In Ron Fournier’s “Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations,” ($26, Harmony Books), the political columnist for The Atlantic and the National Journal, takes his son, Tyler on a road trip to visit different presidential sites — libraries, monuments, homes and the like. Tyler has what was called Asperger’s but is now just considered to be part of the big spectrum that is autism. Fournier writes about coming to terms with who his son is instead of what he dreamed his son would be. He gets help in this matter from presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton when he and Tyler visit them. They can see Tyler in a way that Fournier can’t.
He writes about his own struggle with accepting who Tyler is. “Parenthood is the last chance to be the person we hoped to be. We want to get it right. We want it to be perfect, and that’s the problem. It’s a hard slog between aspiration and realization.”
Later he writes: “Mothers and fathers don’t want to admit they’re raising ugly or awkward ducklings. Rather than accepting these gifts — our brilliantly unique children — we reshape them.”
And “The most primal of parental expectations is the desire to see your child accepted, to avoid the dastardly a-words: atypical and its caustic caustic abnormal.”
“But let’s be honest: When your children aren’t anything like you — or like anything you expected — you struggle to understand them, which makes it more difficult to connect with them.”
Fournier humanizes a parent’s grief over diagnosis, but he also gives this list of valuable advice:
Don’t parent for the future; parent for today.
Guide, don’t push.
Don’t beat yourself up.
Celebrate all victories.
Make difference cool.
Be a spouse first, a parent second.
Share the bad news.
Fight for your kids.
Channel your inner Aspie (a person with Asperger’s).
Austinite Jennifer Noonan writes about her children’s autism and the diet she says made the difference in “No Map to This Country: One Family’s Journey Through Autism,” ($15.99, Da Capo Press). When first her son Paul and then daughter Marie are given a autism diagnoses, Noonan tries a gluten free and casein-free diet and then the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is even more restrictive than the GFCF diet. Noonan, who became known as the GFCF Lady, and has the website TheGFCFLady.com, describes the change the diet has made on her children as well as medications to treat autoimmune diseases her children were later found to have.
She includes this essay from Emily Perl Kingsley to describe parenting a child with autism: “When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip — to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting. After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The flight attendant comes in and says, ‘Welcome to Holland.’
“‘Holland?!’ you say. ‘What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy. I’m supposed to be in Italy! All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.'”
“But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.”
Noonan’s book is really about what worked for her family and doesn’t follow the accepted medical thinking about autism treatments, but it’s worth reading and discussing with your medical professionals.