1. Autism in Girls and Parents As Advocates
In Parenting Girls on the Spectrum: Overcoming the Challenges and Celebrating the Gifts (Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012), Eileen Riley-Hall writes about her two daughters, Lizzie, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, and Caroline, who is a few years younger and who is on the autism spectrum. Lizzie is the same age as my son, who is moderately to severely autistic. I can see how different our same-aged children are and yet how much the same, as both are now in the (often not too fun!) teenager years with all the woes (skin problems, hormones) of that age.
It is a compelling reminder that autism is a spectrum disorder, in which children have many of the same struggles in communication, social interactions and behavior (especially repetitive ones), but in different degrees.
The majority of individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are male. Riley-Hall’s book makes a strong case for how autism can present itself different in girls (for instance, girls on the spectrum like to play imaginatively and do seek to be social, pp. 40-1). Parenting Girls on the Spectrum is organized in sections about education, friends, siblings, causes and treatments, “autism truths and myths,” “dark moments,” “special gifts” and more, with each chapter concluding with a helpful set of bullet points that sum up the “heart of the matter.”
I particularly enjoyed Riley-Hall’s narratives of her daughters, of Caroline being her class’s representative in a school-wide spelling bee (p. 72), her refusal to wear anything but one jumper (with the “Aristocat” Marie on it, pp. 162-3) for several months and her learning about empathy from Charlie Brown cartoons (p. 78) ; of Lizzie “rehearsing social lessons through her dolls” (including Piglet, p. 77), her love of musicals and her overcoming disaster to perform in a seventh grade show (p. 84-5) and her efforts to work through insisting that the television could not be turned on at night after once seeing a show about bugs at night that terrified her (pp. 218-9).
Riley-Hall’s perspective as mother, advocate and teacher (of students with disabilities and without) comes through clearly, so that reading Parenting Girls on the Spectrum is like having a conversation about the author’s advice and personal experiences.
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