I have a 25 mile trip to work in the morning and 25 miles back in the afternoon. My job also finds me traveling to several schools around the area which adds to my drive time. The commute is usually my time to reflect and have a little piece and quiet. Lately however, thanks to iTunes, I’ve been listening to audiobooks. I just finished one last week that I feel I should share. It had some great advice for helping parents coping with autism. It’s not exactly new, but it is a good resource. I haven’t given a book report since my senior year in high school, but I’m going to give it a shot.
“Not My Boy! A Father, A Son, and One Family’s Journey with Autism” by Rodney Peete with Danelle Morton is a great book for anyone dealing with raising a child on the spectrum. It is geared toward fathers, but it has good advice for anyone, especially those who are new to autism.
For those who don’t know, Rodney Peete is a former NFL quarterback who played with the Detroit Lions, Philadelphia Eagles and L.A. Raiders among others. His wife, actress Holly Robinson Peete, has starred in “21 Jump Street” and “Hanging With Mr. Cooper”, and most recently was a co-host on “The Talk”. The couple had a set of twins in 1997, and found out three years later that one, son Rodney Jr (R.J.) was autistic. This began a journey for the family to help themselves and others understand how to deal with autism.
I could relate too much of the information in this book. His feelings seemed to go along with what I, and many others, have felt.
The book is broken into two parts. The first part is the story of R.J. and the family’s history of advocating for him. This includes many stories of trials and therapies, and how Rodney had coped with finding out his child was autistic. The second part is advice that Peete shares on what you can do to help your child.
Peete explains how, when he first learned of R.J.’s diagnosis he, like many, was in denial. He would close himself off to many of the things his wife was trying to do to help their son. He would disappear in the evenings to a cigar bar and have a scotch and cigar to relax. He realized later that it was just an excuse to forget about the real issues he had at home. This was until his wife gave him an ultimatum. I think we all try to find things to help us get away for a while from the problems we have.
Peete and his wife believe, like many of us parents with a child on the spectrum, that the issues began after receiving the MMR vaccine. It was after this that they began to notice R.J. regress. I’ve expressed my opinion on this touchy subject in the past, and have heard many arguments in both directions. I tend to agree with Peete.
He explains in the first chapter that he had high hopes for his child. I think when any of us find out that our child has a disability we think it is devastating, but as a professional athlete it was tougher for Peete. He wanted his son to follow in his footsteps and was sure that this wouldn’t happen after the diagnosis. I’m going to include a part of this chapter that I think sums up what many parents, especially dads, feel when they find out their child is autistic:
“There was nothing I could do. As a man, you want to be able to protect your family. You want to be able to soothe your wife. There was nothing I could say because this so-called expert had just evaluated our kid, but she’d also robbed me of all of my power.”
The next chapter explains how Peete went through “Denial, Anger, and Everything In Between.” Again, this is just more of what we all tend to go through, but it is good to have someone else’s perspective. Especially for a man, it is eye-opening when it is someone famous. Peete acts as a role-model or mentor for us.
There is a chapter just for dealing with marriage issues. We all tend to try to find someone to blame, and it seems to be easiest to blame the person closest to us. Many marriages suffer, and often end, following a diagnosis. It’s tough to keep a marriage going when you’re spending most of your time focusing on how to help your child. Then there are the many appointments, research time, etc. If you do get any alone time with your spouse you’re usually just exhausted or spend it talking about what you learned that day. For Peete and his wife it’s no different, but he does give some good advice on what to do to help your marriage survive this issue.
The discipline section was the part I was most interested in. I’ve been looking for advice anywhere I can find it lately. I actually listed to this chapter three times. I found some good advice on how to discipline without being overbearing. I’m not sure if it’s going to work, but I’m trying it. I’ll let you know in a later column.
I found the chapter on how to help your child make friends very interesting. It starts out with: “People who don’t have a close relationship with children who have autism tend to make assumptions about them. One of the most common ones is that children on the spectrum are happy being alone.” This, of course, we know is not true. Peete shares how he and his wife spent time with his class, and their parents, to explain R.J.’s disorder and how they could help him. This chapter if full of good advice including a section on how his twin sister helped them talk to the class without talking over their heads.
Throughout the book there are many testimonials from other fathers about handling their children’s disorders. One of the most intriguing was by Khari Lee who is a former gang member working to help his son get the best education he can. The intimidating-looking man turned his life around when he found out his son was autistic and knew that he would have to be there for his child because nobody else would. He then set out to learn all he could about autism and has found outlet to help his child including monies for treatment.
For me this book was great and I highly recommend it. It is refreshing to see that this issue doesn’t just happen to common couples like you and me. It is also good to get advice from others. We tend to think we’re alone, or know all there is to know. If you are to that point with autism then you are in real trouble.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.