I have recently come upon two books that I think are important books for those of us with “quirky” kids to read. This is the first of my reviews—the second will be about The Explosive Child, which I’m still digesting! If the topics of these books speak at all to your child’s quirkiness, I highly recommend them.
Children with High-Functioning Autism
In general, I don’t expect that books on autism will give me much insight into my parenting challenges. I regularly speak to parents with kids who have profound disabilities and feel like I’m whining about the comparatively small problems we face. I’m in awe of parents who face all the difficulties of raising children who may never be able to live independently.
I was intrigued by the title of this book, however, because I often have conversations with parents who have chosen not to pursue diagnosis for one reason or another. These conversations drift into the subject of how various of our kids, spouses, and even ourselves could probably be placed on the high end of the autism spectrum. Lots of the kids who fit into the scope of this book aren’t diagnosed, for a variety of reasons. But the parents of those kids will find interesting and thought-provoking information in its pages.
Hughes-Lynch is neither a medical professional nor simply a parent. She was a teacher in special education and gifted education before her children were diagnosed. This gives her a particular point of view that I think is novel: she writes both as a parent, frantic for information and insight, and as a professional who is now seeing her profession from the other side.
There are large sections of these books that won’t apply to many families directly, such as navigating the public school IEP and 504 plan system. But on the whole I found the author’s approach a novel and helpful one. She dissects the job of parenting a quirky child – in her case, one diagnosed autistic but also gifted, another diagnosed PDD-NOS – and separates out the various issues that parents will face. But on top of that, she follows up with knowledge and insights gained from her professional life. The result is a very balanced book, with both the mother’s passion and willingness to try everything, as well as the professional’s insistence on standards and data.
It’s a welcome book that recognises the difficulty of calling a high-functioning child “autistic”.
“Despite the warning signs of autism, there often are signs of significant strengths that can signal high-functioning autism. “Experts” can watch children and say, “Nope, I don’t see autism” because the child is making eye contact, or is listening to you, or is engaging in imaginative play, or is talking—behaviors that often are not found in children with more traditional autism. These are the challenges that families face: there is “something,” but what? Giftedness? Autism? Anxiety? Asperger’s syndrome? These children often defy easy classification and are ultimately amalgams of many different, overlapping issues.”
Her insights about how autistic kids’ reactions are different from the norm offer parents a way to classify their children’s behaviors and weigh them against other high-functioning children’s behaviors:
“When autism has hijacked their reactions, children appear unable to control anything, and when they are momentarily in charge of their autism, they can be “too good.” There often is very little middle ground.”
The book is a goldmine about everything from support to therapy, with lots of pointers to research and other books. The one drawback of the book is that she cites lots of research that has become dated, given how quickly autism research is moving. So readers should check data that she cites before believing that they are still current.
Otherwise, I think book helps out in a couple of grey areas: Not for parents of profoundly autistic kids, it focuses on the unique concerns of children who may even be gifted learners and are more likely to be able to “graduate” from their autism into an independent adult life. Also, this is neither the story of a parent’s journey through autism nor a book written by a clinician – it spans both genres in a helpful and insightful way.