The Tweedlers are delighted to share a guest post from Sharon Mitchell, author of School Daze. Sharon has also agreed to post an excerpt from the book.
The Making of School Daze – Sharon Mitchell
Autism now affects one in every 54 boys in the United States. As hard as it is to watch the child struggle, autism’s effects are also felt by his family, teachers and classmates.
Every teacher will have a child with autism in her room. Every coach will have a child with autism on his team. Many families will experience autism in their home or neighborhood.
For the past decades I’ve been a teacher, counselor and consult in school systems. I’ve been autism consultant for my province in Canada. I know what it’s like form a professional point of view and also a personal one. We have a son with an autism spectrum disorder, although he’s older now and away at university.
When a parent, especially mothers, first learn of their child’s diagnosis, they scour books and the internet, searching for information on how to help their son or daughter. There is a lot of information out there, much of it by competent authorities. But after a hard day of work and family responsibilities, who wants to read a textbook? I have my doctoral degree in autism, have taught at university on this topic, and keep up with the research in the field. But even I get tired of reading weighty books.
Writers are admonished to show, don’t tell. Kids with autism learn best when shown rather than “talked at”. Why not write a book that shows how a family and a school help a little boy with autism? Does a book have to be hard slugging to learn new things? Does learning have to be tedious? What if you could just read a good story and still gain ideas to try?
But, with full-time jobs, a family, elder-care, plus teaching university classes, and doing volunteer work, who has time to write? Enter NaNoWriMo.
I’d heard about NaNo for years, but it all seemed too daunting. Write a novel in a month? Who are you kidding? I came across a little ebook that changed my mind. Lazette Gifford has written a wonderful little book that makes NaNo seem within reach for even those who are scared to try.
Last November I entered NaNo and had the time of my life. Although I’d written several dozen pieces for magazines, published hundreds of pieces at AllExperts.com and done academic writing, this was my first attempt at fiction. NaNo was freeing. To write that many words in four short weeks, I had to turn off my inner editor and just let go. It worked! The words just flew out of my fingers, easily surpassing the 50,000 word goal. But, then NaNo was over and the editing process began.
So, School Daze was born – a light read aimed at a general audience. It was fun for me to write and I hope fun for you to read. Yes, life with autism has it’s struggles, but there are strengths as well and the fun parts that any family experiences. The book’s full of the challenges inherent in autism plus strategies that make life easier for all concerned. It’s a story about a single dad doing the best he can.
After suddenly receiving custody of his five year old son, Ben must learn how to be a dad. That fact that he’d even fathered a child was news to him. Not only does this mean restructuring his sixty-hour work week and becoming responsible for another human being, but also Kyle has autism.
Enter the school system. Under the guidance (and bullying) of a gifted teacher, Ben and Kyle take tentative steps to becoming father and son.
Teacher Melanie Nicols sees Ben as a dead beat dad, but grudgingly comes to admire how he hangs in, determined to learn for his son’s sake. Her admiration grows to more as father and some come to rely on Melanie being a part of their lives.
Is it a feel good story? Well, sort of. In the end, the autism does not all go away. Instead, they struggle and grow and learn, plus, they do live happily ever after.
Excerpt: School Daze
The principal excused herself to get the paperwork started and left Ben alone with his thoughts. Unfortunately. That damn principal had said the word “autism”. How did she know? He hadn’t mentioned it.
Usually he was pretty good at paperwork. He was, after all an accountant and dealt in papers much of his waking life. But he’d never before registered a little boy in school. What sort of questions might he be asked? He already failed the test about custody papers. What else didn’t he know about his son?
Actually, a lot. He thought back to last night, his first night alone with Kyle. His son; he actually had a son. He remembered the shock when he first learned that he had a child. But back then, it had still been an abstract concept. Sure, he’d stepped up and supported him financially as soon as he learned of his existence, but that was about it. Deanna would not allow him to meet their son, saying it would be too confusing for Kyle. And, to be honest, Ben had not protested too hard. He had his own life, far, far away from where Kyle and Deanna lived in California His conscience told him it was enough to send money. Lots of money, considering the size of the child.
He had not given much thought to what it would have been like to live with Kyle day by day. Sure, Deanna had said that Kyle had autism and therefore needed all this expensive treatment in order to be cured. But what must life have been like for Deanna before treatment if this was the way Kyle was AFTER treatment?
Last night had been hell, just hell. Ben finally fell into bed exhausted. Then, he thought about it from Kyle’s point of view. Maybe it had not been so nice for him either.
Kyle was just a small boy. The kid didn’t know him from any stranger on the street. He’d never had such a long car ride either.
There’d been the hysterical call from Deanna saying that she couldn’t take it anymore. She was pregnant with Neil’s baby. Neil was her new husband. She had morning sickness, was exhausted and just could not cope with Kyle any longer. She had to concentrate on this new life she was creating and on her marriage. Kyle was just too much for her – for them. It was now Ben’s turn.
Before Ben could marshal his arguments and tell her how ridiculous this was, Deanna had hung up, sobbing. Ben assumed he’d hear from her next with apologies, saying she hadn’t meant it and all their lives would return to normal.
Instead, just after supper last night there was a knock at the door. A car idled at the curb. In front of him stood a woman and a small boy. If Ben hadn’t just talked to her on the phone, he would not have recognized Deanna. Her face was drawn and haggard. She’d aged years in the short six years since he’d last seen her when she moved to California, after amiably breaking it off with him.
That was no big shock. While they’d had a good run briefly, their ardor had paled quickly and they remained buddies with separate lives. He’d wished her well and not thought about her again until the phone call three years ago. Again, Deanna had called him sobbing. She’d told him they shared a son. Kyle had been born eight months after she left for California. Ben didn’t question if Kyle was his; Deanna had sobbed on.
Kyle was not a normal child, she said. What? He had autism. He spent his days screaming. He’d been just diagnosed and the treatment – THE treatment was ABA, Applied Behavior Analysis, the only proven treatment for autism, or so they told her. He needed this treatment if he even had a hope of being normal. Whatever normal was, Ben thought.
So, get it for him, Ben said. What’s the problem? Well, it seemed the problem was money. The treatment did not come cheap. It required forty hours a week of one on one treatment with a trained therapist. The cost was exorbitant.
Ben had paled when he heard the cost. But, this was his son, even if this was the first he had heard of him. An errant thought entered his mind. Was this really his son? How did he know? He pushed that notion away. His son, his responsibility.