When I present on literacy and autism, I often share excerpts from books such as Mockingbird, by Kathryn Erskine, because of how authentic the description of the thoughts and feelings of a child with autism can be. Also, I love reading aloud something compelling or touching that will stick in the minds of the listener, in this case teachers, so that they can reflect on an experience from their own practice with this special group of students.
I will absolutely be adding Cynthia Lord’s Rules to the books that I will share, because of how powerful it was to read, as a parent and teacher of students with autism. More importantly, I will be having my son and daughter read this book when they are older; I think that it will allow us to start very important conversations about how they feel about being the sibling of a child with autism. Of course, its wonderfulness is no surprise, as Cynthia Lord writes from a completely authentic experience. Her ability to convey this to her readers is truly a treasure.
Over the break, I had someone accuse me of not being a good enough parent. They said, if I was more strict, my son would not act the way he does. I like to think that Catherine, the narrator in Rules, would understand why I push my son sometimes, and when I choose not to: “But those words don’t help. So I reach over, wipe away his tear with the side of my thumb, and say the only words I know will calm him: ”Frog, you are looking quite green.”” “Tomorrow I’m going to tell Mom she has a point about David needing his own words, but other things matter, too. Like sharing something small and special, just my brother and me.” For my son, it’s video games. I have read all of the same articles that everyone else has, about how they are not good for children, and how they may even be keeping him from developing his social skills further. However, when he is really upset, or feeling stressed, I know that video games will be his safe place to escape to – they will make him happy. I think it’s more complicated than whether or not I am a good parent.
I have always adhered to “rules” to help my son navigate society. It reinforced what I do to read some of the same rules in Lord’s book: “If someone says ‘hi,’ you say ‘hi’ back. Don’t stand in front of the TV when other people are watching it. Flush! A boy can take off his shirt to swim, but not his shorts. It’s fine to hug Mom, but not the clerk at the video store. If it’s too loud, cover your ears or as the other person to be quiet. Saying you’ll do something means you have to do it – unless you have a very good excuse.” Some of the rules even made me laugh that we need to have a rule for these sorts of things. Of course, now that he’s older, it’s more complicated: “Sometimes people laugh when they like you. But sometimes they laugh to hurt you.” But rules help him make sense of the world on most days.
I am very grateful to Cynthia Lord for writing this book. I recommend it, especially for those who work with students on the spectrum. I was encouraged by the book. It helped me know that I am not alone in my love for my son, or the things we do a little differently than others do. Rules was a gift to me and my family. I’m very grateful for all of the authors who write about these seemingly small, but important issues and individuals.