You may be familiar with the name Jenny McCarthy but I must admit that I haven’t been following her career too closely. McCarthy is a comedic actress, television personality, playboy playmate and a best selling author. McCarthy has written books about pregnancy, motherhood and marriage in Belly Laughs, Baby Laughs and Life Laughs.
I never thought Jenny and I would have anything in common other than our mutual appreciation for Jim Carrey movies. As it turns out we both have sons with autism. In her recent book Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey In Healing Autism McCarthy takes a departure from her usual humourous writing. In this book she gives the reader a brutally frank and honest account of her struggles dealing with her son’s autism, failing marriage and more recent spotty career.
The author starts out describing a harrowing tale where she finds her two year old son Evan laying in his crib having a life-threatening seizure. McCarthy later reflects on this incident as a giant wake up call. Dealing with the wrong diagnosis of epilepsy Evan then goes through a terrible ordeal experimenting with two different seizure medications and dealing with the resulting side effects. At one point McCarthy wondered if she would have to choose between Evan the psycho kid or the zombie kid. Readers go on a very bumpy ride along McCarthy’s journey to the world of autism. After her son’s delayed diagnosis, the author gains insight through another celebrity, Holly Robinson Peete, who has an older son with autism. Robinson Peete tells McCarthy to imagine her son is stuck behind a window that she needs to pull him through. This image works well if you consider the common belief that there’s a limited window of opportunity to get through to autistic children.
McCarthy teases that she deserves a degree from the "University of Google"after all the internet searching in her quest for answers and treatments to help her son. One thing the author swears by is her son’s gluten free and casein free diet which limits wheat and dairy products. Evan, now five years old, still maintains this diet today. She also credits her son’s continued improvement to Intensive Behavioral Intervention a.k.a. IBI therapy. McCarthy gives her opinion on a variety of treatments, therapies and sounds off on the long waiting lists and inordinate costs to treating autism. McCarthy tries to keep a level head throughout her ordeal but continues to question why or how her son developed autism in the first place. As far as the controversial vaccine theory she weighs in on this topic too. McCarthy wishes there were a test available to assess a child’s vulnerability before they get a vaccine.
McCarthy credits her tenacious drive to her strong maternal instinct and deep connection to her son. McCarthy sees herself as a messenger of hope and help. She wants autistic moms, as she calls them, to find faith that their child can get better. McCarthy isn’t wearing a pair of rose colored designer shades here either. She notes that there are children who never seem to improve or advance in therapy and warns that early intervention is crucial. McCarthy insists that all parents and pediatricians need to be aware of the signs or red flags that could be characteristics of autism. First time mom’s might miss the signs because they are not as familiar with early childhood milestones or development stages. They may see their child’s behaviors as cute or unique traits to their child and just brush them off. This is where the professionals need to be educated and alert. McCarthy reflects on missing her son’s signs of autism like his excited hand flapping, tip toe walking, lack of eye contact, spinning objects and fixating on moving parts, just to name a few. If anyone made a comment about her son’s behavior or remarked on his shortcomings then she went into what I would call defend and denial mode. To add to her confusion Evan had an amazing memory and he was verbal which is contrary to one popular myth about autism. On the other end we have the movies "Rain Man" and "What’s Eating Gilbert Grape." These are both excellent movies but they neglect to represent the less obvious cases on the autism spectrum.
McCarthy wanted to share her story not to evoke sympathy but to raise awareness and to encourage parents to become strong advocates for their children with autism. If you are a parent, care giver, family member or friend of a person with autism there is so much to learn from reading this book. If you don’t know anyone with autism then I will still recommend this story if you want to gain an insight into the world of autism. McCarthy insists that the best way to help a family with an autistic child is to give them your time. My advice to parents would be to hold onto hope and harness every bit of help you can. I will save my son’s story for another time. Come to think of it, maybe it’s time I write my own book.
Something to think about...
Wanda Lynne Young
Optimism In The Face Of Autism was published in the Jan/Feb '08 issue of Real Women Magazine in the Reader's Corner column.