Today is the official publication day for the newly revised, edited, up-to-date and brighter-than-ever edition of Overcoming Autism: Finding the Answers, Strategies, and Hope That Can Transform a Child’s Life. (And, yes, I still have to look up the subtitle to get it right.) Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel and I wrote the first edition almost ten years ago, and Temple Grandin called it an “excellent, practical book for both parents and teachers.”
The new edition is pretty true to the old one in many ways: we cut very little, because all of the good advice we included back then is still good advice. The Koegels (Lynn and her husband Robert) base their interventions on peer-reviewed, replicable research–which is to say it actually works. A lot of it boils down to “reinforce good behaviors and ignore bad ones while teaching appropriate replacement behaviors.” Of course, if we could all do it that simply, we wouldn’t need books or therapists: most of us need a little more support and advice, so our book lays out in simple, layman’s terms how to go about teaching and encouraging your child with autism or Asperger’s.
Some of the questions we tackle: How do I stop my child from throwing tantrums? How do I get her to start saying words? How do I teach her to make friends? How do I pick a good school? Which behaviors should I focus on improving and which can I ignore? Should I tell her she has autism?
I have a son with autism whom I love and admire. Dr. Koegel adores her clients (I wish I had a dollar for every time she’s told me how cute or brilliant each of “her kids” is). We value the strengths of children on the spectrum, and most of the interventions in our book are “strength-based”–that is, we want parents and therapists to use the child’s interests and abilities as the foundation of his growth. This is about encouraging your child to reach his full potential, not about making him be like everyone else. In fact, we’ve included quite a bit in this new edition about the need for communities to accept differences and be inclusive. We’ve all felt the glare of a judgmental stranger when we’re with our kids and it’s time for the glaring to end and for people to understand that differences of all kinds enrich a community.
We’ve added about forty percent new material to the original edition–again, we didn’t need to cut much, since the original advice still stands, but the Koegels have done additional research that has helped them refine an already effective approach even more. And I’ve both updated my family’s personal story and reflected back on what I wrote when my now-college-senior son was just starting middle school. If you liked the original book, you might be interested in reading the additional material in the new one, and if you haven’t discovered this book yet, I urge you to take a look at it. Judging from the hundreds of emails I’ve received over the last nine years or so, it’s made a big difference to a lot of people’s lives.
If you want to hear more about the book, check out this interview I did (with a little help from Dr. Koegel) with the wonderful Nell Minow over at her Movie Mom blog on belief.net.