Rhonda Spellman is an autism advocate, author, speaker award winning author of The Journey Home from Autism and she is columnist at Beyond the Spectrum. We thank Ms. Spellman for writing a wonderful guest post about how her son, Oliver, aged 10, wrote his very first book. I read that Ms. Spellman first became a published author at 17. She has been writing “ever since.”
You could call it subconscious, super-natural or super-spiritual. You might choose to call it something altogether different but you just had to be there. Maybe then you could understand.
I was there and I’m not sure I fully understood but I decided to go with it because, deep down, I believed. As the mother of two boys, one with Asperger’s Syndrome, I needed something to believe it at that moment.
It all started the night before with these words from my 10-year-old son Oliver, You don’t love me as much as you love Tanner. Everything is for Tanner and everything is about Tanner. It’s always Tanner this and Tanner that…The door slammed loudly and – thankfully – his voice – and words – were somewhat muffled. This was my chance to come up with something profound and supportive; something that would prove to him that his father and I loved both of our boys equally.
Somehow every great thought that seemed to flow in flowed out just as quickly and I couldn’t stop the tears from welling up in my eyes. I poured myself a cup of coffee and began to pace the floor. My mind seemed to have a mind all of its own. Images of holding Tanner while he screamed and waiting room walls danced across my eyelids until my vision became blurry. I blinked away the tears to zero in on my counter top covered with enough oils, herbs and supplements to open a paraphernalia shop. My poor Oliver was immersed in a life that he didn’t understand. We were all immersed with helping Tanner and I had somehow failed to notice the depth.
A short while later my husband returned from work. He was given his new assignment: play with Tanner until Oliver and I returned. Before he knew what hit him, we were on our way out the door to get an ice cream – just Oliver and me. We got ice creams and headed to one of our favorite parks nearby. I was troubled, to say the least, with not knowing what the answer was – if there was an answer. And, if the elusive answer turned out to be a logical one, how would I implement this new and improved plan after it was revealed to me? If Oliver was suffering he didn’t show it. Thankfully, there were several other children to play with at the park and most of them were in various stages of eating ice cream as well. A perfect setting to reflect I thought… Well, I never got the chance to reflect – or deflect – as the case turned out. Suddenly, I was bombarded with a little army of children who wanted to be pushed, pulled, tickled, chased, hiding, hidden from… and our afternoon of play turned out to be just what Oliver needed. It was all good but – back to the original thoughts of what I chose to believe. Just so you know, I think you would have, too.
The next morning I was lying in bed and rehearsing moments of how I did that and how I should have done this and I was concentrating on how I could possibly help Oliver to feel really special. Suddenly, I got this image of a book cover with a big fish sandwiched between two sesame seed buns and the words Asperger’s Rhymes with Bass Burgers above this silly fish. I just about laughed out loud. Like I said earlier, you had to be there. Well, I was so excited about this news that I could hardly stand it! I just knew that Oliver would be excited, too, so I practically bounded into his room. Hey, guess what, I began, and I told him the entire, exciting story; fully expecting him to be just as thrilled as I was.
What? Write a story about my brother? Are you kidding me? Why would I want to do that? He’s sooo annoying.
Well, I asked, isn’t there anything about Tanner that isn’t annoying? After all, this could be your way of helping everyone to understand how you feel. You might even help other kids like you who have a brother or sister with Asperger’s Syndrome. Yeah, right… he replied with less enthusiasm than he would have given to a suggestion that he clean his room. He sat on his bed and fired questions at me for awhile. How can Tanner be so smart and act so weird sometimes? I reminded him that there were many wonderful times, too and asked him if he couldn’t think of at least one. He began, Do you remember that time when we were at the Museum of Nature and Science and Tanner asked that astronaut about the Black Hole? That was pretty cool. I think he knew more than that astronaut did. You know mom, I don’t think that guy was a real astronaut.
I felt like I was dreaming. Hold on Oliver, I said, let me get a pen and paper!
Indeed, it was like a dream. We sat there and, in just a few hours, he had verbalized his feelings about the annoyingness and the awesomeness that come with being the sibling of someone who has Asperger’s Syndrome. I had several pages of thoughts and ideas. And, just like I do with the children in the writing program I teach, I coached him to turn his thoughts into sentences and paint a picture with his words. Two of my favorite pages follow:
Asperger’s Syndrome can be an awesome thing and also an annoying thing. It’s kind of hard to describe so I’m telling you this story to help you understand. The first thing for you to know is how to say Asperger’s.
Just remember this: Asperger’s rhymes with bass burgers.
The next thing I’d have to say is that most people who have Asperger’s Syndrome are really smart like Albert Einstein, my brother and many other people. For example, Tanner knows just about everything about animals and he likes to watch movies with David Attenborough.
Before I knew it, we had an ideal picture of what Oliver felt and saw. I suggested that he might want to read it to Tanner. Tanner loved it and helped Oliver to make a few minor changes. The rest, as it’s commonly said, is ‘history’. I talked with a list of illustrators and every single one was wonderful in his or her own way. In the end, Oliver chose the illustrator he liked the best and we have been working with Des ever since. He has become almost like family. Currently, he is illustrating Tanner’s first book that he wrote when he was five and the first two books from my children’s writing program.
It’s always interesting to me to see how we try to make things happen in some precise time and fashion that seems perfectly logical at the moment. It took well over year to pull everything together in order to release Oliver’s book. Every month felt like another year and I spend hour after hour learning how to do all of the jobs that needed to be done. Finally – Asperger’s Rhymes with Bass Burgers was released the very same week as the first major rewrite – in nearly 20 years – was revealed with Asperger’s Syndrome being removed from the diagnostic guidelines. Was it a coincidence? Maybe it was just timing? Perhaps it could be called dumb luck. It’s hard to know. I can only say that the diagnostic guideline might have changed but the very special people who need to be understood didn’t. I believe that this book truly speaks to us all.
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Rebecca is an independent publisher working to help siblings of children with emotional challenges.