Here's the thing I've noticed about the autism and special needs parents I gravitate towards -- I love them not just because they Get It, but because the "Getting It" is a secret handshake, a release that lets us all immediately be ourselves, our wonderful, ribald, exhausted, gallows-humor-loving selves. Without pretense. Without eggshells-perching about our children's situations or conditions. Without having to explain or dwell on our kids' challenges. Without -- blessedly -- any mawkish implied pity. We can just hang out. And talk about the kids we love so much -- or not talk about them at all. You know, like regular parents.
Which is why it was such a delight to meet Laura Shumaker last week, at a San Francisco lunch with West Coast Thinking Person's Guide to Autism editors Jennifer Byde Myers and Liz Ditz Laura is most assuredly one of us. Wry, incisive, and damn good company. And she Gets It, implicitly but unsurprisingly -- she wrote about the necessity of being around other parents who Get It in her book A Regular Guy: Growing up with Autism, which is about parenting her now-adult son Matthew. If you haven't read A Regular Guy yet, you need to. (You can even be like Jen and read the Kindle version.)
A Regular Guy was a friendly cuff under the chin, for me. Laura's and Matthew's story reminded me how fortunate I am to be parenting a child with autism in this Internet era of heightened awareness and support. How important it is to take care of myself, if I'm going to be strong enough to take care of Leo and his sisters. And, most strikingly, just how much autism parents' experiences vary -- and how comfortable I've become with my own family's "difficult." Laura's family's challenges almost had me blurting that most-despised phrase, "I don't know how you do it!"
But I do know how Laura does it, because she's documented it thoroughly. She does it because she's one of us -- doing her utmost to give her son the best life possible, while navigating challenges neither she nor any of us special powers parents ever anticipated.
I have read and admired Laura's writing for years, and did a tasteful happy dance when she agreed to contribute essays to The Thinking Person's Guide. It was a much bigger treat to meet her in person. I hope this is the first of many meetings -- and I hope for the good fortune to meet Matthew eventually as well. Thank you, Laura!