Derek Volk’s oldest child−his only son− was two-years-old when his wife suggested, “Something is not quite right with Dylan.” They struggled for the next several years as they were bounced from one “expert” to another, each offering a unique perspective on Dylan’s challenging behaviors. Finally, at eight-years-old, Dylan was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and the Volk family was able to start making sense of Dylan’s differences.
In Chasing the Rabbit: A Dad’s Life Raising a Son on the Spectrum, Derek Volk shares his experiences raising a son on the Autism spectrum. Both Dylan and Derek write about the challenges, triumphs and coping strategies from the early days to the adolescent years to life in the “real world” as a young adult. This book showcases the unique relationship between a father and his son who has spent his entire life chasing the rabbit.
What inspired you to write Chasing the Rabbit?
I actually had planned to write a business book. As I sat there staring at blank monitor I heard a voice as clear as can be, which I believe was God, say to me, “That is not the book you are supposed to write. You should be writing a book about Dylan.” I immediately started typing and 126,000 words later I have Chasing the Rabbit. I have been overwhelmed and extremely touched by the responses I have received from people who have read our book. It is giving people, especially parents struggling with a child on the spectrum or with a disability, the feeling that they are not alone in their path and that there is hope for their child. I also have been amazed how many people who do not have a child with challenges are telling me how the book impacted them. I hope, after reading our book, people who see a mom or dad dealing with a kid who seems to be the result of poor parenting will think twice before judging them. I guarantee you there were many people over the years who looked at Amy and me that exact way. I know the look. I really think our family went through all we have experienced because this book was meant to be written. I can’t wait to hear from more people who read it.
What does the title “Chasing the Rabbit” mean?
I have always used the analogy with Dylan that he is like a greyhound dog and the rabbit is normal. He can see it, he knows what it looks like, but no matter how hard he runs he can never quite catch it. It is a very frustrating way to live. To watch your child have something he wants so badly always be just out of reach is heartbreaking to witness. Dylan will run to the point of exhaustion to catch that rabbit, but he never does.
Your book starts at the beginning of Dylan’s life to him into his early years of adulthood. Can you summarize what you cover during…
The Early Years
The early years of Dylan’s life were focused on a young couple trying to figure out why their little boy is so different from the other kids. There was a six year gap between when the day Amy recognized that Dylan was not like the other boys his age until we received the correct diagnosis, Asperger’s. In that six year time frame we received diagnosis after diagnosis always sending us down the wrong path.
The Middle School years were very difficult. We had a diagnosis but that did not really give us the solutions to many of Dylan’s behaviors. It was during his Middle School years that the meltdowns reached new levels because Dylan became bigger and stronger than his mother. As we all know, Middle School is an emotional time for neurotypical kids. For a child who has autism and is constantly chasing the rabbit, it is simply awful.
Dylan’s high school years were full of wild rides and changing paradigms about what life was like raising a son on the spectrum. When he was a sophomore and became vocally suicidal we knew that drastic steps had to be taken. We enrolled Dylan in a boarding school, which he was then kicked out of, and then to another boarding school in North Carolina. Never did we imagine when our baby boy was born that we would send him away to save him. The high school years, fraught with more high stakes chasing of the rabbit, led us to very difficult decisions.
Dylan’s first couple of years in adulthood, starting at his high school graduation, created all new challenges for us. He was not prepared to go into college but he was also not at all prepared to enter the workforce. He graduated high school, barely, with no marketable or tangible skills that would allow him to earn a living. After a failed attempt at college he would sink to depths that even we had not yet experienced. Again, dramatic decisions were required but they were anything but easy.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the book being used?
I believe this book is the reason we went through everything we experienced. God is using Dylan and me, through Chasing the Rabbit, to positively impact the lives of people walking a similar journey as well as those who have no understanding what life is like for a family dealing with autism. I also hope our book is an eye opening look inside the walls of a home for educators, counselors and other professionals working with families living a life with autism. How do I see this book being used? I hope it is used to comfort, education, inform and bring awareness. Jackie Robinson said, “A life is not important except for the impact it has on others.” I want this book to impact lives for good.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the book?
I want people to know that they are not alone when they feel like no one could possibly understand what they are going through with their child who “isn’t quite right.” I want people to have hope that there are better days ahead if you never give up. And that Jeremiah 29:11 is true. God has a plan and it is for you to prosper and not to harm you, for you to have hope and a future.
And for people who do not have a loved one on the spectrum, I want them to realize that the ‘weird’ guy at work or that odd girl in your class may have more going on than just being different. And I bet you know that kid who is obsessed with dinosaurs or that co-worker who just wants to talk about astronomy would love it if you gave them a friendly smile and asked them some questions about their favorite topic.
Lastly, Dylan has had 30 jobs. So to all bosses or managers, if you employ someone you suspect is on the spectrum, and you probably have someone who is or you will soon, give them very clear instructions, don’t expect them to read between the lines (because they can’t) and maybe just sit down and ask them how you can help them be successful. The unemployment rate among people with autism is over 80%. They want to work. Let’s all do our part to help them.
Do you have a proud moment, inspirational story, or moving fan feedback you’d like to share?
I write in my book, and I talk about at our lectures, the fact that for many years I was angry at Dylan. I was angry at Dylan for being Dylan. I was pissed at him for creating chaos in our home, making any family activity a challenge, monopolizing most of my time and energy as a dad of four, causing stress in our wonderful marriage and, frankly, often cramping my sex life. This is an honest dad’s perspective and that is something a dad gets frustrated about. I advise dads that they have to “mourn the son they thought they were going to have so they can love the one God gave them.” I was overwhelmed one day when a dad of a 9 year old on the spectrum, with tears rolling down his cheeks, came up to me and said, “I am so mad at my son but I didn’t even realize that was my real emotion until you put words to it. Thank you! Thank you for helping me begin to accept my son for who he is.”
If our readers leave with only one message after reading this interview, what would you like it to be?
Raising a child on the autism spectrum is hard. There is no watering that down and it doesn’t help anyone to pretend it isn’t hard. But you are not alone on your journey. Learn from others who have walked the walk.
Find more information on:
- Chasing the Rabbit website
- Derek Volk on Linked In
- Chasing the Rabbit on Facebook
- Buy the book on Amazon
Images courtesy of Derek Volk