Book review: How to raise a happy autistic child

Book review- How to raise a happy autistic child
There are a plethora of books about autism, written by academics or by parents telling their personal story in the hope that it may help others. But often it's hard to find just the one that resonates with your particular circumstances.

This is what journalist, Jessie Hewitson discovered when her child was diagnosed, so a few years down the road, she decided to pen her own book - the one she was looking for at the outset, that answered the questions she had, didn't want to make her hide in despair and gave her practical tools to work with. It's just been published and Jessie is here to tell us more about it - and to offer a free copy in our latest giveaway.

How to raise a happy autistic child, by Jess Hewitson

Jessie Hewitson
Jessie Hewitson (credit: Greg Moss)

If you search for "autism books" on Amazon, over 10,000 titles come up. I did this six years ago when my son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder - and not one of them looked as though it would really help.

I hated the covers, which looked so serious and doom-laden. The design seemed to be telling me something awful was happening, but that I might just come through this experience, a better, wiser yet sadder person.

The content of the ones I bought was little better: the choice seemed to be either dry academic books - not always sensitive to how it feels to be the parent of a newly autistic diagnosed kid - or books written by warrior mums about one particular experience, often ending in a dubious cure.

Still now, five years later, I am still amazed at some of the dodgy books on the subject that appear to be selling well online: lots of "survival guides"; "healing for the new childhood epidemics" (of which autism is one, apparently); "rebuilding our shattered lives", and not forgetting Jenny McCarthy's tome on "healing" and "preventing" autism.

So I decided to write my own book - one I think would have helped me when I needed reliable, practical information the most. A book that contained everything I wanted to know from the get-go. What exactly autism is; sensory processing differences; how to support kids at school; how to mitigate the appalling stress of dealing with the local authority.

Also a sense of shared experience, someone to hold your hand and metaphorically make you a cup of tea and present you with a biscuit, as they tell you it's going to be okay. That autism isn't the end of the world, it's just a difference. I am now aware that I had absorbed decades of misinformation and terrible stereotypes, which led me to assume the diagnosis meant a whole raft of things that it doesn't.

Autism by Jessie Hewitson
And so I've just published Autism: How to raise a happy autistic child. It is a bold title written by an averagely flawed parent, but it felt the time was right to have the word "happy" on the cover of a book about autism.

Focusing on happiness meant anchoring it to the one thing all parents want for their kids; and writing it made me realise what I was really scared of was having an unhappy child,  not an autistic one. It also connected wellbeing with autism, which needs to happen much more.

I've always felt very conscious that I'm a non-autistic person writing about autism, and because of this, to do the subject justice, I needed to do my research. So I interviewed more than 40 autistic people in addition to non-autistic parents and professionals - in person, on the phone, over Skype, by direct messenger on Twitter - to ask them, among other things: what support do you wish you'd received when you were young? I was essentially trying to find out, through these adults, how my son might experience the world, and I learned a great deal besides.

I loved having these conversations, which challenged my views on autism, difference and the assumption that being neurotypical - non-autistic - is best. It also provided the best insight: when the autistic author Laura James told me that uncertainty feels physically painful to her, it helped me feel more sympathetic during my son's meltdown after something had changed at school.

Another of the book's key aims is to help parents support their kids at school and to deal with their local authority. I am a middle-class woman who has had a lot of advantages in life - in addition to being able to email my local authority from an email address at a national newspaper - and I still felt completely screwed over.

What on earth must it be like for children with parents who don't have my advantages?

While many of the interviews I did for the book were uplifting and fascinating, some were harrowing. One of the most depressing was with a mum whose English wasn't brilliant, telling me how her local authority and school bullied both her and her autistic son. She sobbed as she told me of her guilt that she didn't protect her son from a school that made no attempt to understand him and a local authority that deprived him of an education.

I want to give others some of the knowledge I've paid to learn or learned through mistakes. SNJ does a brilliant job doing this and I wanted to continue it in book form, interviewing, among others,  the wonderful Matt Keer - SNJ columnists and arch SEN law advocate - as well as the education lawyer Ed Duff.

I am writing to libraries to offer them free copies of the book so everyone, hopefully, will have access to this information.

Buy the book from Amazon UK: Autism: How To Raise a Happy Autistic Child by Jessie Hewitson, published by Orion Spring, 

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Tania Tirraoro

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