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Autism Heroes: Portraits of Families Meeting the Challenge Review by Donna Campos

Barbara Firestone, PhD; photography by Joe Buissink
Jessica Kingsley Publishers
400 Market Street, Suite 400
Philadelphia, PA 19106

Autism Heroes is a 218-page hardcover book that provides glimpses into the lives of 38 families with children on the autism spectrum. All book royalties are being donated to The Help Group, an organization that works with children with autism spectrum disorders and their families.  

This book would be good for anyone interested in understanding real-life families who deal with autism on a daily basis. The book is divided into four sections: Dignity, Hope, Opportunity, and Love. Nine or ten families are represented within each section, and the photography provides a well-rounded representation of the many family types, lifestyles, and economic levels affected by the autism spectrum. The book is visually appealing, and it might even offer inspiration for budding photographers who hope to capture a bit of personality from their subjects.  

One of my children is on the autism spectrum. I consider this an ideal book to have on our coffee table, as it dispels some of the misconceptions that people have about children living with autism. Many of these children are affectionate; they do show emotion and joy. "Dignity" is a major concern for most families, and this section discusses such issues as the self-sufficiency of their children as adults, the fear of labels, and how to offer the most opportunities. The section on "Hope" includes a great deal of encouragement, and it discusses the waiting game that results when doctors overlook signs and wait too long to begin life-changing therapies. "Opportunity" calls for parents to be vigilant in searching for and requesting services for their children. Building a network with others who are going through similar circumstances is essential for creating support. And the importance of early intervention is repeatedly stressed, as it can make a huge difference. The writings on "Love" are very heartfelt. Physical expressions of love can be different for families with a child on the spectrum. We can be utterly thrilled when a previously nonverbal child simply says "Mommy" or "Daddy." And we can be brought to tears if and when the child is able to say "I love you."  

Our family would have appreciated more direct information about specific therapies or pointers in working with autistic children, but this book is more of an overview of families rather than a technical manual. The "About The Help Group" page at the end of the book does list the various schools currently within the group. This is not an inexpensive book, but for the opportunity to show guests in our home pictures of other families joyfully interacting with their autistic child, we consider it to be worth the investment.

Although homeschooling is not widely represented in the book, one mother did comment that homeschooling their son for two years gave him a calm, safe place to be all day and is what made the biggest change in him. We have found this true for our family as well; homeschooling has made an incredible difference for our son. Families living with autism spectrum disorders face many challenges most people will never encounter. Autism Heroes is a tremendous resource for those who want to better understand what these families are going through. The fantastic photography and the family profiles give the reader a glimpse of the many faces of autism.

Product review by Donna Campos, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March 2008