Diane Drake Burns is a Christian writer and mother of three children. Her middle son, Jonathan, has high-functioning autism spectrum disorder.
About the Book
Diane Drake Burns suspected that something was wrong with her young son, Jonathan. For years, she hesitated seeking medical help and support from schools and other organizations. She felt afraid of the unknown and of putting a label on the child that she loved so much.
In most ways, Jonathan developed normally. He was a very bright child with advanced language skills. However, he did not play like other children and trivial things upset him. Burns kept telling herself this was normal toddler behavior. She grew defensive about his quirkiness. When her mother asked, “Do you think he might have autism?” Burns immediately snapped, “Jonathan is normal in every way.” She thought to herself, how dare she suggest that my beautiful little boy had some ugly sounding thing?
The Life-Changing “Diagnosis”
Jonathan was four years old before Burns took him to a specialist for an evaluation. They waited three hours for a doctor who spent only ten minutes with them. The doctor’s diagnosis was: “Jonathan is different and will always be different. Call me if you want to consider drugs.” This disastrous news was the first step in getting help for Jonathan.
To this day, burns regrets waiting so long. She believes the earlier you face the problem and start with therapies such as sensory integration, dietary changes, and behavioral modification, the better your child will function.
Insights for Parents of an Autistic Child
Burns shows compassion and insight for parents who are holding back in the way she did. She offers them “mild salsa because that is what you need. No dramatics, no doomsday predictions. Take your time. Take baby steps.”
Her book has a blank page for parents to write down their concerns and questions before they seek help from a professional. She gives them credit for the courage to take the first step of just writing down concerns, and then offers them a “coffee break” chapter after that risky endeavor.
Burns’ advice is neither technical nor profound. If you need long treatises on the chemical basis of autism or chapters about different kinds of therapy, this is not the book for you. Luckily, most parents don’t want a bunch of complex medical talk, they seek guidance. This book is written as one parent to another. A mother who is honest and forthcoming about her own journey to acceptance of her son’s autism. Her most valuable contribution is the exploration of her emotional transformation from denial to questioning to accepting help.
Burns believes that Jonathan’s digestive problems and eating habits were a major source of his bad conduct and tantrums, poor resistance to colds and flu, and even his impaired mental activity. She put him on a gluten-free, casein-free diet with glorious results. Diet therapy combined with multi-vitamins caused “incredible leaps in Jonathan’s speech, logic and reasoning.” This may give some parents false hope–scientific double-blind testing of such diets have mostly indicated that they do not work.
However, other chapters are both helpful and unusual in a book of this kind. For example, Burns has two chapters about violence and children. She explains how Jonathan routinely kicked and bit her, and even threw shoes at her head while she was driving. She ignored these behaviors until his teachers finally made her understand that although he was “different,” he still needed limits and consequences. Another subject that most writers don’t touch is the effect of the “different child” on other family members; it is a topic that Burns explores candidly.
Many parents of children with autism can find practical, sanity-saving advice in this book. For example, to make doctors’ visits easier, she tells parents to keep a “cheat sheet” in your purse with your child’s milestones (first time walking, etc.) and numbers like Social Security and insurance. The appendix includes a list of resources for parents with autistic children.
Reading her book is like having coffee with a compassionate friend. It is an ideal choice for parents who suspect something is wrong but are hesitant to face their fears. Burns did face hers, and she stands tall as a survivor willing to help others in the same situation.
Burns, Diane Drake. Autism, Aspergers, ADHD, ADD? A Parent’s Road Map to Understanding and Support! (Arlington, TX: Future Horizons) 2005.