Monday, April 19, 2010

Book Review: Get Out, Explore, and Have Fun!

Lisa Jo Rudy, who blogs at autism.about.com, has written an informative and well-organized book full of helpful tips for getting kids on the autism spectrum involved in activities. Her book, entitled Get Out, Explore, and Have Fun! How Families of Children with Autism or Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities, begins with a thoughtful discussion of why it is so important for autistic children to be involved in their communities.

In the real world, she points out, relationships usually develop based on shared interests and experiences. Therapeutic settings with artificially planned interactions, however well intended, cannot substitute for the everyday life and relationship lessons that flow from regular participation in the community. Although therapy sessions can be helpful in teaching specific skills, too much time spent in the therapist's office can have the unintended effect of depriving an autistic child of opportunities to take part in ordinary social situations and to learn from them.

Identifying a child's strengths and interests, Rudy suggests, should be the starting point in finding activities at which a child is likely to succeed. For instance, a child who loves Thomas the Tank Engine may also enjoy train museums, scenic train rides, and model train exhibitions. Taking part in such activities can go a long way toward enabling a child to become more confident and able in social settings generally. These experiences may create a strong foundation for a lifetime of pleasant social activities with others who have similar passions, or in some cases may even lead to a related career.

The book is organized into easy-to-follow sections discussing how to get children involved in particular types of activities: sports, youth groups, museums and zoos, faith communities, the arts, camping and the natural world, special-interest clubs, and family outings. Although group leaders and others in positions of authority may not be familiar with autism, this should not deter parents from seeking opportunities for inclusion, Rudy advises. In today's world, an increasing number of programs for children have been specifically designed to be autism-friendly, while others may need only small modifications to accommodate a child's needs. Several of the book's sections end with tip sheets for activity leaders, which are designed to be copied by parents and used as a starting point for discussion of how best to integrate their child into an activity.

Inclusion is not only the right thing to do, Rudy explains; it also has direct financial benefits to community organizations struggling to attract new participants and supporters in a difficult economy. Although some program organizers may initially balk at the perceived cost or difficulty of making their activities more accessible to kids on the spectrum, they may be persuaded to support inclusion more enthusiastically by means of a detailed proposal showing the benefits to be gained. A sample grant proposal for developing an autism-friendly activity is included at the end, along with a list of useful resources for families.

Overall, the book remains clearly focused throughout on the topic of practical solutions to families' inclusion concerns. It is refreshingly free of controversial digressions or emotionally loaded language. While Rudy does not gloss over the difficulties that families may encounter, she consistently maintains an upbeat, can-do attitude and breaks down her advice into small, easily manageable steps for parents who may be feeling overwhelmed and unsure of what to do. This perceptive, well-structured book seems likely to help many families and, in encouraging the development of more autism-friendly activities, to benefit the community as a whole.

3 comments:

Stephanie Lynn Keil said...

What if you don't want to be "included" among your non-autistic peers?

Is "inclusion" the best option here, then?

Quite frankly, I find most non-autistic incredibly annoying.

Wait, I find almost all people, whether autistic or non-autistic, incredibly annoying.

Who decided I wanted to be "included" among them or anyone else anyway?

Certainly not me.

asansouthwestohio said...

Stephanie, the book also discusses special-needs programs and their advantages and disadvantages, although the main focus is on inclusion.

Smith5 said...

Looking forward to reading the book. I think it will be wonderful.