Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Next Stop: An Autistic Son Grows Up by Glen Finland

Next Stop: An Autistic Son Grows Up. Glen Finland. Penguin Group (USA). March 2013. 304 pp. hbk. ISBN#: 9780425261033.

David Finland and his mother, Glen, spend a whole summer traveling the Washington D.C. trains.  Whereas it was a constant surprise for David when he was a child, now the goal is for him to learn how to navigate traveling on his own.  In fact, that is the goal of this entire account.  While it is easy to parent an autistic child forever, assuming responsibility in all aspects, it’s not healthy or beneficial to David.  The unspoken question remains if he can maintain independence without always checking in with Mom and Dad, a serious question with no easy answers.

The first thing one realizes on reading is that every disabled child, particularly autistic children/adults, is unique.  There’s no cookie cutter pattern to follow but David Finland is able to show what works and what doesn’t.  His biggest problem is that he gets so distracted and focused on one thing that everything else is off his radar or thinking. 
Glen describes the frantic search initially for what caused David’s problems and is not shy about discussing people’s kind but more often cruel or thoughtless comments about David’s autism, including mainstream children in school who can be the most heartless and the most lacking in understanding and compassion.  But the story of Glen and her husband’s journey with David is the most inspiring part of this story.  No, they don’t learn it in classes, although they get some clues here and there from other programs. They learn by trial and error, by not condemning and always encouraging, while realistically setting limits, not an easy task at all.

David is off the radar as far as others’ emotional needs but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have his own way of showing care and love. The possibilities of jobs come and go but the Finland family forge on, knowing there’s a spot just for David.  He loves working with animals which is a distinct possibility for the future. A brief time in Florida turns out to fizzle out, along with a threat from another guy taking advantage of David’s trusting nature. At one point, he vocalizes his “right” to have a job, his own place and how that can’t be denied him.

The story goes on and one, getting better and better. This is such a very real story which anyone in contact with autistic children should read, even if one only briefly meets someone like David.  It’ about hope no matter how it’s tested and an unconditional love that brooks no permanent obstacles for an adult son who has the “right” to live like everyone else.  This portrait is well-written as well without stereotypical sermonizing or whining, even when it hurts so much! Kudos to you Glen Finland for sharing your journey – we are the better for it and are rooting for David’s future. 

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