Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Gazette Communication’s Information Content Conductor Steve Buttry (in short, my boss) posed a question at the end of his March 23 column regarding the Linn Area Reads program.  This year’s program features “Tallgrass” by Sandra Dallas and Harper Lee’s classic novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” which delves into the delicate issue of racism in America. Steve asked readers what issues a modern-day Harper Lee should address today.

Longtime Cedar Rapids resident and Gazette reader Ray Buck e-mailed Steve of a possible Harper Lee in our midst today.

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Rules by Cynthia Lord

Ray wrote: “Cynthia Lord and she has written a lovely children’s book, Rules. It is a novel that looks at feeling different yet finding acceptance in today’s crazy, demanding world. You mentioned both of your books were told through the eyes of a young girl. Rules is a story told by a 12 year old girl with an autistic younger brother. About a snooty new neighbor and a young man, ‘handicapped’ with no voice.”

Steve forwarded me Ray’s e-mail because I often write about my son, Sage, who is on the autism spectrum and has ADHD as well. Ray is the grandfather of an autistic child, Jack.

What struck me most about Ray was his willingness to learn about the disorder that affects approximately 1 in 150 children. Autism is a difficult disorder to understand and, sometimes, to accept. It affects an individual’s ability to socialize, make transitions and in extreme cases, function. There are outbursts, tantrums, obsessions, inappropriate comments, incessant talking, and, sometimes, no talking at all.

It is instinctive to think these children are “bad” and their parents are not disciplining them enough. It can be especially difficult for grandparents and others  in Ray’s generation (he’s 68)  to understand these children. But Ray and his wife, Karren, are making every effort to understand their grandson.

When the Bucks’ grandson was diagnosed with autism, their son Brad and his wife Traci involved them with the process.

Ray wrote me in an e-mail: “I don’t recall we had a difficult time understanding or accepting his diagnosis because his parents included us in everything, right from the start. What they were feeling, what they were doing to help Jack.”

autism-ribbon2April is Autism Awareness Month and I hope more and more people take on Ray and Karren’s attitude of understanding and acceptance.

The Bucks were kind enough to drop off a copy of “Rules” for me at the office. I finished reading it last night and agree that it teaches a valuable lesson and should be read  by many, especially young students.

“Rules” focuses on a 12-year-old girl, Catherine, who is torn between taking care of her younger autistic brother and making friends with the new hip girl next door. To make things more complicated, she develops a friendship with a non-verbal boy in a wheelchair while going to her brother’s occupational therapy appointments.

At that age, there is a need to impress peers , and having your “different” brother tagging along and acknowledging your handicapped friend to the “cool kids” just doesn’t fit the mold.

I won’t tell you the ending, but I think you’ll be pleased with Catherine’s maturity.

I have set up an Autism Awareness Month page on the Frumpfighter blog. I invite anyone affected by autism to share their story. Please e-mail me at or

As a mother of a 6-year-old on the autism spectrum, I found reading Laura Shumaker’s memoir “A Regular Guy: Growing up With Autism” at times funny, heartbreaking and just plain terrifying.

regular-guyShumaker chronicles her experiences as the mother of an autistic son, Matthew. Her journey begins with how her perception of those who are disabled was molded by her mother’s cousin, Uncle Henry, who had a severe case of cerebral palsy. Growing up, she couldn’t help but privately laugh at Henry with his awkward body and movements. She also couldn’t help but form opinions about disabled people she met during her teens and early 20s.

It wasn’t until her mother scolded her and told her to think about how those people’s mothers would feel if they knew somebody was making fun of them. That sobered her up, but she didn’t have to worry about it. That would never happen to her.

And then Matthew was born.  He was a beautiful baby who progressed normally his first year of life. He then seemed to regress.  He was different than the other toddlers. Laura and her husband hoped he would grow out of it. But he wouldn’t.

Although Matthew and my son, Sage, have some significant differences, there were parts of the book that I could have written about my experience, starting with my perceptions about “different” people before Sage came into my life.

The Shumakers began to wonder about Matthew when he developed an obsession with wheels and drains. Sage has had several obsessions in his young life – the most prevalent being fans and air conditioners. At the Iowa State Fair when Sage was 3 or 4, he ran what seemed to be halfway across the grounds back to a large fan he remembered we had walked by earlier. Just this February morning he turned on the air conditioner because he wanted to go look at the unit outside.

Another aspect of Shumaker’s book that struck a chord with me was the perception others had about her child – that same type of perception we used to have about awkward, and sometimes annoying, children. The disapproving looks, the unintended condescending comments, the behind-the-back snickering – these all are familiar.

One thing Sage doesn’t seem to share with Matthew is a lack of empathy. I believe Sage truly does feel remorseful when he does something wrong. He also cares when somebody, especially a friend, is hurt or sad.

The terrifying moments in Shumaker’s book for me were when Matthew would leave the house and disappear, engage in meaningless conversation or relentlessly hit or pick on girls he liked just to get their attention. After all, he just wanted to be a “regular guy.”

It is every parent’s desire for their children be “regular” and have a “normal” life. But like the autism spectrum, the realm of “normal” is broad and unique for each individual.  

If you are the parent or loved one of someone who is “different,” I highly recommend Shumaker’s book. If you are not, I recommend it even more.

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