The slim volume called The Don’t Freak Out Guide to Parenting Kids with Asperger’s by Sharon Fuentes and Neil McNerney has both strengths and shortcomings. Sharon writes respectfully about her son Jay and a few key strategies that she has found useful to be a better parent and to help her son navigate the neurotypical world. Ms. Fuentes takes the perspective that your child’s autism just means you need to find non-traditional parenting strategies to help your child navigate life. This book provides a fast-paced, accessible, introduction the world of autism acceptance parenting and provides a refreshing alternative to the popular narratives that consider autism an injury, a tragedy, or a loss, and where the goal is a cure or recovery from autism. As Ms. Fuentes has said in a number of interviews “My goal is that after they read this book, they will be able to look at their children and see them for the wonderful, unique and perfect people they are NOW, and not try to change that! Instead, they will make the effort to LEAD them to be the best that they can be!”
One strength of this book is the chapter with thumbnail critiques of the strengths and flaws of common therapies for autism in the United States (including the variety of autism previously known as Asperger’s). The second plus of this book is the introduction to several autistic voices, to bloggers who signal boost for autistic voices, including one of my favorites Diary of a Mom, and to some recommended places to start both online and in book format. In fact, I found a reference to a website I has run across a few months ago, but couldn’t find during the crush of back to school about helping your child write a 1 page self-advocacy summary for their teacher (If you are curious, the site is I am Determined). I can definitely see the second half of the book helping families find alternatives to the mainstream views concerning autism and helpful resources, especially families that are newer to the autism game.
But I don’t know how useful the S.C.A.P.E method of parenting, based on the work of co-author McNerney, is going to be for us. S.C.A.P.E stands for Stay Calm; Assess the Situation; Pick a Parenting Style and Evaluate the Effectiveness. The first half of the book includes descriptions of several coping styles or reaction pathways commonly found in people with Asperger’s, descriptions of several beneficial and less productive parenting styles, a discussion of some of the stresses of parenting an autistic child, and the Cliff-Notes version of how to implement the S.C.A.P.E method. Which leads me to a bit of a digression.
In addition to being bibliomaniac, I’ll admit to being a bit of a packrat. And for a time it got bad enough that I was spending time hanging out with Pam and Peggy of SideTracked Home Executives and Flylady. In their books about dealing with obstructive clutter and home organization the introduction has a section that roughly paraphrased reads something like “Have you read all the other organizing and home cleaning books, and they just don’t work for you. Well that’s because they were written for people who have the Cleanie operating system, but these books don’t work for you because you have the Messie operating system. You need it broken down into even smaller babysteps, and need to have faith that if you just make these almost invisible changes that eventually you will look back and things will be better.”
I felt a bit like the messie reading the organizing guide for cleanies when reading Parenting Kids with Asperger’s, particularly the portions about the S.C.A.P.E method. I understand that Sharon and Neil were trying to write a brief book so that folks who were already overwhelmed by parenting a young person with Asperger’s or Autism wouldn’t be daunted by a large document. My biggest criticism is the book spends a few pages saying “put a fence around your worries” and “stay calm” – but that ain’t so easy to do, especially if you have a child, or family in crisis, and people in crisis are exactly who is likely to pick up the Don’t Freak Out Guide to Parenting Kids with Aspergers. I know I reacted negatively to the exercises in the first chapter, feeling like the book was just too flippant about things that are REALLY tough to do. I almost put it down then, thinking they are writing from the perspective of someone who has already found their calm and “There’s no way this will work for us” but I’m glad I took the time to finish the book.
My second, minor complaint, is that if you are going to use the ubiquitous “Welcome to Holland” essay, Don’t paraphrase! Just credit Emily Perl Kingsley and get permission to use the original.
My local library bought a copy, after I requested that they ILL or purchase a book. And despite the flaws I pointed out, I will definitely recommend Parenting Kids with Asperger’s to other parents, especially those just starting out on this roller coaster called autism parenting.
While there are a number of reviews on Amazon, this will be the first substantive review on Booklikes and GoodReads. The autism community is so divisive and toxic right now, that I’ve been procrastinating posting this review for 2 weeks now, for fear of attracting the wrath of one faction or another. So, if you choose to comment, please be gentle. I’m just a Mom, trying the best I know how to raise my two autistic bibliophiles to be happy with themselves yet understand how to negotiate the world around them.