First of all congratulations on writing “Our Wild Card,” about your family’s autism journey…Have you ever written an article or book before and how was the experience of writing it?
I consider “Our Wild Card” to be my first real writing experience but, if I am being technical about it, the local paper did publish something I had written when I was a child. As for writing “Our Wild Card” I found the experience to be therapeutic. Writing about our family helped me to relive the experiences and gain new perspective.
In your overview of the book, you share that you wanted to write the book to comfort those with similar “roller coaster” struggles you’ve experienced since your son’s autism diagnosis…Can you share one of your “ups”?
When you have a child with delays, it is normal to begin wondering if they will ever hit the milestones of a typically developing child. Every accomplishment is a huge success and provides a temporary high. Most recently Travis has become obsessed with the Lego Batman videogame. He can start the game, adjust the settings, and play the game independently. Considering he has poor fine motor skills and has difficulty reading, learning to work the controller and understanding how to setup the game has been a huge “up”.
How about one of your “downs?”
Travis has elopement issues which means he will wander away. He was always a runner and gave no thought to his personal safety. He would run in front of cars and has even run into an unknown neighbors’ house. One day, when I was taking our youngest child out of the car, Travis ran off. There was a park nearby that I assumed Travis had run to but, when we got there he was nowhere in sight. Travis was not very verbal so I knew he would not be able to ask for help. I also feared he would not be able to find his way back. I had to call 9-1-1. Travis was gone almost an hour before he was found. It was one of the worst hours of my life.
Your son was diagnosed when he was 3. How old is he now and how is he doing?
Travis is now 7. “Our Wild Card” covers his life from birth until just before his 7th birthday.
Travis is doing well. He still attends speech and occupational therapy but has graduated from physical therapy and attends an adapted physical education class. He is in special education classes and will be starting a new school this fall when he enters the 2nd grade.
How are your other two sons and their relationship with their brother?
Austin, our oldest, is almost two years older than Travis but there is a world of difference between their interests and abilities. Dylan, our youngest, and Travis look up to their older brother and seem to idolize him. Austin, when not annoyed by his little brothers, tends to find them amusing.
Dylan, age 4, says that Travis is his best friend. They enjoy a lot of the same things and can play well together. Although Travis is three years older, developmentally they are very similar. Dylan’s fine and gross motor skills are superior to Travis. Their relationship is very interesting to watch.
What overall message would you like to give to parents whose children have just gotten an autism spectrum diagnosis?
This is the same child you loved prior to the diagnosis and the diagnosis itself does not change anything. It only allows you to better know what you are dealing with. The struggles and accomplishments that you have had and will continue to have will not likely be understood by most people, even people you have related to most of your life. The best advice I can give is to find a good support group and surround yourself with people who can relate. Parents who have had similar experiences can provide the most helpful suggestions and will understand why you are celebrating your newly found therapist or your child’s first lie.
Is there any advice for the extended family—grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins—as to how to best offer their support?
Listen and learn but try not to offer unsolicited advice. The most well-intentioned advice may be resented since the parents have spent hundreds of hours thinking of the solutions you are now offering. The majority of parents are doing their best and know more about the situation than you do. Parents tend to focus a vast majority of their time and energy on their special needs children. If you want to support the parents, do not cause them any extra stress. Listen to what they have to say, try to do what they ask of you, and offer to babysit so they can occasionally get a break from the constant strain of caring for a special needs child.
Finally, what would you like someone to take away from reading “Our Wild Card?”
I want parents of special needs children to realize that they are not alone. Other people have experienced or are experiencing similar situations. No matter how dark of a place you may find yourself, there are people who are willing to help but you have to know where to look. Sometimes you just have to find the right person to ask.
I want caretakers, therapists, teachers, doctors, and other professionals to understand real life experiences and how they affect people on a personal level. Their book knowledge is helpful but they need to understand more than just the mechanics of autism. They need to understand that these are real people with real stories.
Lastly, I would like people who are not around special needs children on a regular basis to be less judgmental. I want them to know that just because a child does not speak does not mean that child does not understand or learn. I want them to realize that because someone is unable to show affection does not mean that they cannot love. I want them to understand that just because a person does not behave the way society says they should does not make them lesser of a person. I want them to become aware that by shooting dirty looks and making snide comments, they are making an already bad situation much worse.
Thank you for taking the time to interview me. I appreciate you providing me an opportunity to talk about my book. Perhaps together we can help raise autism awareness.