From my experience as the father of an eight-year-old son diagnosed with PDD-NOS, I’ve found that books on autism fall into three primary categories: 1) clinical treatises which, although academically useful, depersonalize people into case studies and offer little understanding of the complexities related to the condition, 2) books by parents, practitioners, or people with ASD who are passionate in their presentation but sometimes lacking in objectivity and scholarship, and 3) how-to books touting a treatment or viewpoint without a scope of the bigger picture.
Selected in 2005 as the Autism Society of America’s Outstanding Literary Work of the Year, Chantal Sicile-Kira’s book is uniquely successful in navigating the labyrinth of autism using both mind and heart. To read it is to look at possibilities and potential instead of being devastated by the weight of the word “autism.”
Advising parents, she writes, “You are raising a child, not a disability.” And this mantra would be a healthy perspective for the medical and educational community to adopt as well.
As the subtitle states, the book is truly comprehensive with 360 well-crafted and well-researched pages. Her extensive bibliography citing more than 200 sources demonstrates her desire to go far beyond rendering one person’s opinion.
In fact, she augments her manuscript with a generous presentation of essays written by Temple Grandin, Dr. Bernard Rimland, and other individuals who bring their knowledge and experience to the pages.
The book explores suggested causes and contributing factors of autism, its many forms, and its diagnosis as well as the wide range of treatments, therapies, and interventions. She also addresses educational challenges, legal issues, social interaction, and dynamics of family life.
Autism Spectrum Disorders presents many perspectives without elevating or discounting any reasonable ideologies—no small accomplishment when you consider that she addresses sophisticated biomedical approaches such as mercury detoxification as well as such simple helps as play therapy. The result is an unbiased forum for differing viewpoints to be given equal attention so the reader can draw his or her own conclusions. She also speeds the reader’s ability to seek additional information by providing contact information on dozens of books, associations, and vendors, including many website addresses for online research.
Sicile-Kira’s life has uniquely qualified her to present this material. Years before having a son who has a diagnosis of severe autism, she worked professionally serving individuals with developmental differences. She has also worked in television production as a line producer which deftly honed her skills as a researcher and journalist. And as parent of two children, she knows first-hand what living with autism is like. Her explorations of the day-to-day challenges and opportunities demonstrate wisdom derived from real-world experiences.
I appreciated the style with which she approached the material—straightforward yet empathetic, extremely knowledgeable about the most complicated issues (including medical, educational, and legal jargon which she graciously decodes for all to understand) but unafraid to acknowledge the importance of finding the humor in situations. Frankly, I’m drawn to a personal account that acknowledges the many challenges of raising a child with autism without assuming the role of martyr.
As the incidence rates of autism diagnoses continue to spiral, Autism Spectrum Disorders should be required reading for physicians, child-care workers, and family members who are concerned about a child demonstrating possible signs of ASD.
Reviewed by Michael Nolan
Autism Spectrum Disorders
by Chantal Sicile-Kira
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