I just finished Susan Senator's book Making Peace with Autism. I feel like I've gotten to "know" Susan a bit over the past few months, through the insightful posts on her website and blog and through her warm, supportive comments on my blog and others. As I expected, in her book as in the blogosphere she is thoughtful and engaging; but what really struck me about her most as I read chapter after chapter was just how honest she is.
In Making Peace with Autism, Susan invites us into the most private parts of her mind, her heart, and her family as she explores the effect that her oldest son Nat's autism has had on her, her marriage to Ned, and their family life with younger sons Max and Ben. She tells it all just as it happened, without euphemism and without gloss: her fears, her mistakes, her challenges, her anger. She gives voice to the feelings that so many parents of children on the spectrum must have, but are afraid to express because of how they might look to others: feelings of anger, grief, desperation, and hopelessness, all topped with a heavy dose of guilt for having those feelings in the first place (or, as Susan puts it, "feeling bad about feeling bad.") Susan's message comes through clearly: you can be angry and fearful and grief-stricken and desperate and still love your child with all your heart, still be a phenomenal parent.
Nat's autism manifests in very different ways from Bud's and many of the things that Susan has had to manage - aggressive behavior, uncontrollable tantrums, tutors and educators who refuse to work with Nat, and even violence - are not in my experience. I found myself thinking over and over, "this is one penguin who had to walk 70 miles AND confront a seal AND battle a predatory bird, and lived to write about it." It would be a valuable book if it were simply a memoir; however, Susan takes it a step further and provides sidebar information in a sort of "what I know now that I wish I knew then" way. She gives suggestions about very specific issues - preparing for an IEP meeting, deciding whether or not to use medication, surviving beach vacations, getting through the hard and hopeless days - not from the perspective of an expert, but from the perspective of a friend who has been there, has the benefit of hindsight, and is willing not only to spotlight and celebrate her successes, but also to expose and explore her mistakes.
And that is a very rare gift.