Understanding Autism for Dummies by Stephen Shore and Linda Rastelli, 2006.

     I came across this book about a year after my son was diagnosed with autism and what drew me to the book  was the fact that one of its authors, Stephen Shore, is a college professor that has autism.   This man has first hand knowledge on what it is like to be an autistic individual.  One of the best resources we have on the difficulties associated with autism is to listen to the people who have it or have overcome it.  Another  major plus is the  positive endorsement  of this book by Temple Grandin,  another college  professor who has autism and has become successful in life.  You may have seen the 2010 HBO  movie based on her life called "Temple Grandin".  Temple Grandin writes in the book's forward section "Like the original DOS for Dummies,  Understanding Autism for Dummies is meant to be a user-friendly manual that cuts through the load of information you find out there and helps you make the decision that's best for you situation"

      This  book is divided into five major sections. 

  • Understanding Autism
  • Addressing Physical Needs
  • Enhancing Learning and Social Skills
  • Living with Autism as an Adult
  • The Part of Tens

     After reading the first section,  you are going to know what autism is , how it is diagnosed, and the signs that you will see with this condition.  You will learn about the autism spectrum and the differences between severe autism and mild autism or high functioning autism such as pdd-nos and aspergers syndrome.  You will become familiar with some of the current theories on what cause autism and how to deal with the impact of the diagnosis.

 Section  2    Addressing the Physical Needs will teach you about  the antidepressant, and antipsychotic medication used for behavior issues.  You will learn about maximizing immunity and the various supplements ( vitamins, minerals, probiotics, protein, fatty acids, etc) that can help achieve this. You will learn   about lead and mercury toxicity and what can be done about it.  Learning to optimize nutrition  and what special diets can be used ,   finishes out this section.

Section 3:  Enhancing Learning and Social Skills:    There are a lot of educational and behavioral interventions that can be helpful to an autistic child.  The trick is figuring out which therapies will benefit your child the most.  This section will introduce you to the various therapies available and the key highlights of each.    You will also learn about the unique challenges  that need to be addressed when trying to figure out what classroom setting might be best for your child.   Many autistic children have sensory processing deficits as well as the inability to talk.  These can be detrimental to learning in certain classroom settings. What characteristics will you look for  in  your child's teacher and what accommodations are available in the classroom.  Finally you will learn what your child's rights are when it comes to the federal education laws. 

Section 4:  Living with Autism as as Adult:  
     For many autistic young  adults,  transitioning from dependency on one's family and caregivers to  complete independence may be only a dream.  However, certain degrees of independence   can be achieved and that is what this section addresses.   Several key decisions such as pursuing higher education,  living arrangements away from home, and gainful employment need to be considered.  For some autistic individuals, all of these may be possible and unfortunately for others this may not be a reality.  This section also dives into the dating scene and fostering romantic relationships.  The final chapter of this section addresses a very important issue ( Special Needs Planning for the Future).  Parents of autistic individuals are not going to live forever.  What will happen when you die?   Setting up a will,  establishing guardianship,  and setting up a special needs trust are very important things to learn about.

Section 5 is the Part of Tens.  You will be introduced to "Ten Tactful Responses to Challenging Questions or Comments".  What will you say if  you are in public with your autistic child and a total stranger starts mouthing off;  why can't you control your kid or why should your child get special treatment?  The book provides some tips.  You also will learn  Ten things to consider once your child has received a diagnosis.  This is another great introductory book to add to your autism library.

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Proceed to Early Intervention
The book I wished I had read first and the one I recommend for you  is  " Ten Things Every Child With Autism Wishes you Knew" by Ellen Notbohm.  On the book's back cover endorsements,  one reader from Annapolis, Maryland wrote "Fantastic! How clever to take the child's perspective.....I found myself not wanting the list to end."

     Why do I personally feel  this book is so  special?
This  book educates you on  one of the most common behaviors seen with autism ( meltdowns and  tantrums ). Have you  ever seen  severe meltdowns or tantrums in an  autistic child ?  If so,   how did you feel at the time and what did you do to comfort the  child ?  With our son we had several episodes of  meltdowns.  He would randomly just fall down and scream, kick, hit, and bang his head on the ground.  This would occur at home, at church, at the mall, and in the driveway and  it seemed to be a random event.  Watching your child bang their head on the ground and not knowing why and not knowing how to help them creates major stress.  When this occurs in the mall and people comment on your parenting skills and say you should just spank the little brat,  this can create a lot of stress and  anger.  The good news is the  author states  " there are many , many reasons why a child with autism melts down, blows up, loses it, goes crackerdog.  Being bratty, petulant, obstinate, or spoiled is so far down the list of possibilities, that I can't even see it without my binoculars."   If being bratty is not the cause of these meltdowns, then what is ?

     One  such cause is abnormal sensory perceptions.  Chapter  two is titled  My Sensory Perceptions are Disordered .  This was my first introduction into sensory disorders of autistic children.  I learned that their perceptions of the world may be totally different than ours.  Your child might be hypersensitive to sound, light, and odor.    The TV might be at the appropriate level for you but may be intensely painful to your child.  Your perfume  or cologne might be so overwhelming to your child they could get sick.  The lights  in the room might be painful to their eyes. With my son we found out that he was hypersensitive to sound.  Once we  realized this, a lot of his meltdown behaviors made sense, especially the ones in the mall.   We would then go during the less busy times and have him wear headphones that blocked out some of the noise. The author gives a good example of these sensory issues.    " Picture yourself on the world's grooviest roller coaster.  Coney Island and Six flags are great vacation venues, but how long could you do your day job while ensconced on the Cyclone, the Xcelerator, or the Millenium force?  Could you conduct that meeting, teach that class, be charming dinner company, write the report and clean the house while enduring the vertigo, the screams of fellow riders, the g-force of the rushing air, the unexpected drops and abrupt changes of direction, the sensation of hair in your mouth and bugs in your teeth.  It might be fun as an occasional thrill but admit it- you are ready to get off after the three minute ride.  For many children with autism, there is no exit gate, it's a 24/7 affair and it is the very antithesis of thrilling" 

      Other causes of meltdowns are identified in chapter nine titled   Try to identify what triggers my meltdowns.   This concept is  huge because if you can identify the triggers and then avoid  those triggers, you can minimize the meltdowns.  What can be triggers?  According to the author there are four main categories.

  • Sensory Overload-  too much noise,  lights that are too bright, overwhelming odors , clothes that feel rough, etc.
  • Physical Triggers -  Pain from Intestinal tract diseases, poor nutrition, and food allergies to name a few. 
  • Emotional Triggers-  lack of verbal communication that can lead to frustration, and disappointment.
  • Poor examples of parents-  How do you react to these stressful situations? Do you react to meltdowns with anger of your own?

     The other chapters of this book talk about unconditional love,  needing help with social interactions, limited language, thinking in pictures, and interpreting language literally.  To see a complete list of the chapters, click here.  This is a great introductory book to add to you autism library.

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