"How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger's" is a very practical book which will have you itching to try out a whole bunch of new techniques and strategies with your children before you're even a quarter of the way through.
I was really looking forward to reading this book because although there are lots of "autism stories" and "what is autism?" books, there are comparatively few practical guides - and even then, most of those focus on coping as a neurotypical parent or on "problem solving" rather than teaching practical skills that you can use in everyday situations.
The first few chapters are all background material about the author. They're mostly necessary because you need to know where she's coming from. After that however it's "all go" on advice you can really use.
Layout and Style
I was expecting a book full of headings, tables, cute little diagrams, separate (boxed) examples and lists but surprisingly, the whole thing is prose.
This means that compared to other books of its size (a little over 300 pages), this book covers a lot more ground.
At first the "wall of text" may seem a little daunting but the chapters are short (under 10 pages each) and they stay on topic. Jennifer's writing style is also very easy to read and if you have nerdish tendencies, you'll discover that it's full of subculture references which keep it fresh, interesting and fun.
The book covers an amazing array of topics including: meeting people, proper greetings, table manners, teaching financial independence, road safety, choosing appropriate attire, standing up for your rights, kindness, positive attitudes and (gulp) chores.
You might be thinking that this must be a book for people with older children but it's not - it's made very clear that you have to start young. Most of the examples in the book seem to be aimed at children who are about seven years or older but there are toddler and preschooler references too.
Despite the title, this isn't just a book for parents. I found myself fascinated by some of the social rituals that Jennifer describes and I learned a lot which I'll have to adjust in my life. Is hand shaking really as complicated as all that? I've just realised that I've been doing a lot more social things wrong that I thought. No wonder I get strange looks at times.
Not to worry though because Jennifer also includes a lot of info on handling "failures" gracefully. An essential skill for perfectionists.
Throughout the book, Jennifer explains a lot of things from an aspie point of view. She shows how aspie rules and literalisms can produce some very unexpected interpretations. It was interesting to note that sometimes my aspie interpretations had led me to the same conclusions and sometimes I had reached different but equally "crazy" conclusions.
I was also surprised to note that in some cases, I have the same behaviour patterns but was unaware of my own motivations. It got me thinking and understanding more about myself.
This isn't one of those books that you read once and "put away". You're going to want to refer to it quite a bit. In fact, there's so much information in the book that the details fade very quickly. I already feel like I need to re-read some chapters before I try some of the techniques.
Jennifer makes it clear that you can't suddenly go from "nothing" to implementing all of the techniques in the book. It will take time and you'll get the best results by introducing new techniques and house rules slowly and at appropriate moments. In some cases, you may need to wait until your children reach certain milestones.
This is a book that you're going to need to keep for the long term and you'll need to re-read certain sections as and when they become more relevant.
Every parent and every aspie should have this book. It's brilliant.
You can obtain a copy of "How to Teach Life Skills to Kids with Autism or Asperger's" by Jennifer McIlwee Myers from Amazon or Future Horizons.
Honesty Clause: I was provided with a review copy of this book free of charge.