As almost every parent of an autistic child knows, there is no shortage of books out there on autism, but true gems are rare. Eileen Riley-Hall’s new book Parenting Girls on the Autism Spectrum is just that, though, a true gem and a must-have book for anyone with daughters on the spectrum.
Eileen and I both have two girls on the spectrum, and both of them are two years apart, and she and I are both English teachers, so it’s natural I would feel a sense of kinship with her. She’s also resolute about facing the challenges our children face and we face as parents with a positive attitude and a solid belief in all of our abilities to cope with the challenges and thrive—even when those challenges remain. She’s also extremely candid, speaking about the need to take care of ourselves and to seek out therapists for our children and ourselves. Equipping our daughters and ourselves with any and every tool at our disposal is an absolute must.
Each chapter closes with five key take-away messages, making a nice bullet-point summary for readers to turn to when they’re looking for a short, sweet message of hope and a dose of reality.
There is hope and there is much to celebrate about our children, and when we are armed with that we can take heart when we read sentences like:
“Although our girls do face some tough challenges, helping your daughter discover the unique person she is can make having a girl a spectacular experience.”
“Whatever she does, she will do it her way, with her distinctive brand of quirkiness.”
Eileen offers information, tips, and cautions about everything parents will face through adolescence with their daughters, from diagnosis, to treatments, to hygiene, to education and the need to fight for inclusion whenever possible: “Simply put, inclusion is not just advantageous, it is necessary.”
My favorite chapter, though, is chapter 13, “Outtakes, Mistakes, and C is for Crazy,” where Eileen takes the reader through some of her more memorable moments as a mom. Our children provide us with so many opportunities to think on our feet, and since those feet along with the rest of our bodies, including our minds, are sleep-deprived, we occasionally react in ways that make us cringe or giggle long after the event has passed. Forgiving ourselves and accepting that we don’t have to be perfect is one of the most important things we can do, not just for ourselves, but for our girls, too. Admitting when we could have handled a situation better, apologizing for our mistakes: these are road maps for our children, signposts that let them know that they too don’t have to be perfect, that they can recover from mistakes, as well.
There are very few books that are really must-haves, but I honestly feel that, no matter if you think you already have it covered, that you’ve already traveled a lot of that road with your autistic daughters, this is one that is a must have, if for no other reason than to realize that we are not alone, that other mothers walk similar paths, feel similar emotions, need the same things: support, friendship, solidarity, laughter and hugs, all of which Eileen provides in abundance.