Toast: Autism in the Early Years – Alice Boardman
A questions and answers style book written by a parent of two autistic sons for the benefit of other parents. Covered in this book are a wide range of questions typical of those in the forefront of a parent’s mind when they have been told their son or daughter is autistic. In an ideal world the parent would get this information from their doctor or other professional because very little in this book is what you would call specialist knowledge. We do not live in an ideal world and so many parents are given a diagnosis and maybe a leaflet with some numbers or websites to look into and sent on their way. With the recent news that the time frame for an autism diagnosis is up to 2 years for adults and 3 and a half years for children (BBC, 2015), this situation does not look like it will be improving any time soon.
This book touches on a range of topics from questions concerning the diagnosis, through sensory problems, food, provisions of services and parents managing their own emotions. The manner it is written is that of an informal, chatty nature, where Boardman answers the questions in relation to the lives of her self, her husband and her two sons, Tom and Alex.
I have also learned that providing for a sensory need cannot be used as a reward to get a child to complete another task. ‘If you sit for ten minutes, then you can go on the trampoline’, is not appropriate. Firstly their need has not been met, so it will be very hard to sit still whilst driven by a sensory impulse. Secondly, it is simply not kind in my mind to deny them their primary need.
Boardman discusses things that have worked, and things that did not work. She is honest in writing about the times where she got things wrong, and how this affected her children and how she responded to that.
I have held strong and believe that the way forward is not by forcing, tricking or punishing them. If you kick a dog he may do what you want, but you have one very sad and hurt dog.
In her answers about education she discusses the differences between mainstream and special schools – and the differences she sees with one son in each environment. Some of what she writes about are the issues I (and I’m sure many other people) see on a regular basis, and her frustrations are no doubt shared by parents, professionals and autistic people throughout the country.
I should have realised that there was trouble when they asked so little about Tom, and were too quick to say they knew what they were doing. The process of communication was strained, and Tom’s needs were not being managed.
I’ll be honest, there was one moment when I was reading this book where I didn’t know what to think about one of the approaches that Boardman used – and that was on the topic of food and Tom. She describes using ABA techniques to encourage her son to try new food – he could only have access to his tablet if he tried some of the new food on his plate. She describes ensuing screaming and begging from Tom before the situation resolves very quickly. Tom, within the space of a week, begins to eat a greater variety of meals. I think this is a tricky area – is this the right way to introduce new food? I would be reluctant to use this method. Boardman reports that her son enjoys the new food in his diet and requests it regularly. If this is true, and based on her honesty of both good and bad throughout the book there is no reason to doubt it is, then this method did work for Boardman and Tom. For another child, it’s use may have negative consequences.
This isn’t a long book, and I think that and it’s accessible language makes it a good book for parents to start with to get answers to a number of questions that have been left unanswered concerning their child and autism. It’s not going to provide all, or even many, of the answers but much of the advice and information is a good start for any parent. There’s a lot of books out there with poor advice for parents, and they could do a lot worse than reading this book.
Is it worth reading? For parents who are still at the beginning of understanding autism, yes, worth a read.
BBC “Speed of autism diagnosis must improve, experts say” (2015) – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-34095075