I am a writer, activist, and the mother of three boys.
My writing career began in 1997 with my first article, published in Exceptional Parent Magazine, “How to Make Crisis Stories.” Shortly after, I became a columnist at the Brookline Tab, with a bimonthly column called “Schools of Thought,” which later became “Social Studies.” From 2001 to 2006 I served on my town’s board of education. Then came my books, Making Peace with Autism, and The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide. In 2008, I began teaching writing and English at Suffolk University in Boston. A few years later, I published my first novel, Dirt.
My oldest son Nat, 25, was diagnosed with autism at the age of three in January 1993. At the time we were told that autism is incurable and that the right educational approach would make all the difference. I still believe both and as a result we changed Nat’s education programs six times, searching for the best fit. At 11, he found his place at a vocational school. He will probably never go to college or get married but he did have his first playdate when he was 15, he learned how to play on a basketball team when he was 18, and he currently exerts a lot of independence in his own house (with three other similar roommates and staff). He works at a supermarket three days a week, and earns enough to pay for some of his own job coach. He uses Facebook to communicate with friends and family. So I have learned that with autism, never say “never.”
My middle son, Max, 23, is the quintessential “mensch,” Yiddish for “man,” a real human being. Max’s deep compassion is bred in the bone, something he was born with. He has a gift for friendship and making others happy. He has an eye for the way things work and for detail that will help him succeed at anything he chooses. Max studied cinematography at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.
My youngest, Ben, is 17. He is sugar and spike. He is an artist, a person with great passion and huge sense of right and wrong. He struggles with the reasons for his brother’s autism. Right now, it makes no sense to him. But lately he has begun to understand how to have a relationship with him nevertheless. That kid never fails to astound me.
Through my essays, articles, and books, I am trying to make sense of autism and find a way to my oldest son, and help others with this challenge of autism at the same time. This diagnosis does not mean the end of the world, but it is the end of some things. It is also the beginning of a very long road. If you can accept that this person is different, but a person nonetheless, you are halfway there. For the rest of the way, you need a few great friends, a lot of information, and a sense of humor. As Ned Batchelder, my husband of 31 years, says, “Learn to declare victory and get the hell out!” Throw away expectation, and you may be pleasantly surprised.