The Updated and Revised Edition of OVERCOMING AUTISM Is Available!

410tTLmSryL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Today is the official publication day for the newly revised, edited, up-to-date and brighter-than-ever edition of Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies, and Hope That Can Transform a Child’s Life(And, yes, I still have to look up the subtitle to get it right.) Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel and I wrote the first edition almost ten years ago, and Temple Grandin called it an “excellent, practical book for both parents and teachers.”

The new edition is pretty true to the old one in many ways: we cut very little, because all of the good advice we included back then is still good advice. The Koegels (Lynn and her husband Robert) base their interventions on peer-reviewed, replicable research–which is to say it actually works.  A lot of it boils down to “reinforce good behaviors and ignore bad ones while teaching appropriate replacement behaviors.” Of course, if we could all do it that simply, we wouldn’t need books or therapists: most of us need a little more support and advice, so our book lays out in simple, layman’s terms how to go about teaching and encouraging your child with autism or Asperger’s.

Some of the questions we tackle: How do I stop my child from throwing tantrums? How do I get her to start saying words? How do I teach her to make friends? How do I pick a good school? Which behaviors should I focus on improving and which can I ignore? Should I tell her she has autism?

I have a son with autism whom I love and admire. Dr. Koegel adores her clients (I wish I had a dollar for every time she’s told me how cute or brilliant each of “her kids” is). We value the strengths of children on the spectrum, and most of the interventions in our book are “strength-based”–that is, we want parents and therapists to use the child’s interests and abilities as the foundation of his growth.  This is about encouraging your child to reach his full potential, not about making him be like everyone else. In fact, we’ve included quite a bit in this new edition about the need for communities to accept differences and be inclusive. We’ve all felt the glare of a judgmental stranger when we’re with our kids and it’s time for the glaring to end and for people to understand that differences of all kinds enrich a community.

We’ve added about forty percent new material to the original edition–again, we didn’t need to cut much, since the original advice still stands, but the Koegels have done additional research that has helped them refine an already effective approach even more. And I’ve both updated my family’s personal story and reflected back on what I wrote when my now-college-senior son was just starting middle school. If you liked the original book, you might be interested in reading the additional material in the new one, and if you haven’t discovered this book yet, I urge you to take a look at it. Judging from the hundreds of emails I’ve received over the last nine years or so, it’s made a big difference to a lot of people’s lives.

If you want to hear more about the book, check out this interview I did (with a little help from Dr. Koegel) with the wonderful Nell Minow over at her Movie Mom blog on belief.net.

Happy reading!

 

 

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A Response to an Article in the Wall Street Journal

So this weekend, some guy had an article in the Wall Street Journal about how he doesn’t want his wife to stop dyeing her hair, because he’s worried that he won’t feel as attracted to her if she’s gray-haired and also that her looking older might age him. He’s received some fairly negative comments for this piece. One commenter called him a jerk and a narcissist.

I might have agreed with her, but he is very good about getting the oil changed in my car.

Since I’ve been married to the author of the piece for almost 25 years, I feel like I should defend him against his critics, or at least against the one on Twitter who responded to his article with “Damn you, middle-aged men and your porn-star aesthetic.”

Honestly, honey, if Rob clung to a “porn-star aesthetic,” would he really share his bed with someone who wears old cotton sweatpants and t-shirts to bed every night? (Home Depot chic.)  Trust me, I’m no Marilyn Chambers.

The article is fairly accurate: I really did ask Rob how he’d feel if I let my hair go gray, and he really did say that he’d prefer I didn’t. That, I believe, is the strongest opinion he’s ever offered about my personal style, which is impressive when you consider the fact that I walk around in thrift store cargo pants and hand-me-down t-shirts from my teenage sons and rarely wash my hair. Trust me: if he wanted to find fault with how I present myself, he could.

Oh, wait: there was one other time when he felt the need to speak out. When I was pregnant with our oldest son (now 22), I cut all my hair off. It wasn’t a pixie cut–that might have been cute. It was more of an Ugh, I don’t even care anymore kind of a cut. He didn’t say anything but the next time I went to get my hair cut, he said, “Please don’t get it cut too short,” a plea he’s repeated every time I’ve gotten a haircut for the two decades since then.

