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My Child Has Autism: What Parents Need to Know Review by Donna Campos

Clarissa Willis, Ph.D.
Gryphon House, Inc.
Beltsville, MD 20704
PO Box 207

My Child Has Autism: What Parents Need to Know is a glossy, soft-cover book of 160 pages. It includes an introduction of 2 pages, 8 chapters, References and Resources, and an Index. A few helpful pictures and charts are included, particularly in the grayscale pages of strategies following the chapters. The author has 30 years of experience as a teacher, speech pathologist, early interventionist, and consultant with children with autism and their families. The book is written as informative reading for parents of children with autism and is not specific to homeschoolers. In fact, references made regarding teaching include a general mindset toward the public school system. Terms are defined in simple terms within the text and again at the end of each chapter. Autism Spectrum Disorders are divided into Autism, PDD-NOS, Asperger's Syndrome, Rett's Syndrome, and Childhood Disintegrative Disorder. The author states that experts agree on two things: there is no cure for autism and there is no plan or program that will eliminate all characteristics of autism. Informative pages at the end of each chapter provide tips and strategies pertinent to the information presented in the chapter. Although the book is not written for homeschooling, many ideas and strategies could be useful in the homeschool setting.

There is much to rave about in My Child Has Autism, as the sections of additional information and "Key Terms" provide helpful explanations. The discussion of self-injurious behavior, rituals, tantrums, and aggression--followed by ideas on how to respond to these challenging behaviors--is particularly helpful. Many of the examples, tips, and strategies will be helpful in homeschools. For instance, using a bell or similar method to allow your child to choose to stop an activity when he can't handle it any more enables him to control his workload according to his tolerance level. (Of course, only specific activities would require this kind of intervention, and the author suggests the bell be put away after the task or activity is completed. I would also note that some children will be more upset than helped by the harsh sound of a bell, so you might choose an alternative depending on the needs of your individual child.) The author includes a good explanation of non-functional communication and how it can actually be functional at times. She explains echolalia thoroughly and encourages readers to work with a trained speech pathologist. The goal is for your child to get beyond communicating just for the sake of communicating but rather for self-expression. The book approaches whether or not you should use an alternative form of communication--something that was a difficult decision for us when our son was nonverbal. The author discusses the basics of sign language as well as PECS (Picture Exchange Communication system) and electronic communication devices. Very informative pages of ideas and strategies to help you teach your child how to communicate are included. Six specific ideas are provided, and many are similar to game-like activities to be implemented throughout the day, which is ideal in a homeschool environment. The strategy pages are grayscale and easy to find as you flip through the book.

The chapter on sensory integration and autism explains the vestibular and proprioceptive senses in layman's terms with a good explanation that these senses allow your child "to move with purpose." Thus, children with sensory integration disorders struggle to move with purpose. The included chart of examples of oversensitivity and under-sensitivity is very informative, particularly for families with a recent diagnosis. Simple instructions for a making your own weighted vest, therapy blanket, fidget toy, and cocoon will help readers save money, as these tools can be expensive to purchase.

There is much discussion of how to teach self-help skills, and the author encourages parents to partner with their child's school. As a homeschooler, I was pleased to see the book stressing the importance of parents in reinforcing self-help skills--homeschooling is great in that regard. She includes an excellent example of the process of teaching a new self-help skill (brushing teeth). Additional strategies are provided for such things as bathroom hygiene, mealtime, name and address memorization, and crossing the street.

The final chapter is on play, which is very important. Some of our best therapy for our son was during play sessions actively involving his older sisters. And today he continues play therapy with his younger brothers, completely unaware of the task as therapy. I will say the final chapters are a bit shorter, providing a broad overview for a range of issues, such as heading off to school, eating in restaurants, using scripts to learn social skills, using the telephone, and more. Again, tips and strategies are included.

From the start, the author attributes her son's existence to nature: "When Nathan was created, there was a microscopic change, which occurred randomly in nature." She makes no mention of God or an inkling of possibility that our children are created exactly as they are with a purpose. I was left wanting a connection to God as creator. (She does state that autism is a way of being, which I found to be a nice way to define it, and we liked the idea of putting the child first: "Your child is a child with autism, not an autistic child." I had never thought about it in those terms before.) The lack of any reference to homeschooling as a viable alternative to public school also left a great hole in the book, particularly as more and more evidence is surfacing that homeschooling is a positive option for many children with special needs. I review quite a bit of material and can be quite picky at times, but usually I will do my best to overlook a few typos or grammatical errors; I know full well my own writing has them. Unfortunately, the second page of the first chapter of this book has a glaring error I could not overlook. When defining autism according to the DSM-IV-TR, the book mistakenly uses the word "typical" rather than "atypical," which certainly changes the meaning of the definition. This was a considerable error in my opinion for two reasons. First, no typo is ever a good one, particularly in the first pages of the book. Second, the author was quoting a noted authority and therefore quoted incorrectly. The subsequent discussion reveals an accurate understanding of the definition of autism, so the typo was obviously just an inadvertent error. Regardless, it left me being wary of all the text that followed.

I appreciate the work that went into My Child Has Autism: What Parents Need to Know. When our son was first diagnosed, the Internet and local library became a lifeline of information, much of which is addressed in this book. The author stresses that only you truly know your child, and not all strategies are appropriate as written for all children with autism. The information is good, and the strategies provide wonderful insight into the various therapies and options for our children. I probably would not purchase this book today, as the majority of the information is knowledge we have gained over the years as we've walked this journey. That said, if I had picked up this book in the weeks following diagnosis, it would have helped us tremendously. It is a fairly quick read that is broken into manageable chapters, which is helpful for those who need to "capture" reading moments wherever they can. My Child Has Autism provides excellent information on a variety of topics relating to autism, but be aware that the information lacks reference to homeschooling as a successful means of education.

Product review by Donna Campos, Senior Product Reviewer, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, December 2009