April is National Autism Awareness Month, and new statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show an increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders — one in 50 — up from previous estimates of one in 88. Whether you’re a parent, family member, friend or caregiver to someone with autism – or whether you yourself are on the spectrum – scientific and medical advances can be as valuable as new tools to make life easier and stories to which you can relate. The following five books offer a range of fresh thinking and thoughtful approaches to life with autism. From the legendary Temple Grandin’s latest work on neuroimaging advances and genetic research, to "Aspie" supermom Jennifer Cook O’Toole’s take on interior design with Asperkids in mind, here is a selection of the hard science, the soft décor (and much more), and personal accounts of life on the spectrum.
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By Temple Grandin and Richard Panek
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
One of the most recognizable and accomplished adults with autism, Temple Grandin is a doctor of animal science, a professor, an activist, and a bestselling author. Her books offer rare insight into her internal world, enhancing our understanding of autism with a blend of personal immediacy and groundbreaking research. She speaks with intelligence and sensitivity for those who often can’t speak for themselves. Her latest book, out this month from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, is a joint effort with Richard Panek, science writer and author of "The Four Percent Universe." Since 1987, when Grandin became “one of the first autistic subjects to undergo” an MRI, autism studies have shifted from the realm of psychology to neurology and genetics. In “The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum” Grandin and Panek present the latest neuroimaging advances and genetic research that link brain science to behavior, even sharing Grandin’s own brain scan to demonstrate which anomalies might explain common symptoms. The authors introduce innovative theories of what causes autism and how we can diagnose and best treat it, and urge parents, teachers, and society to focus on the strengths of autistics. They present a “three-ways-of-thinking model” – with pictures, patterns, or words/facts – to foster change in schools and the workplace. Grandin also highlights long-ignored sensory problems and the transformative effects we can have by treating autism symptom by symptom, rather than with an umbrella diagnosis. By enabling readers to see “the world through an autistic person’s jumble of neuron misfires,” Grandin takes us one step closer to a day when autism will be considered not according to some diagnostic manual, but understood on an individual level.
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By Dr. Martha Herbert and Karen Weintraub
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Harvard neurologist Dr. Martha Herbert believes that just as autism is not simply a genetics problem, it is not simply a brain problem, either. Instead, she’s certain that autism involves the whole body. In her book "The Autism Revolution," now out in paperback from Ballantine, she argues that there is plenty of evidence demonstrating that autism is really a problem of the whole body, including the brain – from molecules to cells, organs to metabolism, and immune to digestive systems. "As a physician," she writes, "I've seen so many autistic children with similar medical problems that I can't believe it's just a coincidence. And we know through thousands of scientific papers and an ocean of clinical experience that the health of the body can affect the function of the brain." In “The Autism Revolution,” Herbert presents suggestions on how to repair and support cells and cycles, balance gut and immune systems, help the body mend the brain, and calm brain chaos, with specific recommendations on achieving optimal nutrition, reducing toxic exposures, limiting stress, and opening the door to learning and creativity. Her strategies are presented alongside the latest research and technologies, as well as an inspiring collection of case studies. “The Autism Revolution” is a proactive, optimistic guide toward restoring health and resiliency in those with autism.
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By Carrie Cariello
Publisher: Riddle Brook Publishing
In a sweet memoir about parenting a child on the Spectrum, Carrie Cariello invites us to experience what it takes to get through each day with her five children, one of whom has been diagnosed with autism. Much more than a description of the endless doctor visits and therapy sessions, Cariello recognizes and shares the hidden blessings that her son Jack’s diagnosis brings to her family. She describes the beauty and wonder of a child who views the world through a different lens, acknowledging the challenges and frustrations of parenting him while simultaneously reveling in what makes Jack unique. For those new to ASD, Cariello's book offers a thoughtful introduction to life with autism. Other parents of kids on the spectrum will see themselves in Cariello’s anecdotes and observations, such as Jack’s habit of sticking a finger in strangers' faces and demanding to know what color shampoo they use, how many radios they have, or even when they think they might die. Poignant and entertaining, “What Color is Monday” is for anyone whose life has been touched by autism.
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By Jennifer Cook O’Toole
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
If anyone understands the challenges that come with an Asperger's diagnosis, it’s Jennifer Cook O’Toole. She, her husband, and their three children all have Asperger's syndrome. O’Toole is well-acquainted with the unique experiences of both being and parenting an "Aspie," and she has shared her special set of skills and tools through her books, “Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome” and “The Asperkids’ (Secret) Book of Social Rules: A Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Guidelines for Tweens & Teens with Asperger Syndrome.” Her latest work, forthcoming from Jessica Kingsley Publishers, is a visually-driven guide to preparing a home environment that supports the development of children with Asperger's syndrome. “The Asperkid's Launch Pad: Home Design to Empower Everyday Superheroes” gives readers a walk-through tour of the home, showing room-by-room how physical surroundings affect Asperkids and highlighting the learning opportunities in every space and object. Beautifully presented with color photographs throughout, this functional and fun book will draw parents in, sparking ideas and inspiration. From building social skills to developing independence, and stoking creativity to facilitating self-care, “The Asperkid’s Launch Pad” is a gem for the parent of any child — from the neurotypical to those on the spectrum.
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By John Elder Robison
Like Jennifer Cook O’Toole, John Elder Robison is an Aspie parent to an Asperkid. His previous two books, “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s” and “Be Different: My Adventures with Asperger's and My Advice for Fellow Aspergians, Misfits, Families, and Teachers” chronicled his own experiences growing up and living as an adult with Asperger’s – a diagnosis that came at the age of 40. His new book, “Raising Cubby,” tells the offbeat, unconventional story of fathering his son Jack. From the adventures they have to the opportunities Robison consciously creates for his son, it’s clear that he approached fatherhood with a sense — even from the beginning and without any formal diagnosis — that his son would encounter problems, and that it was his job as a father to turn what had been negative experiences in his own life into more positive experiences for Cubby. By the time Cubby was 10, he’d steered a Coast Guard cutter, driven a freight locomotive, and run an antique Rolls Royce into a fence, but what Robison was really trying to teach his son with all of these unconventional experiences was that Asperger’s need not be a hindrance. The drama and some of the most touching moments in the story occur when Cubby’s brilliant mind for chemistry and love of explosives land him facing a grand jury indictment at the age of 17. With Cubby facing up to 60 years in prison, both father and son are forced to take stock of their lives, finally coming to terms with being “on the spectrum” as both a challenge and a unique gift. Slyly funny and sweetly moving, this memoir of an unconventional dad’s relationship with his equally offbeat son is sure to delight.
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