Raising a Child with Autism speaks to an increasing number of families. Author Timothy Fountain compares the process of raising a child with autism to the tender, sometimes whimsical, loving care required for gardening. With a mix of spiritual wisdom, sincerity, and understanding, this book offers and uplifting look at a difficult problem. Spread the word to someone in your family, church, school, or neighborhood in need of such insight. 1 in 68 children are now diagnosed with autism. Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of the book. Sign in on the Rafflecopter to increase your chances of winning by sharing on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest!
Raising a Child with Autism
Welcome, Tim! Please introduce yourself and your family to our readers.
We are all natives of Southern California. My wife, Melissa grew up in West Los Angeles, closer to the ocean and the things people associate with L.A. I grew up in a little corner of L.A. called Atwater. I could get to Dodger Stadium or downtown without using the freeway! We met in church when I was called to be an assistant pastor in Encino, where she was teaching Sunday School. We were married in 1990; our son Tim, now an officer in the Navy, was born there in 1991. Joey was born in Redlands, CA in 1994. Today Melissa, Joey and I are in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
Tell us how you and your wife found out about your son, Joey’s autism diagnosis?
When Joey was about 2, a pediatrician noticed “something not right” during a routine office visit. Joey’s eyes were not following the doctor’s moving finger, for example. This led to diagnostic testing and an initial identification of “profound developmental delay,” later more specifically defined as autism. My wife describes “all the air going out of the room” when we sat with the doctor and heard his diagnosis.
Tell us what spurred you to write Raising a Child with Autism?
I took Joey to the park on the day his older brother left for college in 2010. It was a bittersweet day emotionally, but a beautiful day naturally, and I was praying while Joey enjoyed being out in it. I know it sounds corny (and loaded with the possibility of deception) to say, “God spoke to me…”, but I had a joyful awareness that I could write something that would encourage family caregivers and, more than that, share testimony to the Lord who has helped our family in all of our inadequacies and challenges.
Later, my church helped me get away to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers’ Conference, and the wonderful folks there helped the idea for the book gain focus.
Autism affects 1-68 children in America. That’s more common than most people probably realize. What are the most basic things you wish people knew about Autism and the families it affects?
I think I speak for many families of children with autism who want to scream, “NO, IT’S NOT DUE TO BAD PARENTING.” It’s a neurological disorder, most likely genetic rather than environmental in origin (although people debate that with some ferocity). One of the hardest things is that kids with autism are impaired socially and so their parents can invest sacrificial work with little to no emotional connection in response. We were spared that – Joey is very connected emotionally, albeit in some quirky ways.
There is no “cure” for autism or any one therapy that is useful in all cases. Families hope for a “silver bullet” that will solve things, and this can leave us open to bad advice, blaming or other traps.
Parents deal with feelings similar to grieving a death. Various hopes and dreams we hold out for a typical child often have to be given up for a child with autism. Some kids on the autism spectrum grow up to play sports, perform in the arts, excel in academics or vocational skill, get married and all kinds of other things we think of as making for a “good life.” But many will never experience some or all of those things. They have other pleasures – parents have to learn to love those.
Siblings can feel ignored due to all the effort and attention put into caring for the child with autism. The whole family is impacted.
Allies mean a great deal. Educators, medical people, community programs, understanding churches (not always easy to find), and just plain caring folks make life better. There’s a neighbor of our who routinely keeps going down our sidewalk when clearing his of snow – the time and effort he saves us is a precious gift.
What are some of the greatest challenges faced by parenting a child with a disability?
As the book points out, family caregivers – and this applies in situations beyond Autism, such as Alzheimer’s, spousal disability and many other conditions – are trying to fulfill roles beyond the knowledge, skill, energy, patience and finances of a typical individual or family. We get stretched beyond our limits and, really, beyond any realistic expectation of becoming “good at it.”
In our case, we had to deal with Joey’s “meltdowns.” Kids with autism become frustrated when they can’t understand or be understood by others, and this can lead to a violent outburst. It’s not the same as a tantrum, in which a kid wants a toy. It is an all consuming surge of energy in an effort to connect with a world that seems out of touch. It is heartbreaking to try and contain a beloved child who is putting you in serious danger – Joey would punch, kick, bite and throw objects at us.
There were several years where we didn’t think that Joey or any of us would ever sleep. The stuff that makes you laugh after the years of raising a baby keeps going when autism is in play. I sometimes tell people, imagine having a combination of newborn and toddler for a couple of decades.”
