As many of you know, I have two children on the autism spectrum. In recognizing Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to share how their disabilities led me to write fiction.
A number of years ago, I was dealing with a very difficult situation with my oldest son and his school environment. Several of his teachers suggested I write a non-fiction book about my experiences. Since I enjoy writing and helping others, I decided that would be a terrific idea.
I gathered up my notes, doctors’ reports, letters to principals and counselors and sat down to pen my story and share it with the world. First, my head ached. Then my stomach churned and reflux burned its way up my throat. Tears poured down my cheeks as I relived the tumultuous past. Needless to say, the autism road has been rocky and even treacherous at times.
I still swore I’d write our autism journey, but first…
Yes, but first I decided to write a fiction book. One without autism. One without children. One without any kind of health issues. One that would take me away from the stress of holding my breath every minute of every day, certain that the phone will ring because one of my children is struggling again.
I found writing about romance and mysteries I could solve just the ticket. Thinking about the characters and dogs in my books turned out to be the most cathartic thing I’ve ever done. Temporarily, I can escape the worry about what kind of lives my children will have. If they will ever be able to drive, hold down a job, or manage their own finances. If they will be able to take care of or protect themselves out on their own. If they will understand social cues well enough to have a positive relationship in their lives. If they will manage to stay out of jail because they can’t handle being confronted or restrained. If there will be anyone to take care of them after I’m gone.
In case you don’t know very much about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), I’ll give you a few brief ideas. It is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. It occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups and affects every age group. The hallmark feature of ASD is impaired social interaction. As early as infancy, a baby with ASD may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time. A child with ASD may appear to develop normally and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.
Children with an ASD may fail to respond to their names and often avoid eye contact with other people. They have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they can’t understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, and don’t watch other people’s faces for clues about appropriate behavior. They lack empathy. (1)
One of my children fails to understand cause and effect, a huge detriment in facing life.
Also, here are a few statistics:
- Autism now affects 1 in 88 children and 1 in 54 boys (Note: 1 in 47 children in Utah)
- Autism prevalence figures are growing
- More children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined
- Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S.
- Autism costs the nation $126 billion per year
- Autism receives less than 5% of the research funding of many less prevalent childhood diseases
- Boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism
- There is no medical detection or cure for autism but both genetics and environment play a role (2)
Escapism is not the answer to solving this daunting problem we face with ASD. But, at times we must all step back and take a break from the trials we face. As I continue to write, I’ve been able to face mental disabilities more easily in my writing. One day, I hope to write that non-fiction memoir of our lives with ASD with the voice of hope and an ending with a cure.
Cindy A. Christiansen
Sweet Romance, Comedy, Suspense…and Dogs!
Fly into a good book today at: www.dragonflyromance.com