Saturday, March 3, 2012

Book Review: Next Stop

So, a couple of weeks ago I was checking my email and one caught my eye... "NEXT STOP: A Memoir (advance review offer for you)". I almost deleted the email, figuring that it was a spam that hadn't been caught by Google's Gmail filters or some such thing. But I read the email, and then did some research. This was a real person (the author is Glen Finland) with a real child (now an adult) who has autism and she'd written a book and it was being published, to be available on March 29, 2012. After reading the description about the book on Amazon's website.......
"The summer David Finland was twenty-one, he and his mother rode the Washington, D.C., metro trains. Every day. The goal was that if David could learn the train lines, maybe David could get a job. And then maybe he could move out on his own. And then maybe his parents’ marriage could get the jump-start it craved. Maybe. Next Stop is a candid portrait of a differently-abled young man poised at the entry to adulthood. It recounts the complex relationship between a child with autism and his family, as he steps out into the real world alone for the first time, and how his autism affects everyone who loves him."
I was hooked. I knew I had to read this book. I emailed the person back and asked a couple of questions (I always ask how people find my blog) and what I would need to do. Basically, all I had to do was provide my mailing address (so I could receive the book) and once I was done, give my input on the book and post a review on my blog.

I received the book a few days later and I started to read it almost immediately. I was hooked upon reading the first chapter. I felt an immediate kindredship with Glen and her husband Bruce, as they raise their three sons, one of whom has autism, David. I remember posting on Glen's Facebook page a few days later that "I was hooked, link and sinker" and that I had been giggling and had tears in my eyes throughout the parts of the book that I'd already read.

In the world of autism, parents oftentimes feel alone. Glen's story-telling and style of writing lends her writing to make you feel like you're a part of what is going on in the story, or at the very least, observing it first hand. The stories, while different than Ashton's stories, so similarly mirror some of our own experiences, that I kept saying "yep, I've been there, done that and earned that badge too!" You can't help but fall in love with the family and their experiences, as you feel like you're right there.

The majority of this story revolves around Glen and David's adventures one summer, of teaching him how to ride the DC metros. If he can learn to ride those, he can learn to get back and forth to a job and maybe even someday, live independently of his parents. The process of teaching him how to ride the metro lines takes an entire summer. You also get excerpts of his early childhood and how his "different abilities" kept him from interacting appropriately with his family and the environment around him. I loved hearing about these small stories and steps of how the Finland family overcame the issues that come with raising a special needs child.

One such story that stuck out in my mind, was when Glen was talking about David's first "solo" ride on the DC metro. She had asked him to wait for her at the turnstile as she needed to put more money on her fare card. Well, he went on ahead and she lost sight of him pretty quickly. I've had that happen! Not that exact scenario, but I've lost sight of Ashton before and your heart literally drops from your chest down to your stomach. It's a sinking feeling, knowing that your child that doesn't communicate well (if at all) with others is out there and "alone". I literally remember gasping at that moment in the story, remembering my own similar experiences.

Throughout the book you are introduced to those closest to Glen, her husband Bruce and their three sons; Eric, Max, and David. You see how their lives change as David's diagnoses change or as he adds new ones. The dynamics of the family change as they center their lives around dealing with their son's disability and how to help make his life easier and better. It's a hard balance to strike and one that is ever-changing with the needs of all family members. I completely commiserate with Glen and Bruce on how this affects their other two boys as well as their marriage to each other.

Finally, this book wraps up with talking about David and his love of running, and him running in his first Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, DC. It's October 2009. Glen's description of the day and what it means for her family and most of all, her son David is awe-inspiring. He'd literally spent his entire life, metaphorically speaking, training for that very day. Training and going on long runs on his own. Having to let him go and do this on his own is a milestone for Glen and her family. They can't eagle-eye every moment of his life anymore, as David is learning to spread his wings and be an independent young man, which is something all parents want for their children, disabled or not. Not only does David do the race, but he finishes and completes the race with a time of three hours and fifty-two minutes. This part of the story is the one that moved me the most. Watching her son participate in an activity he loves and completing it to the cheers and admiration of others. I'll admit it, I teared up. I know that feeling. Watching your child doing something they enjoy. Having others cheer them on - it's a glorious feeling of belonging and understanding. Having your child feel accepted, accomplished, admired and most of all, loved by others is the ultimate "happy" feeling.

All in all, this is a book that I highly recommend. Not only for those parents of children with autism, but  for anyone who knows and loves someone with autism. This story of hope and guidance is uplifting and inspirational. It's true to life and it's beautiful. But most of all, it's very well-written and keeps the reader engaged and on the edge of your seat. Truly is one of my very favorite books that I've read in a long time. I feel blessed and truly honored to have had the opportunity to read and experience this book before it was made public.

Thank you to Glen and her family for sharing your memories and life with all of us. It's a book that everyone should be anxious to read, I truly enjoyed reading this book and getting to know this family.
--- Jenn

My review is based on the advanced review copy of this book that I received. I was given no compensation for this review and the views listed here, are my own. This book will be available for purchase on March 29, 2012.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Using his words.... more and more!

You know..... I actually love getting phone calls from Ashton's teacher now. I'd dare say I get more phone calls now from Ashton's teacher than I ever did before. But there's one major difference..... the positivity of this teacher versus the old one! I mean even when she's calling with a concern and/or question, it's not laid out to be a life and death situation. I have only once been called to come get Ashton from school, and that was last week, and not for a behavior problem but because he was sick. He was fine about leaving the school building until he realized we were going home, "Can I go back into the school Mom?" Ahhh.... poor dude! Luckily he felt much better the next day (no fever or throwing up, just a general feeling of malaise) and was back to school in much better spirits.

Last night even, was funny as heck... he burst into tears because "I miss Ms D. I want to see her. Can I go to school?" - mind you, it was bedtime but wow! He was completely distraught! Good thing he was back to school this morning! It shows how happy he is at this school and how comfortable and attached he is!

He's even finally starting to comply with his work. I mean, he's not 100% successful at it yet, but he's come a long ways from where he was back in November when he first started at this school. And to think, it's the same type of class placement, just a different school (with different staff and administration to boot!). Amazing how the right person(s) can make all the difference in the program.

And to get to the point of this post.... Ashton is using his words, so much more these days. He's using them more in written work (as evidenced by my last post, lol) and is talking more and more in school and the jargoning/babbling is much, much less. In the classroom he's apparently talking quite a bit - to everyone! Teachers and classmates alike! He's aware, he's conversing, he's socializing! This is a huge step forward for him! Apparently, another teacher (Coach B) came in to Ashton's classroom earlier this week. Ashton, as a way to avoid doing the task the teacher was trying to get him to do, jumped up and said "Coach B, I really need to talk to you!" ;) :D STINKER! He knew what he was doing and giggled and clapped and was in general being silly. The teacher told him to stop avoiding his work and he went and sat back down to continue on with his work. The Coach was astonished! He'd not really heard Ashton talk, in a conversational/social way before! YAY! My boy is letting himself and his words BE HEARD!!! :)

Anyways .... he continues to do very well and we're very, very proud of him. Can't believe in about 6 weeks he'll be a teenager! A teenager?!? Yikes!! that's a scary prospect!

Have a great night all!