To my readers, I am honored to introduce you to Sandy Westendorf,
author of The World According to August – One Good Friend.
Sandy’s book inspired me to write Poem for an autistic child and has agreed to answer questions related to comments from the introduction of her book.
Your book, “The World According to August” touched me deeply. You give us a deeply personal, yet insightful picture of a child with autism; how he and they are similar in many ways and yet different, as well. Each numbered item is a quote from your book. Next is my question in italics.
Would you care to comment on these statements from the introduction of your book?
Every child is unique; the extent to which they are affected is also individual. If you are not living with autism, it is easy to miss the child and only see the diagnosis. The book was written in an attempt to demonstrate, although outwardly, these children may appear different; but inside—where it counts—they are the same as you or me. Children with autism love, have an ego, feelings which can be hurt, a sense of humour, and even a mischievous side.What would you like to add to these observations?
It does not matter whether you are part of the mainstream or not. We all seek attachments. Attachment is vital to our health. Humankind tends to observe the obvious first, I’m no different. What is obvious about autism? Behaviors – mostly. What is missed? The person, the one who is seeking attachments, trying to find a way to belong and fit into our society. Autism is not contagious; your children will not catch it from a play-date with a child who has special needs. In fact, mainstream children who engage others with disabilities exhibit more tolerance, confidence and appear to have deeper connections with their peers as a result.
I observed the mainstream public had many misconceptions about children with autism. I wanted the world to know – they have the same feelings, dreams and disappointments as us all. Like most of us, people with autism also appreciate a good joke.
2. What you will find in these pages is a humorous and occasionally touching account of how a child with autism views the world.
On a lighter note, please comment on the emotional side of working with and parenting an autistic child.
Let’s see, the rewards are harder won, therefore; the moment you see something finally click for your child – it is like winning the lottery. You make a BIG deal about their hard-earned accomplishment. You start to see everything in a different light and tend not take things for granted. You pay attention to the little things
This is by no means a portrayal of how all autistic children experience the world, as every child is unique.
Would it be fair to suggest that one of your goals is to encourage those who have misconceptions about autistic children to reconsider their positions and to look for meaning in the lives of these valued members of society?
Yes, absolutely. Try not to place a ‘cookie cutter’ label on them. In the interest of simplicity, many individuals with autism are labeled ‘low, medium or high functioning’. Most people then have a general sense of the individual’s abilities. What the general populous might not realize is, there are splinter skills within these categories. You may have someone who is considered ‘high-functioning’ but cannot read or they struggle with math. My son for example, is considered ‘low-functioning’ because his language deficits are pronounced. However, this is a child who did not speak until he was four years old, but he taught himself to read at the age of three! We had him tested – no one believed us. He is also a little math whiz, but struggles with social interactions. He generalizes faster than most. This means once he has grasped the foundation of a new concept, he can generalize it across anything and he is off and running with it. These are a few of his splinter skills, areas where he is above the curve.
I guess what I am trying to say, in a round-about way is- you don’t know what someone is capable of, or what you can learn from them until you give them a chance. You may be surprised.
Would you like to add any other comments?
I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to stand on my soap-box and spread the message about people with disabilities. Many do not have a voice of their own. It is up to those of us, who love and care for them, to give them that voice. Parents should know it is okay to advocate for your child, special needs or mainstream. Encourage connections with people with different abilities – it will make all the difference – to you and to them. Eight months after I had finished writing the story and it was in the hands of my book designer, I came across the following link:
I was delighted to see other like-minded people. The short clips on the link show two men with autism trying to dispel many of the misconceptions of developmental disabilities. Their message was exactly what mine is – inside we are all the same.