The movie producer Sam Goldwyn once said about the release of a new film, “I don’t care if it doesn’t make a nickel. I just want every man, woman, and child in America to see it.”
Minus the not “make a nickel” part (nickels, plenty of them, would be highly appreciated) this is how I feel about my book released today, Walker Finds a Way: Running into the Adult World with Autism.
The subject of the book—what happened when my low-functioning child with autism “aged out” of the educational system at 22—is one of critical concern to parents, families, and our political system. All parents of severely autistic children, no matter how much progress they see the child make as he ages, experience an ever-louder and more piercing tornado siren of anxiety the closer the child gets to age 22.
What will happen? Where will he live? How will he live when we are gone? The political and social problem is also dire: what will society do to help a growing population of people who can’t help themselves?
I wrote this book to tell the hard truth about young people like my now 30-year-old son. I think in speaking for him I speak for many thousands of other young adults who have no voice, no ability to speak for themselves. There are many Breakthrough Books that tell wonderful stories about curing autism. But that kind of story arc is not what the troops experience on the ground: no critical breakthrough occurs, the child does not show signs of living independently, parental worry about the future goes through the roof.
In Walker Finds a Way I tell how Walker’s life in a group home was very good until it became less and less good and finally very bad. In navigating this disaster, in extricating him from a damaging group home and vocational program, we realized new things about our son: his hidden resilience, his sophisticated understanding of his plight, his determination to affect his own fate.
As his mother Ellen and I struggled to help Walker, we began to see the resourceful ways in which he was helping himself. Lesson for his dim parents: Never, never underestimate him.
Another reason I wrote this book is because I know Walker’s story and ours is very much like that of other young adults with autism and their families. As I say in the book, “I’ve written this because nobody would pay attention to me if I stood with a megaphone at the corner of State and Randolph streets in Chicago, shouting, ‘My son and others like him are worthwhile people! Get to know them! Make friends with them! Your life will be enriched! And pass laws that will help them lead satisfying lives!’ Come to think of it, maybe people would pay attention in ways that would surprise me. It could be worth a try, actually.”