Today I’m reviewing Simple Autism Strategies for Home and School by Sarah Cobbe.
There are many things I loved about this book, but there were just as many that I wasn’t thrilled about.
I’ll start with the good first.
My own personal philosophy of parenting and the needs of Autistic people can probably be summed up by saying that I’m a huge proponent of gentle parenting and homeschooling, unschooling, or some other personalized form of education whenever possible.
However, not everyone has the freedom or privilege to keep their children out of school or to allow their child to develop in their own time because most parents have to work and Autistic children who are racial minorities could, quite literally, be killed if they’re openly neurodivergent in public when a police officer is present or when a nosy bystander decides to call 911 instead of either minding their own business or politely offering assistance.
This book should be extremely helpful for those families that (thankfully) reject ABA, but who still need to have their children functioning more in society so that they can survive in the world.
Most books written for parents of Autistic children are only written from the perspective of an allistic (non-autistic) parent, which leaves very serious gaps in the suggestions. Allistic parents, even those who are willing to listen to our perspectives in the first place, generally don’t understand how Autistic people experience the world and so are only writing from a limited perspective.
For an example from my life see “notes” at the bottom of the post.
Perspectives and personal experiences matter and make a huge difference!
Sarah Cobbe presents many suggestions based on Autistic experiences, not just looking from the outside in. She asks the questions: Why do Autistic children react the way they do to various situations? What’s going on inside the Autistic child that’s driving their reaction?
Until people understand why someone is acting a certain way, any solutions aren’t going to be actually effective, even if they appear to be effective from an observer’s perspective.
I found the last section, the one about home life, to be the most helpful. The first section is about the “spectrum” in general and the second is about school strategies.
I liked how Sarah gave three different suggestions for each situation. There’s a saying, “When the only solution you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” and I think that’s particularly relevant for parenting. If one’s only tool is hitting their child for “defiance” or using extreme behaviorist tools like ABA, then every issue with one’s child is going to look like “bad behavior” needing to be corrected, punished, coerced, or forced out of them.
But with increased understanding and more options comes much more flexibility. No method is going to be “one size fits all” because people are unique and the situational context is also unique and of vital importance!
This book certainly adds many ideas and perspectives that parents may not have considered and that are necessary to consider when parenting a child whose experience of the world is fundamentally different from one’s own.
On to the things I didn’t like as much.
In the Introduction Sarah explains that the terminology she uses for autism in the book will be varied, but I really didn’t notice any instances of her using identity-first language (Autistic child). Instead, she uses a lot of “child on the spectrum” and “child with autism” language which was… frustrating, to be completely honest.
“With autism” or “on the spectrum” is such awkward phrasing, it’s not what the majority of us prefer, and I understand that phrasing is more palatable to allistic parents of Autistic children, but it was distracting and upsetting for me to read that phrasing over and over again. I’d really hoped, after reading the introduction and based on the fact that the author herself is Autistic, that the language used would reflect Autistic community preferences.
Some of the book resources recommended aren’t books that I would suggest for parents to read, but I definitely appreciated Sarah’s thoroughness in giving recommendations — often giving page numbers and summaries of relevant bits in the books she recommended.
I also wasn’t impressed with the suggestions to limit “special interests,” but again, this book is geared more towards families that want or need to fit into society more than my family does.
I accept that sometimes Autistic people aren’t going to be able to expound for hours upon our passions, but home should be a safe place to be ourselves. I think that, rather than limiting interests when they get to a point of overwhelm for the family to hear about in general, parents should seek outlets for their children, such as groups that meet based on the child’s specific interests so that children can be around other people who share their passions and can take some of the pressure off the child’s family to learn about the interest or hear about it for hours on end.
Writing about an interest can also be an effective outlet that doesn’t restrict, but gives the parents and siblings a break.
For more about my experiences with joining groups based on interests, see “notes” at the bottom of this post.
Overall I thought it was an excellent book, especially for families who would like more ideas for how to support their child in being more successful in society. I think that Sarah’s Autistic perspective is a very helpful thing along with her decades of experience working with other Autistic people in various ways.
As a book geared for allistic parents of Autistic children and comparing it to all the other books out there for allistic parents of Autistic children, I’d probably give it a 5/5. Because of the things that bothered me, it would be closer to a 3/5 if I didn’t compare it to everything else that’s out there.
Regarding outside perspectives and methods that seem to work:
To my parents, spanking me probably “worked” because it decreased (or seemed to decrease) my “challenging” behaviors. But from my perspective being spanked made my parents untrustworthy and terrifying. I had no idea why I was being punished most of the time (“You know what you did!” wasn’t exactly a helpful explanation).
But they thought it “worked” and so they kept doing it. All the while, I became angrier, less trusting, more fearful, and eventually concluded that I should just keep as much as possible from my parents because anything they found out about could simply be used against me in a way that caused me harm.
Regarding encouraging interests by supporting children in joining interest-based groups:
One of the best things my parents did for me was to encourage me to join the local community band as a teenager. I was, by far, the youngest in the band. It was basically a bunch of 55+ retirees and me. I got to talk with musicians who were older and more experienced than I was and who loved having a young person in their midst who shared their passion too!