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Uniquely Normal Review by Sheila Quach

Tapping the Reservoir of Normalcy to Treat Autism
Robert J. Bernstein with Robin Cantor-Cooke
Foreward by Dr. Temple Grandin
Future Horizons, Inc.
721 West Abram Street
Arlington, TX 76013

My son was diagnosed with Autism when he was four.  Up until that point we were hanging on by a thread and a prayer.  I thought once I got a diagnosis life would be different, maybe even easier.  Boy was I wrong, if anything I was even more in the dark.  I found myself in one of two categories I usually see in ASD parents.  You have the highly involved, community seekers.  They research everything twice and have more appointments to doctors and specialist then one can imagine.  And then you have my group of people that say I can do this on my own.  We rally a very tiny team and hunker down in our bubble praying.  If I could do it all again, would I do it differently?  Yes, I think now I see a middle ground between the two groups that would have greatly benefited us both.  Now my boy is eleven and every single day is a struggle and when I go to bed at night I wonder if I can do it one more day. 

Recently I added a fantastic book to my ASD arsenal called Uniquely Normal by Robert J. Bernstein.  The title caught my eye, but the tag line snatched my heart.  It reads Tapping the Reservoir of Normalcy to Treat Autism.  Not to mention that the Foreword was written by Dr. Temple Grandin, my secret Superhero.  As soon as it came in I grabbed my highlighter and locked myself in my bedroom until it was so late I couldn’t read without a light and I had to make dinner.

I was given a wide awakening just reading the introduction.  As the author explained his childhood growing up with a not so typical brother I saw very clearly the relationship my daughter has with my son.  To be truthful I cried as the stories and examples he shared were so similar to what I know she goes through every single day, we all do.  He went on to other stories of clients and once again I could relate to all if not most of it.  He wrote, “I will help you to not only look at what your ASD son is doing, but to see the possible logic from which it springs”.  Well sign me up, just reading to the end of the introduction and I already felt hope.  Another thing that was a comfort was really learning that there is a reason behind some of the tics, the fidgets and the noises my son partakes in daily.  It’s so he can relieve stress, to get in touch with his physical side and body awareness when he feels overwhelmed.  In talking to my son about this he explained to me that it feels like his body may float away or vanish.  So, he’s grounding himself in a way.

I could go on and on because this book has changed the way I live with my son, not just parent him, but actually the way I live with him.  There is so much I learned regarding seeking out the normal or typical behaviors he does poses.  I have always spoke normal to him, but I didn’t expect normal behavior in return.  I do now, I have learned how by just changing my timing or my chosen words I can get a different more typical response.  And it wasn’t really about changing my son but changing the way I was interacting with him.  I also came to terms that I am an overprotective parent, like crazy time.  I used to drive for an hour to different parks until we found one that was totally empty.  Because he will not go to one unless there are no kids present.  I thought I was protecting him in a good way, hmmm not so much.  And this is just the very tip of a huge iceberg I have climbed while reading this book.  And now I’m reading it again, but this time with my husband.  And there are new gems I didn’t read the first time around so I’m still highlighting strong.

How this book is set up I believe is part of the magic.  I don’t know about you, but I was wanting to target the areas that we were dealing with right now at his current age.  Most books I have read give an overall blanket for the childhood years.  But, this book is divided up by ages and stages.  You have the early childhood (2-5), childhood (6-10), early adolescence (11-14), adolescence (15-18) and young adulthood and beyond (19andup).  In each section there are several client stories that are organized by age along with a few descriptive words to describe their ASD.  This was supper helpful, I did at first skip to the early adolescence section, but then I ended up perusing the two sections before because I could relate.  With each client’s story you get a little back history and usually how Mr. Bernstein became involved with the client and family.  I could relate while reading what the family or sometimes teachers were trying to do with the child on the Spectrum.  I could relate to their desperation, fears and at the point of giving up.  It was always so amazing to read how Mr. Bernstein inserted himself in the client’s routine.   A huge change was allowing the child a bit more control and I think that is something us parents are afraid to do with our ASD kiddos.  But, as I’m reading how he implements key principles that allows him to see the world from the client’s perspective I find myself having to reread because I’m mesmerized at the simplicity of the process.  The process is simple, it’s the actual consistency of doing the process that’s hard.  At the end of each client’s story you will find things to work on and think about section.  The advice and strategies always play off of what you just witnessed and read.  I mean just reading those alone probably could have shaved a year off of my own therapy needs.

If you have a loved one with Autism you need this book, I have told several people already and I would like a few extra copies of my own to hand out.  Within these client cases it reaffirms that I’m one of many exhausted, sometimes desperate parents.  But, I’m quickly assured that I can implement these principles and see results.  We can have some form of normalcy in our home and I have felt a renewed sense of hope and determination since reading this book.  This book should be given at every single diagnosis appointment.  It should be in classrooms, daycare centers, foster parents, really anyone that comes in contact regularly with a person on the Spectrum.  I encourage you to also seek out your own copy, you will not be disappointed, just empowered. 

-Product review by Sheila Quach, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, March, 2018