But there’s nothing dictatorial about that little plea. There’s no underlying threat–I know he’s not going to leave me because I cut my hair short or stop dyeing it, and I hope he knows I’m not going to leave him if he gains a few pounds or his hairline recedes. But we both want to be attractive to each other. Call me crazy, but I’d like the guy who has to look at me over the dinner table and join me under the covers every night to be physically attracted to me. And I don’t mind if he gives me a little guidance in that direction.

A little guidance. Which I can ignore if I want to.

No one should ever be made to feel insecure by a spouse or partner. That’s unacceptable. Someone who undermines you, who tells you that you don’t look good, that you’re too fat or too old or too ugly to be attracted to–that’s not someone you want to be with. Rob’s never made me feel bad about myself. If I did let my hair go gray, he would still tell me I was beautiful. But if I’m going to ask him which he prefers, he’s going to be honest and tell me he prefers me with brown hair. And I’m going to listen. Until the day when I just really really really don’t want to dye my hair anymore. And then I’ll stop. And he’ll get used to me with gray hair.

A side note: I know plenty of men who prefer that their wives not dye their hair. The dyeing or the not-dyeing is ultimately irrelevant to my point, which is that it’s okay for one member of a loving partnership to care about looking attractive to the other, but in the end, the decision belongs to the one whose body it is.

Anyway . . . Happy almost-Valentine’s Day to couples everywhere! May we all be honest and kind to each other, not necessarily in equal measure, but in the exact right proportions for marital bliss.

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What’s Left Behind

Several months ago, I wrote an article for The Wall Street Journal about the time the movie star Patricia Neal visited our house (where she had once lived, many decades ago). After it was published, I started to get emails from people I didn’t know who wanted to tell me that they, too, had had  the good fortune to meet Ms. Neal briefly, and that they would never forget the experience, because she had been so warm and expressive and kind.

I was thinking about those emails recently and it got me musing about life–because I like to muse about life and what the point of it all  is.

I have no idea what the point of it all is.

But I do sometimes feel like I get a glimpse into something I need to think  more about, and it seems to me that those emails about Ms. Neal provided one of those glimpses.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have people you barely even met remember you? Why not try to see every encounter, every phone call, every dashed-off email as a chance to make someone else’s life a little more pleasant, even if just for a moment or two?

I know it’s not something you can sustain all the time. We have our bad days and sometimes other people are just annoying. And there are important fights to be fought–you can’t and shouldn’t make nice with people who would like to beat your gay son  to a pulp. So I’m not preaching rainbows and puppy dogs or anything. Just . . . why not be kind when you can? Why not try to help someone who reaches out to you even if it’s not your problem? Why not smile when a stranger’s eyes happen to meet yours or say “No problem” when a barrista gets your order wrong? Why not talk to the person on the other end of the phone as if he or she is, in fact, a person?

Is this too saccharine? I swear I’m not the “group hug in a cuddle puddle!” type. I just think about the legacy that Pat Neal left–not the famous movie star legacy (although, man, she made some great ones–anyone see A Face in the Crowd?), but the one where a bunch of people all said “That one day of my life was better because I got to talk to her for five minutes.”

There are worse ways to be remembered.

And here I demonstrate the  meaning of the word "behind." This photo has no other relevance.

And here I demonstrate the meaning of the word “behind.” This photo has no other relevance.

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Will Strip for Media Attention Unless You Help Me!

So almost a decade ago, the brilliant and dedicated Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel asked me to write a book with her for parents whose kids had recently been diagnosed with autism. (Turns out teachers and therapists found the book pretty useful too, but we were thinking mostly about parents when we wrote it.) In the book, Lynn explained all the family-friendly, research-based interventions that she and her husband Dr. Robert Koegel have pinpointed as the most successful ways to help a child learn and grow. And I wrote about my own experiences as a mother of a kid with autism–the highs, the lows, the joys, the difficulties, the breakthroughs, the frustrations, the celebrations . . . We kept it real, we kept it helpful, and we kept it scientific in the best sense of the word (i.e. not dry and boring, just based on actual data and years of tracking results).

