New Book Offers Insight Into Family’s Autism Experience and Obstacles Overcome

Author Randa Habelrih is the mother of Richard, a young man with autism. But Richard is a lot more than that, and Randa and her husband, Elias, and their daughter, Emily, knew that from the very beginning. Today, Richard is a confident young man who graduated from high school and has a job, but the road to that level of success was not easy. In her new book, Dealing with Autism, Randa chronicles her family’s journey through the maze of finding schools, aides, therapies, and acceptance for Richard while overcoming their own obstacles of fear and frustration. While the book contains plenty about autism, it’s more a story about how to cope with a child on the autism spectrum when the rest of the world would prefer not to cope with it.

Unfortunately, autism is something we all must cope with today. Randa makes that fact clear by citing studies that show that 1 in 100 Australians have autism. While Randa’s family lives in Sydney, Australia, the facts are even more startling here in the United States – 1 in 68 people have autism and boys are five times more likely to have it. In other words, we all know someone with autism so we should all know at least the basics about it.

While I am not the parent of an autistic child, I do know people with autism. Reading this book helped me better understand how to communicate with them. It also gave me insight into the difficulties of dealing with the initial shock of the autism diagnosis, and perhaps even worse, the rejection felt by the family because of their child (rejection that operates on multiple levels from family and friends to schools and organizations), and the fight the parents must engage in to get their child the necessary help. It’s not an easy fight, and it is wearing on the family dynamics-as Randa points out, half of marriages in which a child is diagnosed with autism end in divorce.

Randa’s story, as shared in this book, is of a true pioneer mother who raised awareness of autism so her child could receive fair and equal treatment to the greatest extent possible. Today, there is more awareness than when her son was first diagnosed, but when Richard was first diagnosed, the Internet was in its infancy and apps didn’t even exist. Today, parents have far more resources at their fingertips than Randa did, and in the appendices, she gives a list of books, websites, and apps as resources-there’s even an app to help a child who can’t speak to communicate what he or she needs.

Despite greater visibility for autism today, acceptance is still difficult. Parents in the same situation will find inspiration in reading Randa and Richard’s story. Randa describes how difficult it was to get a school to accept Richard as a student. Before the battle was over, she had contacted not just the principal, but even the State Minister of Education’s office, until she found acceptance for Richard. She devotes a whole chapter to “If I Ran the School System,” describing how schools need to do a better job of making sure autistic children are not socially isolated or bullied. She gave a paper at the Inaugural ASPECT Autism in Education Conference, created with her daughter an educational video about autism, and is currently preparing to launch The School M.A.T.E.S. Autism Programme in schools, which will assist teachers in helping autistic children and pair up students with the autistic children so they are “mates,” thus providing help for the autistic child and leadership opportunities for the other students. All of these efforts are commendable and speak to Randa’s dedication to raising awareness about autism, as well as the love she bears for her son.

I also appreciated that Randa provided different perspectives in the book besides her own. The Foreword is written by David McInnes, the principal at the high school Richard attended. He discusses how knowing Richard made him a better principal and father and how schools can help autistic children. Chapter 6 is written by Richard’s sister, Emily, who was five when he was born. Emily describes how she blamed herself for her little brother’s situation; how she was loyal to him, refusing to play with children who rejected him; and ultimately, how the experience of having a sibling with autism has inspired her to study for her Master’s in Clinical Psychology and specialize in autism spectrum disorder with a focus on building social skills and communication.

Additional chapters discuss survival tips for marriage, the importance of developing a success mindset, and finally, there are appendices that include sample letters to write to teachers to help them understand your child’s specific needs, facts about autism, and descriptions of several types of therapy, including applied behavioral analysis, which uses a system of tasks and rewards to educate the autistic child on social behavior skills, as well as occupational, speech, social skills, physical, play, and other therapies.

Dealing with Autism won’t have every answer in it for parents faced with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis, but reading it will make them feel understood and give them a roadmap of where to go. I imagine such a diagnosis can cause a parent to feel trapped in a dark cave of despair, but this book is like having Randa take your hand and guide you out of the cave with a shining light that will bring you back into the daylight and restore your hope. Read it for your child, for yourself, and for the betterment of the world.

