Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Book Review: A Regular Guy, Growing Up with Autism

Laura Shumaker, an autism advocate and columnist for the San Francisco Gate, home of the San Francisco Chronicle, has written a wonderful book about raising her son Mathew. called A Regular Guy, Growing Up with Autism. Honestly I was not quite sure what to expect when I opened the book cover, but after the first page I was already reaching for a box of tissues. It was not that the book is sad, or melancholy, quite the opposite really. I actually found the book rather upbeat about the future and what possibilities lay ahead.

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What the book happens to be, and I think why it struck a chord,  is the it holds within its pages the truth of our lives. Her book begins with Mathew's birth. I remember the same exact feelings when I held CM1 for the first time. I recalled the hopes, joys and bargains you were willing to make with God inorder to ensure that this new, beautiful human being would never ever have one day of sorrow. I remembered all the plans for the future we came up with for our child and the dreams I would have at night. I like Laura also remember the exact moment when I stopped dreaming, I can honestly say, I still don't dream about the boys future. But what I, like Laura Shumaker, do is deal with reality and push forward. Forever pushing forward.

Like Laura, I can remember when the pediatricians told me not to worry about the boys' inadequate social interactions or lack of speech at the age of two. I remember all the excuses and all the issues that we saw but noone else seemed to want to accept, even the doctors. I can recall every conversation I have ever had about the boys with doctors, therapists and teachers, just like Laura can, only she is brave enough to share them with everyone on a truly personal level.

There is one experience early on that created an even greater kinship with Laura. One particular scene at gymboree when Mathew was about one-year-old played out for me...Laura relates how when the other children were playing, Mathew concentrated on the wheels of a toy. The other mothers thought that that was so cute..."He's going to be an engineer," one said. At my gymboree class with CM1, when he was 18-months old, the other mothers would say that my son "marched to the beat of his own drummer..."

Next follows tales of school, society and acceptance or not. Neighborhood and childhood realities. Issues, problems and resolutions. It is uncanny how every story in this book brought back a flood of memories. It is as if she had joined my family as a specter and was using my life as fodder for a novel.

She then goes on to tell us stories about those "teen" years. Some of Mathew's rebellion and his desire to be a "regular guy." Laura talks about how Mathew dealt with his issues and his desires. She details how the family helped and stayed together to ensure that they above everything else remained a family. A family filled with empathy, compassion and acceptance. It is nice to see at the end of the book, but no way the end of the story, that the entire Shumaker family is in a good place. That everyone is finding their niche in life, including Mathew.

Through countless stories, anecdotes and remembrances, Laura Shumaker brings us into the world of raising an autistic son. She regales us with the issues yes, but what she also does is tell us the solutions. She provides us with an outlet to know the world in which we live and to see ourselves and our lives played out. But most of all I think what Laura leaves us with is a story of hope, courage and above all an amazing amount of love.

I highly recommend this book. Through stories of her own experience you can learn  productive, well thought out ways to solve issues you may face with your child. Solutions, quite frankly that alot of experts do not tell you about. The practical side of parenting an autistic child.  Another truly important reason to buy this book, is to see yourself and your child's story in print. Oh we can always talk a good game about how we are a community and understand what each other is going through but there is always that little question, well does everyone truly experience  xyz in this particular way. Through this book you will find out that the answer is a resounding "yes" and we really are a community and we are not alone.

Until next time,