Those who read the book loved it. Yes, I’m bragging, but I’m also telling the truth–and I’ve got the hundreds of emails from grateful parents and therapists to prove it. Sales have been steady enough for us to do a new edition all these years later.410tTLmSryL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

We’re not revising the book because the original information is outdated–actually, the additional research done since then has confirmed that our behavioral, family-friendly, incorporate-this-into-your-daily-life approach to supporting kids with autism is the right path to take. But we did want to expand some sections and add in  new information based on  recent research that the Koegels and others have done. And I wanted people to know that my son will be graduating soon from a four-year college across the country from us.

We also wanted to talk more about community acceptance and support–our society has to stop expecting everyone to conform to an unrealistic (and nonexistent) idea of “normalcy” and start embracing the differences that make it stronger. We don’t want our kids to be like everyone else in the world; we just want them to be the best THEM they can be.

So here’s the problem: While time and research have proven that this book is right in every way a book can be right, it’s just not . . . sexy.  No one wants to read about effective behavioral interventions when they could be reading about crusades against government conspiracies or Mongolian ponies or  chelation therapies or whatever news-grabbing headline is out there today–and we’ve seen a lot of news-grabbing headlines about autism since we published the first edition of this book. Most of them have fallen deservedly by the wayside since their fifteen minutes of fame, but they still got a lot more attention for those fifteen minutes than our book ever got.

Fun fact: when Overcoming Autism first came out, it was not on the NY Times bestseller list.  You know what was? A book by a former porn star, a book by a sort-of celebrity who had recently made a sex tape, and a book by a former Playboy Playmate who claimed her kid had autism and that made her an expert on the subject (he didn’t and she wasn’t).

My co-author has an amazing figure, and if she hadn’t chosen to dedicate her life to helping children, I don’t doubt for a second that she could have made a living in a more sizzling way. But Dr Koegel’s got her professional dignity to think of, so I just don’t think I can entice her to strip in front of a camera. As for me . . well, I’ve never been considered hot, but if the lights are really low . . . really really low . . .

Yeah, no. Let’s just leave it at “I’ve never been considered hot.”

But, man, I would strip down to my scanties in Grand Central Station if I thought it would help make people discover this book. Because this book is so ridiculously useful. The day you start reading it, you’re going to be a better parent to your child–to all your children. It’s about thoughtful parenting, about realizing that nothing’s random, about how we often reinforce the wrong behaviors but can learn to reinforce the right ones, and about how every child has strengths and those strengths can be used to form a bridge between him and the world.

This book will be out in time for April’s autism awareness month. Please help us spread the word. We need people to see that a supportive, loving, thoughtful approach to teaching your child with autism is the way to go. It may not be the “overnight miracle” so many fly-by-night headline grabbers have claimed to find–it’s just effective over the longterm in ways that last.

Oh, and if you think a sex tape will help us get some media attention, I’m game. It won’t be pretty, but if it will lead to more families knowing what to do to help their kids, then put me in a leather bustier and point me in the right direction. You might want to close your eyes though. I know I will.

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Relax, They’ve Got This

Maybe it’s all the times my nineteen-year-old son has put his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said sternly, “Relax.”

Maybe it’s the time–last night–when we were discussing her schoolwork and my sixteen-year-old daughter said a simple “Trust me.”

Maybe it’s the time my oldest son (wisely) switched his college major and waited until it was done to tell us about it.

Maybe it’s all the times my youngest son has searched out information on his own, just because he wants to know more about something.

All of my kids, in many different ways, have let me know over and over again that I need to step back and  let them take care of their own lives. Oh, they’ll talk things through with me, but in the end the message is usually Give us some space. We’ve got this.

It’s hard to step back. I’m sort of amazed when I think of my own mother, who was incredibly loving and nurturing when we were little, but who let us make all our own choices as we got older. My father used to joke that I would never be able to leave her side because I was so attached, but at sixteen, I headed off to college without a moment of hesitation. She had nurtured me, but she had also given me my independence.