Parents share war stories of dealing with “the system.” Some school districts are downright hostile to special needs kids, considering them a financial drain on services for “normal” kids. Then there are the insurance issues, efforts to see specialists, quests for specialized therapies – it is exhausting and sometimes fruitless.
What are the greatest blessings you, as a Christian, have received by being entrusted by God with a special needs child?
I discovered the reality of God’s grace personally instead of just conceptually. Autobiographically, I’m one of those people with run of the mill character flaws and sins – you couldn’t get an audience around my “conversion story” because there’s just no drama. I’m one of those boring “good” people – flawed, yes – but sinful in a generic rather than headline grabbing way. Joey helped me discover just about every wall that my flesh set up against the Spirit; all of my selfishness, desire to be in control, and, most galling of all, my inadequacy to “fix” things. The agony of all that opened my eyes to the patient love of God in Christ that I’d spent years resisting in my efforts to be “good” all the time.
Then there’s the affirmation of the Biblical truth that love is the greatest virtue. Melissa and I were praised by doctors and educators for the emotional connectedness that Joey exhibited. Whatever technical, therapeutic proficiencies we lacked, we helped him connect and made his life more abundant by loving him.
How do you want to encourage the parents of autistic children through Raising a Child with Autism?
I want them to discover freedom from the accusations of the world, which says “You must be doing something wrong;” the flesh, which says things like, “Give up. Run away. You deserve to be happy” or, alternatively, “If you can’t handle this, you’re worthless;” and the devil, who throws in thoughts like, “God gave you this kid as punishment for your sins. It’s all your fault.”
I want them to know that there is a patient and loving ultimate caregiver, Jesus Christ, who will do more for their child than they can ask or imagine and came into the world because we, the caregivers, are loved by God.
What was the greatest problem/challenge you faced in writing Raising a Child with Autism?
Well, I wrote it WHILE raising a child with autism. I didn’t have any of that stereotypical focused author time, with months spent in a study or a dedicated writing table. I remember sneaking in some time on a TV tray in a hallway, blocking the door to our bedroom so Melissa could get some rest when Joey was up at a crazy hour. The book was written in fits and starts.
Please share your own final thoughts with us?
This book isn’t “5 Essential Steps to Raising a Child With Autism.” It’s not written from expertise, but from a willingness to be a companion to others struggling along a hard path. Sure, there’s some practical stuff that comes through, but it was written while doing the work, not from a perceived position of accomplishment.
Could you share a particularly important passage from Raising a Child with Autism with us?
Maybe you are an amateur trying to be caregiver, therapist, clinician, advocate, mommy, daddy and everything else to a loved one living with autism. You feel like a lone idiot with a leaky hose when the job needs a landscape company. Or maybe you know someone else who is feeling fruitless, and you want to help out.
Whatever your reason for giving this book a look, Melissa and I hope that our tales of learn-as-you-go gardening and their application to raising an autistic kid will be useful to you. Sure, we have all kinds of ideas we think might help, but what we found out in our yards and gardens applies to all aspects of life: you learn by doing and giving yourself to the effort even when the end result isn’t predictable.
And that’s why we’ve included wisdom beyond ours in this book…
Autism affects 1-in-68 American children, so when Tim and Melissa Fountain received the news that their Joey was “the one,” they looked to their poor gardening skills for guidance. Autism is a profound neurological disorder that impacts language, self-care, and social skills. Coupled with each person’s unique individuality, parenting an autistic child can be doubly difficult. For Tim and Melissa, watching Joey “act out” reminded them of wilted flowers among strong weeds — which to pull, which to water? The Fountains reworked, replanted, and reseeded in hopes Joey would bloom into his normal self.
Raising a Child with Autism provides parents of disabled children tips and techniques, hope and encouragement, in thoughtful, easy-to-understand ways.
Learn how to apply family love, spiritual wisdom, and strength as you grow your autistic child from a bud to bloom. While you weave your way through the weeds of a disability, you may realize, as the Fountains learned, that no one is ever truly prepared to manage a disability, but you can, with love and faithfulness, grow great kids!
Timothy Fountain grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from the University of Southern California despite having no football skills. After a stint running a jackhammer and then three years in the Army, he abandoned thoughts of a legal career, attended a seminary in New York City, and devoted almost thirty years to Christian preaching. He and his wife, Melissa, and their two sons, one a lad with autism, moved to South Dakota in 2004. Tim continues a life of trial and error as a husband, dad, family caregiver, preacher and writer.
Connect with Tim:
Facebook Author Page: https://www.facebook.com/tfountain1