Children’s Author Donna McDine Talks About Her New Book, The Golden Pathway

Donna McDine is an award-winning children’s author whose stories have been featured in multiple print and online publications. Her first book, The Golden Pathway, is about a boy who befriends a slave during the civil war. It is an illustrated story book for older readers (ages 9-12). Donna is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Musing Our Children, and The National Writing for Children Center. You can learn more about Donna by visiting her website and blogs. If you sign the guestbook, you’ll receive a free ebook, Write What Inspires You: Author Interviews.

Q:Thanks for the interview, Donna! When did you start writing for children?

A:In 2006 I came across an ad for The Institute of Children’s Literature and completed their aptitude test and application and mailed it back for consideration. This came at the perfect time for me since I was longing to find something more fulfilling outside the scope of administrative and website work. About a month afterwards I received an acceptance to ICL and haven’t looked back since.

Q:Tell us about your historical children’s book, The Golden Pathway. What inspired you to write it?

A:History has always fascinated me and when I had the chance to outline a book idea for my last ICL assignment the Underground Railroad immediately came to mind. While I did get positive feedback on my outline my ICL instructor did not feel there was enough appeal with a market flooded with the Underground Railroad books. I reluctantly put my outline away and tried to forget about it, but it kept calling to me to write it. And again perfect timing aligned and I discovered Suzanne Lieurance at the Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club and I dusted off my outline and eagerly began writing. This manuscript was critiqued in the early stages by Suzanne Lieurance (CWCC) and my online critique groups and placed as Honorable Mention in the Writer’s Digest 78th Writing Competition, then edited after the competition by Lea Schizas to assist in expanding the story since it was no longer under a word constraint from the contest.

Q:I understand The Golden Pathway is an illustrated story book and not a picture book. Could you please explain the difference between the two?

A:A standard picture book is 32-pages with illustrations on every page and geared towards 2-8 years old. While a story book has roughly half the amount of illustrations the text is written with the 9-12 age range in mind and (in the case of The Golden Pathway) almost 2,000 words. Each publisher has their specific guidelines they follow. Over the course of the years many teachers have realized a vast majority of students respond better to their curriculum with visuals. Hence the story book format.

Q:Did you have to do a lot of research for this book?

A:Initially online, then visiting the Tappan Library and thoroughly researching the Underground Railroad.

Q:What is the main message children will learn from this book?

A:Overcoming adversity against immeasurable odds and that with determination success in achieving your dreams is possible.

Q:The illustrations in the book were done by fine Oregonian artist K.C. Snider. How was your experience working with an illustrator? Did you have input in the artwork? Do you think she captured the mood and tone of the story?

A:My excitement over the quality of illustrations K.C. Snider designed blew me away from the onset of the book cover design. K.C. captured the true essence of The Golden Pathway from the get go. Since The Golden Pathway is my first book I honestly did not know what to expect from the collaboration process and I was pleasantly surprised. I have read time and time again that the author and illustrator never meet, but not in the case of Guardian Angel Publishing. As long as an author tries not to micro-manage the illustrator and puts full trust in the publisher and illustrator a win-win outcome is sure to be had.

Q:You also offer press release services to authors. Tell us all about it!

My press release service is called Dynamic Media Release Services and with the overwhelming responsibilities an author has to promote their books I thought what better way to take the pressure off a bit is to offer this service at reasonable prices. For rates and testimonials readers should check my website.

Q:What next for Donna McDine?

A:I’m thrilled to announce my manuscripts entitled, The Hockey Agony and Powder Monkey or Boy have been accepted by Guardian Angel Publishing. These will be my second and third story books with this publisher.

Q:Any last words to our readers?

A:My road to publication has had the typical rejections (which I can wallpaper my office with) and doubts of my abilities to make a go as a published writer. I have found every writer experiences these feelings, but learn to push through the “doubting Thomas” thoughts to reach publication success. Don’t give up! Learn your craft, continued to network, and success will come your way.

Thanks you, Donna, and best of luck with your book!

Learn more about this author and her books and services on her website.