“The moment you receive the diagnosis that your child is on the autism spectrum, everything changes. While your first reaction might be fear, do not be discouraged. There will be disappointments and there will also be beautiful gifts that accompany his diagnosis. The good news is that this world can be navigated successfully, and the diagnosis can mark the beginning of a new adventure for you and your child.”
— Marci Lebowitz, OT, in The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Autism
The first child I met with autism was long before medical school, when I started volunteering at a therapeutic riding center. He was a sweet little boy, who, the entire trip along the trail, talked about Star Wars. It was incessant, focused, and, I would guess, totally accurate. Try as we might to shift the conversation, back to Star Wars he would go. The second boy I worked with that day was also autistic. Unlike his counterpart, though, he was almost entirely nonverbal, and focused intensely on the horse’s short-cropped mane, running his small hands across the rough hairs. Such is the spectrum of autism, diverse and complex. In her new book, The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Autism: A Mindful Approach for Helping your Child Focus and Succeed, Marci Lebowitz addresses the many challenges and joys of parenting a child with autism.
Lebowitz is an occupational therapist who has spent years working with those on the autism spectrum, focusing on developing nonverbal forms of communication and ways to manage difficult behaviors. She brings her years of experience and a mindful approach to The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Autism, which covers a wide range of topics from the emotional roller coaster of receiving an autism diagnosis to managing behaviors at home and dealing with extended family. In her chapter, Managing Challenging Behaviors with Empathy, she writes, “Mindfulness is an effective tool when handling your reactions to these behaviors, such as showing empathy instead of anger. Having empathy for your child means both offering compassion and providing firm boundaries and structure for his development.” Anticipating that this is far easier said than done, she describes different situations every parent faces. For example, she writes, “When your child is anxious, do you notice your own anxiety increasing? Consciously defusing your own anxiety in these situations will in turn help you focus on your child and his needs, and will help you bring him back to a calm state.” She then gives specific techniques for calming yourself in order to be able to calm your child.
Lebowitz covers difficult and less discussed topics, such as devoting a chapter being a single parent of an autistic child, in which she highlights the special challenges faced by those who are without a partner. She writes, “Priority one is taking care of yourself . . . Yes, you are a mother, but you are also a human being whose needs must be met in order for you to function and get some enjoyment from life.” In another chapter, she explores the needs of other children in the family, from addressing the sibling who turns into a parent to dealing with jealousy and isolation.
The book ends with a discussion of treatment providers and resources, giving a brief overview of the many players in autism treatment. While clearly entire tomes could be written about this, Lebowitz does a good job of keeping it concise while still useful, a good primer for those not already immersed in this work, but likely old hat for those who have already been raising a child with autism for a while.
My one pet peeve is her very brief discussion about possible causes of autism. As you might anticipate, this area can be a minefield, given the previous controversy over vaccinations. Although I appreciate that Lebowitz may not have wanted to alienate readers, her incredibly short paragraph about autism and vaccines fails to point out that the original paper making this connection has been debunked and the scientific community agrees that vaccines do not cause autism. Her sentence “Some believe that there is no link between vaccines and autism, while others believe there is” is neutral at best but fails to clarify the latest medical knowledge. Also, I am unclear why this series of books lacks references; the book is well-researched and deserves a reference section.
On the whole, though, Lebowitz has created a highly readable guide to a very challenging issue. This book is worth a read for those who love and care for a person with autism, regardless of age.
The Conscious Parent’s Guide to Autism: A Mindful Approach for Helping your Child Focus and Succeed
Adams Media, January 2016
Paperback, 240 pages