Jennifer Byde Myers, Shannon des Roches Rosa and I met up with Laura at a lovely Greek restaurant in San Francisco, Kokkari. Part of our conversation was about blogging, and our waiter, Michael Procopio, not only told us what to order but had a few thoughts on food blogging. But I digress.
A Regular Guy recounts Matthew's story, from a first diagnosis of language delays and Pervasive Developmental Disorder -- Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS) when he was just short of three years old, in 1988 or 1989, to his adolescence at a boarding school specializing in children with developmental disabilities, the Children's Village at Beaver Run.
The title is beautifully chosen, in a heart-wrenching way. As Matthew matured into adolescence, he had enough language to want to be "a regular guy" in the neighborhood, but his cognitive and social skills challenges left him again and again on the outside -- or worse yet, suspended from school or at the attention of law enforcement.
When Matthew was 15, it became evident that his needs were too great to be met in the local public schools, and his family began exploring residential placement alternatives. There were few, especially given Matthew's impulsive wanderings. In these passages, Shumaker writes about harrowing moments -- Officer Jones' visit following a 911 domestic disturbance call--with grace and restraint.
Shumaker's chapters on seeking a residential placement for Matthew highlights the difficulties many families affected by autism face: inadequate or inappropriate educational and vocational opportunities. The closest place that's a good match for Matthew is over 2,000 miles away from their home in California. The closer programs couldn't meet Matthew's needs.
In short, I recommend this book to parents of children newly diagnosed with autism, and for friends and family members.
Want to read more of Laura's writing? She has written
- Adolescence and Moving Day (Transitioning to a Group Home) for The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism
- Dating, With Autism, at Lisa Belkin's Motherlode blog in the NY Times
- Parenting an Autistic Adult, at Lisa Belkin's Motherlode blog in the NY Times
- Interview with Laura Shumaker by Steve Prussack at Autism Talk Radio
- She has a regular column on autism at the San Francisco Chronicle (SF Gate)
- Facebook page for A Regular Guy