I try to do the same with my own kids, but I’ll admit it’s hard. I mean, it’s easy to step back when you have a kid (and I do have ONE of these) who’s a self-motivated hard worker who sets high goals for himself. It’s harder when your child is more of a drifter. But my mantra now that I have older kids is “I can’t want this for you more than you want it for yourself.” There’s something wrong if the parent is setting the goals and not the kid. You can shove your child into achieving something, but it’s going to feel empty for him if it wasn’t something he wanted in the first place.

Many of my adult friends talk about how the hardest thing growing up was having to put a parent’s emotional needs ahead of their own, even if they were the ones struggling. They couldn’t grieve over their own sadnesses or rejoice over their own triumphs because there was always someone in the house having a bigger reaction, and the discomfort of always having to subsume their own emotions so they could deal with their parents’ left them frustrated and sometimes even bitter.

That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be all in with your kids–you should– just that you should take your cues from them and not the other way around. I could write another five thousand words on how I think parents are way too invested in their kids’ college process (um, which one of you is actually going to be living there for four years?) but I won’t bore you with that. I’m sure you get the idea–that’s an area rife with over-the-top parental investment.

Everyone needs a little space.

Everyone needs a little space.

And think back to your own childhood. When something bad happened to you, did you want a parent to freak out and get worked up about it? Did you want your mother to sob if you didn’t get into the college of your choice? Did that kind of thing ever make you feel better? Or did it help more to have a calm, rational listener during any disappointment or crisis, someone who would support you and give you any help you wanted, but who wasn’t more distraught than you?

It is, of course, much easier to point this out than to be good about it. I’ve inflicted my anxiety on my kids way too often. I’m lucky, because, for the most part, my kids feel comfortable calling me out when I do. (I don’t necessarily FEEL lucky at those moments, but I know I am). But I’ve only been doing this parenting thing for about twenty-two years. I’m sure I’ll have it perfected in the next twenty or thirty.

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On My Planet

I feel pretty strongly that I should run the world. Or at least a country. I would do it so well.

You know what? I’ll settle for a planet. It can be Petit Prince sized, so long as it’s MINE and I get to make the rules.Unknown

Here’s how I’d run my planet. And I’m telling you right now, it would be the best planet ever.

1. Consenting adults could marry whoever the hell they wanted to and sleep with whoever the hell they wanted, and no one would even care because we’d all agree on my planet that it’s no one’s business except the people who are actually getting busy (if you know what I mean (and I think you do, you dawg)).

2. Every single bathroom would be required by law to have a really high-powered fan that would be loud enough to cover any embarrassing noises and efficient enough to carry away any embarrassing odors before you opened the door again.

3. Condoms, condoms, condoms. They’d be everywhere. Free. Big jars of them wherever you went with “Help yourself!” in nice bold lettering (NOT Papyrus) on the label. You’d get a free condom with every sandwich you bought at a fast food restaurant, because why not?  (Insert Happy Meal joke here if you’d like.)

4. No one would be allowed to go hungry. No one. And rich people who didn’t see a problem with kids going hungry would be kicked off the planet–and I mean, kicked off, like George Clooney in outer space kicked off. Oh, and that reminds me: sliding tax scale. The richer you are, the more taxes you pay. Because you can AFFORD to pay more.

5. Teachers and scientists would not only be highly paid, the good ones would be worshiped like heroes, and there’d be photos of them in Us Magazine saying “Teachers . . . they’re just like us” or “Scientists . . . They play with their kids!”. . . except there wouldn’t be an Us Magazine on my planet. Maybe Popular Science could add a section like that? And no one would get media attention who wasn’t a decent human being doing good work in the world.

6. No torture. Ever. By anyone. Not even Kiefer Sutherland.

7. Both genders would get long paid maternity/paternity leaves after their kids were born. And since employment opportunities and pay would be equal on my planet, both parents could then decide if they’d rather stay home or go back to work. And then whoever went back to work would admit that it’s easier going into an office than it is staying home with a colicky baby and would rub the back of the one who stayed home. Or the back of the nanny or day care owner, if that’s who took care of the kid. But someone’s back.

