Monday, March 2, 2009

Guest Blogger Review: A Child's Journey Out of Autism: One Family's Story of Living in Hope and Finding a Cure by Leeann Whiffen



genre: memoir/nonfiction

Clay Whiffen begins life as a normal baby in a loving home with an older brother and two loving parents. However, soon after immunizations, several illnesses, and many cycles of antibiotics, his parents start to notice his behavior change radically from sleeping problems to loss of speech and extreme behavior. Although she is reluctant to face the fact that her child has Autism, Leann eventually realizes that her son needs help--and help is hard to come by in Utah. Funding is low and programs are inadequate to really make a difference. Leann and her husband decide to start an intensive therapy program in their home, along with a special diet, to try to make a difference, and it pays off in the best way. After years of study, hard work, financial hardship, and constant vigilance, Clay has his Autism diagnosis removed, and is now a healthy, happy, typical child.

This story of overcoming one of the most common problems facing children today reads part medical record, part behavior study, and part personal journal as a mother recounts her son's journey through Autism. The message is one of hope for those who have children on the Autism Spectrum--hope that with a lot of work and courage, a child with Autism may lead a completely normal life.

I cannot separate my own experience as I write this review, as a mother who raised two sons on the Autism Spectrum. Jefferson, now 7, was diagnosed with Autism at 3, but started treatment for his classic symptoms at 2. He is now fully recovered and is thriving in regular public school. Ethan, now 5, has been treated for his developmental delays and Autism symptoms since he was 15 months old, and has recently graduated from special education and is doing great in school and socially, although we continue to work on his relatively mild behavioral problems.

This book was engrossing--taking over my thoughts and keeping me up at nights as I relived my own experiences, which I realize I have mostly blocked out as I meet everyday challenges. Many times as I read, I felt like the words could have come from my own journal. Clay was very similar to my son Jefferson in many ways, and in other ways a lot like Ethan. It was a shock to me to see how few services were available to the Whiffen family. We were extremely blessed to live in a place that is well-known for its treatment for Autism when my sons were diagnosed. The programs, therapies, and training the Whiffen family had to discover, organize, and finance were free and easily accessible for our family. Although I did a large amount of the therapy at home, the amount of support I had from the local programs were invaluable, and I wonder where my children would be without them. I am amazed at the amount of work and study Leann went through to help her son recieve the treatment he needed.

For parents wondering if their child has Autism, it does not list a comprehensive description of symptoms, either for Clay himself, or in general. The book does at times make assmptions about possible causes and treatments for Autism that are not proven, as any parent's account would and despite its getting a little bogged down in technical lingo, should not be taken as medical fact or as a substitute for professional advice. That being said, what the book does is introduce parents to symptoms that may be red flags, and encourages them to have their child evaluated, and gives a wealth of options for treatment.

While I can not endorse each of the therapies described in this book, not having used some of them but receiving the same outcome, I do not discount them either. It reinforces my idea that each family needs to make the decisions that are right for their child--find what works for him or her. This book may seem to describe these methods as the only way to treat Autism--and it would, because that is what worked for this family. Were I to write a book after my first son, I would have done the same. But since my second son needed such radically different treatment, I have to conclude that each child needs something different. Let's all hope we have the amount of energy Leann and her family had in finding every possible solution to our children's problems.

It is easy for me to take for granted where my children are now, and forget to marvel at how far we've come. This book helped me remember that, and motivated me to keep on working on finding new ways to help my children overcome any residual effects of Autism (they both still have some sensory integration problems, and Ethan has mild ADHD). But it was sometimes hard to read, as I remember my own feelings and my own determination, and that time in our lives that was hard on our entire family. For those who do have experience with overcoming Autism, this book will be validating and familiar. For those working through it now, it will be a guiding light and hope to keep going. For those who have no experience with Autism, it is an opportunity to see what families who have these children are going through--perhaps inviting some understanding and patience.

Having a child who, like Clay, was one of the first to have the Autism diagnosis removed, I know the scepticism that comes along with having a recovered child. People want to believe that your child never had Autism, that he would have grown out of it without your help, or that people are throwing around the Autism diagnosis as readily as the common cold. But this detailed account of the entire process begs anyone to dispute its facts. In light of naysayers in the medical community and the media, books like this, which both describe the symptoms of Autism and record the path to recovery, are desperately needed. Hopefully this is one of many stories of hope that will emerge in the near future.


bermudaonion said...

Great guest review. I so admire parents who face these challenges head on with such fortitude.

Lisa Roe said...

Great review, Camille!

Corinne: I nominated you for an award!

Lisa Roe
Online Publicist

momster said...

Not having walked in your shoes I hesitate to mention it, but as a scientist the mention of immunizations as possible causation has been refuted innumerable times. Anecdotal evidence aside, our society as a whole will be safer when the alarms against immunizations are ceased and more energy is focused towards true causation and treatments.

Cami said...

Momster--this is the reviewer. I agree, I do not think immunizations are causing Autism. I had my 3rd child immunized on time (though I did spread them out rather than get them 5 at a time). I merely stated what was implied in this book, while letting people know I did not agree with all the author's assertions about causes or cures. I assure you, every parent with an autistic child has heard every argument. But it is a good thing to bring up, and I hope I made that clear in my review. The truth is, no one knows what causes Autism, so a mother can only guess.

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