjoying the show. But I urge you to remember: those people are somebody’s children. They are loved.
It behooves us all to build a society that kind, helpful, and understanding—and maybe is willing to pretend that some of these things are really not so weird after all. Small acts can make the world a better place for all our children.
Parenting Your Child with Autism: Solutions, Strategies, and Advice for Helping Your Family by M. Anjali Sastry and Blaise Aguirre (New Harbinger Press, May 2012)
Anjali Sastry is a senior lecturer in system dynamics at MIT Sloan School of Management
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