Last summer, my friends Kyra Anderson and Vicki Forman asked me to write a foreword for the anthology of autism stories they's been working on for the past few years. I'm proud to tell you that they completed the project, and the book goes on sale next week. You can order a copy here:
Order Gravity on Amazon
And now I'll share the foreword, to give you an idea what's coming in the book. I hope you enjoy it.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to raise a kid with special needs? I have. You'd think I'd know, since I was a kid with special needs myself. I have Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. The autism spectrum encompasses a wide range of conditions from total disability to mild eccentricity. I'm fortunate to be at the less-impaired end of the spectrum.
The one thing all of us have in common is some degree of social impairment. We may also have speech, coordination, learning, and health issues. Most of the kids who populate Gravity Pulls You In have some kind of autism.
I recognize myself in many of their stories. They bumble and struggle and fail, and I remember experiencing those very same things long ago. Then I read of their triumphs, and I remember my own small victories. Exceptional clarity of memory is fairly common among people on the spectrum.
With all the names I was called growing up, it's no surprise I saw myself as a misfit child. With that self image, I naturally thought anyone like me must be a misfit, too. However, I know different now. Today I realize that the autistic condition is really the human condition. Our hopes, dreams, and feelings are exactly the same as anyone else's. We just don't show our feelings in the conventional way, and we don't respond to other people's signals as expected.
Yet inside, we are all the same.
It's very frustrating how much of the world is oblivious to that simple truth. In fact, my own distress over that bit of ignorance is one of the things that drives me to be a writer, speaker, and advocate today.
I thought I could contribute a story from the special needs child's perspective, but as I read what others had written I saw my own experience was fundamentally different. I am indeed a person with Asperger's, and I have been this way all my life, but there is a very important distinction. When I was a child, I didn't know I was autistic, and neither did anyone else. I was a just a regular kid with a lot of problems and very few friends. I was also a kid who did strange things. And I was a kid who got into a lot of trouble.
You might also think I'd understand the special needs perspective because I raised a kid with special needs thirty-some years later. My son, who is now 19, also has Asperger's. However, I didn't know he was Aspergian until he was seventeen, and by then, the kid-raising was mostly done.
My special needs parent experience was limited to watching Cubby get tested, listening to inconclusive results, and arguing with an uncooperative school system. Eventually, I gave up. "He's just not applying himself," they said. That was the same line they fed me, thirty-some years earlier, and I gave up then too. At one level I knew they were wrong, but I did not know exactly how to counter them. Naively, I believed they had my son's best interests at heart. I don't know why I would have thought that, because I knew they were not on my side as a kid, but there you have it. Maybe it's the eternal optimist in me. Anyway, I now know better. If I get a third chance, with an Aspergian grandson, I will not send him to that school system. I will make better choices.