9. Any politician who tried to marginalize, target, or condemn law-abiding citizens because of their religious beliefs, sexual orientation, race, or anything along those lines would be deemed no longer eligible to hold office. We’d all be like, “That shit’s illegal” because . . . um . . . it should be, right? Why isn’t it, again?

10. Emailing would be the nationally accepted correspondence, phones used only in dire emergencies (and, actually, not even then).

11. There would be state-subsidized bookstores. Because reading makes you better at EVERYTHING.

12. Universal health care. Duh.

13. The phrase “boys will be boys” would be outlawed and anyone who used it would have to pay a hefty fine and write five hundred times on a chalkboard, “I will teach BOTH genders to be respectful toward others.”

14. The Starbucks on my planet would go back to selling pumpkin scones. My son liked those, dammit.

15. Tom Hiddleston. (I’m not sure what about Tom Hiddleston . . . maybe King? Royal escort? He just has to be part of my planet.)

16. No one could be a lawmaker who wasn’t versed in the basics of legal philosophy. If, for example, you’ve never heard of the veil of ignorance, you couldn’t run for office. Same for if you’re a coldhearted smallminded bastard (see #9 above).

17. Restaurants would have to give matches away again. Not so people could smoke cigarettes, but just because I can never find matches to light birthday candles and I liked when you used to be able to get them free.

18. Really good public transportation on my planet. Like New York City or London good. No one would even want to own a car on my planet. No need.

19. There’d be like this one major online website but it would let you put in your zipcode and then whatever you bought would come from a local, independent store. That would be cool, right?

20. Did I mention the free condoms? Because those, again.

Who wants to come live with me on Planet Claire? And what did I leave out? What would your planet have that mine doesn’t?

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My Mid-Life Crisis, during Which Hilarity Does Not Ensue.

I’m having a mid-life crisis.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to buy a new car or do anything extravagant like that. Although, come to think of it, I did buy a new car but that was well over a year ago, and it was a Toyota Prius, which I don’t think counts as a mid-life crisis car because it’s the most practical car in the world. Oh, and I also recently bought some skin cream called “Youth Code” which I wasn’t crazy about, because it made my skin break out–although I guess that means it worked, because what screams “youth” more than acne?

But that’s pretty much where the exciting part of my mid-life crisis ends.  I’m not planning to get plastic surgery or go out one night and get drunk and smoke crack (and by the way, seriously? You can really use getting drunk as an excuse for smoking crack?) or seduce my teenage daughter’s boyfriend or do any of the fun and wonderful cliches known to my peer group.

No, I’m taking the sane and practical route: moaning and bitching about how disappointed I am in myself, my life, and my future prospects.

I am a joy to be around.

Pretty much sums it up.

Pretty much sums it up.

The four horsemen of my midlife crisis are pettiness, narcissism, ingratitude, and envy. I am filled with small minded envy of those who have achieved the kind of success I used to dream about and haven’t come close to knowing.

(Before you get annoyed at me for not being grateful for what I have, remember a) I listed ingratitude among my sins, and b)  that success, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder, that we either feel like successes internally or we don’t, and outward affirmation is almost irrelevant–although I feel fairly certain that I myself would feel much more successful if I were to, say, win a big writing prize or get on the NY Times bestseller list, and I’d be happy to test that theory any time someone wants to help me out with that.)

Mostly I feel crushed by the sense that all those dreams I dreamed when I was a girl or a teenager or even a young adult probably won’t come true, that options have narrowed and potential paths are a lot fewer than they once were.

I think this stage of life would be easier to deal with if I lived in a Dickens’ novel where your reward for being a decent human being is to get all plump and goodnatured and generous after a certain age. That sounds a lot more relaxing to me than still fighting to be a contender, but for some reason I can’t get anyone to agree with me on the whole going gentle into the good night thing.

So here I am, still striving for that golden ring as it recedes farther and farther from my less agile fingers, wondering where the years have gone and why I keep going around in circles instead of moving ahead.

Of course the answer might simply be that I’d be a much more successful YA author if I stopped writing about being middle aged and started writing about Selena Gomez.

I’m doomed.

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