July 2005

Full spectrum of autistic disorders explored in book Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, and Other ASDs, by Chantal Sicile-Kira, Perigee Books, 2004, $15.95.

Autism spectrum disorders are the fastest-growing disability of the decade. As the disorder reaches epidemic proportions, a considerable amount of research and literature has emerged. Chantal Sicile-Kira, mother of an autistic child, has written a comprehensive guide that provides excellent information and resources as well as insightful commentary and excerpted writings from several individuals with autism.

Generally, autism spectrum disorders are characterized by deficits in imaginative thought, social relationships and communication. The intensity and emergence of symptoms is unique to each child’s neurological profile. While innovative and effective therapies are being developed, individuals who have autism are making significant contributions to the understanding and treatment of these conditions.

Sicile-Kira introduces us to Temple Grandin: scientist, professor and individual with autism. Grandin notes: “I have read enough to know that there are many parents and professionals who believe once autistic, always autistic. To these people it is incomprehensible that the characteristics  of autism can be modified or controlled. I am living proof that they can.” Grandin’s writings document and describe her experiences as an autistic individual. Her comprehensive and dynamic understanding of autism has allowed her to participate in developing effective therapies and interventions.     

Liane Holliday Willey was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome as an adult. Sicile-Kira includes an excerpt from Willey’s book, Pretending to be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome, in which she writes: “I had not imagined a thing. I was different. Different, challenged even, but not bad or unable or incorrect.”     

Sicile-Kira has written an immeasurably useful guide to autism spectrum disorders. She thoroughly covers all the issues and resources relevant from infancy through adulthood. The distinct voices and perspectives of individuals with autism spectrum disorders that resonate throughout this book give us much hope and direction for the future.     Emilija Novitovic, M.Ed.

How to make your mouth work on those long car trips MouthSounds, by Fred Newman, Workman Publishing, 2005, $13.95 for book and CD.

At first blush, you might not think a book on mouthsounds qualifies as a parenting tool. In fact, to some, giving kids free rein to refine all those annoying sounds they are prone to make anyway might actually be a parenting version of hell. 

But picture this: You are on the long drive to your summer vacation destination or summer camp and there are several bored, desperate children rambling on about how their cousin’s car has a DVD player in it and if you really loved your children, they, too, would be watching movies on the road. That, to me, is more along the lines of a nightmare.

So, before our three-hour car trip, I put Fred Newman’s CD and book into my secret travel bag of tricks. About 30 minutes into the trip, just after the favorite radio station signal died down and right before the complaining started, I pulled it out. “Sweet,” said my 15-year-old son. “Wow,” said the 12-year-old boy. 

The rest of the ride was not bad at all. I even found myself working on my duck quack.

You may know Newman as the sound guy from the radio show “A Prairie Home Companion.” If you do, you know he is a genius at making sounds, but he is amazing at taking you step-by-step through the how-to as well.

The subtitle of the book is “How to whistle, pop, boing and honk for all occasions ... and then some.” And you get it all, from a water drip to a Hawaiian nose hum to a turkey gobble.

Mostly, we listened to the CD on this trip. It was very entertaining. The book we used for quick reference only. But once back home, I found myself reading it. It’s nicely done and has interesting voice facts. (Did you know yelling is really hard on your voice? I thought it was just hard on my ears. Tell your kids if they repeatedly yell they may actually be developing scar tissue on their vocal folds.)

We paused the CD often as we practiced how to bark like a dog, make baby voices or try one of my younger son’s favorite sounds—gummy cheeks. 

The book jacket entices you to “put more zip in your lip,” but the book put more zip in our trip. It’s not for the faint of heart—these sounds can get annoying—but it is just darn fun and silly. Susy Schultz

A Shielded view of postpartum depression Down Came the Rain, by Brooke Shields, Hyperion, 2005, $23.95.

Down Came the Rain is Brooke Shields’ account of her fertility trials, miscarriage, ultimate pregnancy, delivery (and almost hysterectomy) and the major depression that descended on her immediately following the birth of her daughter. Since its publication, Shields has received praise and potshots, including Scientologist Tom Cruise’s recent admonishment of her on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” for using antidepressants. Some find it hard to sympathize with someone who’s led such a charmed life. I asked myself, would this book have been a good read if the author were not a famous actress and model?

I decided it is a worthwhile book. Shields is no Kay Redfield Jamison writing about bipolar depression in An Unquiet Mind; she’s no William Styron writing about suicidal depression in Darkness Visible.

Still, depression is a major public health problem, second only to heart disease in terms of its burden to our society. It affects one in six Americans in their lifetime, women at twice the rate of men. Women are at increased risk during their reproductive years and at even greater risk postpartum (up to one year following the birth of a child). Although infinitely treatable, depression remains all too often undiagnosed, untreated or unmentioned because of its stigma.

Already living in a fishbowl, Shields generously allows us a view into an even smaller one—that of the new mother struggling under the worried watch of husband, family and friends. This detailed chronology of her ordeal makes us feel as if we are living through it with her. And we are rooting for her because we want her to succeed as a mother. 

Having children is the great equalizer. And Shields writes candidly and honestly about issues many of us face: balancing work and family, rising to the role of motherhood and accepting its drudgery. We are inevitably drawn to the stories of people whose public images mask their fiercely protected private lives. We long to know how they differ from us. After reading Shields’ account, we mothers realize that she is a lot like us and that we are stars ourselves.

That Shields has taken on a mental health disorder is to her credit and to everyone’s benefit. Judith Weinstein

Kids Eat Chicago

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