Understanding Autism: A mother’s courageous saga

Book Facts: No Matter What by Sandy Howarth. Reviewed by David Stephens

‘How do you deal with it when all you do doesn’t seem to work, or make sense?” Autism, it is increasingly known, is a complex and puzzling social disorder where the afflicted lives in a world of his/her own, unable to relate to the outside world.

The parents of an autistic child themselves suffer from a wide spectrum of emotions, ranging from denial and shame to guilt and disappointment. Shouldering these emotions, they are forced to decipher the medical jargon thrown at them by specialists, who after diagnosis provide little help in dealing with the condition.

This is why Sri Lankan born Sandy Howarth‘s new book ‘No Matter What’ is so valuable. Not only does it help in understanding the condition and its major psychological ramifications but it also offers parents advice on how to cope with the challenges of successfully raising a child suffering from autism.

The critical aspect which separates this book from other books of its kind is that the author’s 15-year-old son Steven suffers from autism. Sandy Howarth has battled bravely to teach and care for him herself and the book is her courageous saga of learning, understanding and adjusting to the challenges inherent in being the carer.

That she has decided to document it all is invaluable not only to other parents of autistic children but to society at large which needs to understand and empathise with the condition.

“My book outlines the first-hand experience that has been gained from my son Steven. The book has been written to assist and offer support to families, to create awareness of the subject of Autism,” Sandy explains in the introduction to her book. A technique she uses effectively throughout the book to convey the nature and depth of the disability is drawing comparisons between what she coins as ‘typical’ development and ‘Autistic’ development.

Autism is a neurological development disorder and manifests itself in children usually after three years of age but it can also reveal itself from the time of birth. The former scenario is referred to as ‘late onset regressive Autism’ while the latter is termed ‘early onset Autism’.

The book covers much ground ranging from chapters on the medical tests and parental responses to ‘What Autism Means’ – on the many symptoms and manifestations, ‘Mindblindness, Innocence and Gratitude’ which looks at issues like the MMR vaccine link, as well as chapters on therapy, education, the battle for rights and the latest research on autism. Steven’s development is also chronicled, the little milestones, and triumphs and his development in learning life skills.

Sandy was born and educated in Colombo and with hopes of becoming an interior designer she moved to London to complete her higher studies at The Inchbald School of Design. She also graduated with honours from Parsons School of Design in New York, but hopes of a promising future in the field were laid aside when Steven then two and a half years old was diagnosed as being autistic.

Sandy’s innate resilience surfaced and she fought then, as she fights now, to give Steven, the best possible learning. She took it upon herself to teach Steven after assessing that the educational authority was ill equipped.

“Having given up my career as an interior designer, my son has taught me far more than I could have learnt from any career. I have learnt to value and appreciate what is real and to understand what really matters in life,” said Sandy at the launch of her book at the Royal Garden Hotel Kensington, London, where Steven himself was present at the ceremony, enjoying the PowerPoint presentation about himself, and mingling with the guests.

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