Over the summer I delved into eBay buying up books on the topic of autism, whether it be non-fiction or fact based. Since my children were attending an autism day camp I spent hours at a nearby library, which is where I came across The Baby-Sitters Club #32 The secret of Susan. That book is about a neighborhood girl with autism who goes to a special school. The author of that series, Ann Martin, mentioned at the back of the book that she had some personal experience with autistic kids and this is how she was able to discuss the topic in a book. It was also noted that before she created The Baby-Sitters Club series she wrote an earlier book entitled, Inside Out, also on the subject of a child with autism.
Inside Out is written in the third person via an eleven-year old boy named Jonathan. He has a younger brother, James who at four years of age has autism and keeps the family up nightly with his screaming. Lizzie is the other sibling at eight years of age. There are nineteen chapters covering 152 pages for young readers and those adults interested in learning how autism affects an older sibling along with his friends on a daily basis. Comparing the two books by this same author I felt more connected with the characters in Inside Out. I preferred the writing style and felt it was an easier read. I was interested in the activities Jonathan and his friends pursued, the relationships between siblings and parents and how everyone handled their stress. It was very enlightening as a parent to boys to learn about behaviors and coping mechanisms, things I can relate to more than the other book centering on girls who offer babysitting services.
Jonathan offers insight into the eating habits of James, which is basically Cheerios, bagels, Hawaiian Punch and milk. Their parents must take turns trying to get him to eat, plus he has a habit of running out of the house half dressed. Before the diagnosis for James was determined their parents took James to many different doctors leaving grandparents to watch Jonathan and Lizzie. It was during this period that Lizzie developed appendicitis and needed to have an operation. Her parents did not make it back in time and she never forgave them or James.
Doctors said that James was spoiled, deaf, retarded and should be placed in an institution. This confused Jonathan because he knew James was the best Tinker Toy creator around and heard noises from the next room. In order to send James to a special school the parents informed Jonathan and Lizzie that they would have to earn spending money since they were still paying off Doctor bills.
Jonathan and his two best friends, Pete and Termite did everything together and were not part of the in-crowd. One day a new boy arrived in the classroom with everyone calling him Edweird for short. He was a lot older at thirteen and was a bit strange and slow. Jonathan was torn at feeling sorry for the boy and wanting to be liked by others in his classroom that teased Edward. Jonathan and his friends felt uncomfortable talking about the new kid, who quickly got transferred to the Resource room, known as the place for problem kids.
A shopping trip with James was a nightmare and they tried to have someone home watching him so no one had to endure a scene. Once when Jonathan came home from school his Mother was crying after such a trip. Taking James shopping is never a good idea. He gets crazy in stores with all the people and all the stuff on the shelves and counters. He starts weee-ooohing after only five or ten minutes. Mom takes him in a stroller so he cant run around, but even so he manages to struggle out of the stroller and then its all over. He starts the galloping bit, flinging his hands around. I always want to say to him, James, its really O.K. Its just a store. Nothings going to hurt you. But it wouldnt make any difference.
There are conversations between Lizzie and Jonathan about their parents and they assume that their Dad works late so he can avoid James. They clean the house and prepare dinner often so their Mom can take a nap after a rough night being up with James. They always talk about James in front of him as if he were not there. There are times that James acts like a wild animal and scares the family. During these times they safely lock James in his room. They have a key to open from the outside only. The Mother is at the end of her rope when he they get word that there is an opening at the special school.
Lizzie and Jonathan were told they had to take part in the program for James. Before James could even learn math, spelling, reading and writing he would need to learn how to get dressed, play, eat properly and not have tantrums. They wanted to implement the same goals at home that James would learn at school and wanted consistency with all family members not to slack off.
At this point during the conversation with the parents, Jonathan had some questions. What if James is happy the way he is now? Why should we decide to change him? Maybe its not fair. Just like it wouldnt be fair if I had to eat cabbage three times a day. Im happy now. Why should anyone change me? Its my life and nobody elses. The response from his parents was the only alternative was to put James away because they could not continue living the same way.
Jonathan comes up with many ideas to make money with a few bombing quickly. He ordered seeds through a mail-order company and went door-to-door selling them. Then he placed an advertisement as a handy helper and lastly took on a newspaper route, which was successful at times and made him some friends at school. Lizzie worked on a secret art project. The special school required family to visit often and observe behaviors and settings, so Jonathan and Lizzie went a few times to observe. Bill and Eddie came to the house to teach them how to work at home with James.
It was explained that James was expected to take off his coat, wash his hands and put away his toys. Due to the school being a new environment James was doing all these things, but when he got home he would become worse. This is very true when kids first start programs because they are not sure what would happen to them if they did not do these things, and at home they know what they can do. So this was all discussed to the family upon the first home visit to keep lines of communication open and to have consistency throughout the day and night.
Jonathan picked up quickly from the information presented by the teachers. The main thing I understood was that we were supposed to reward James for doing things we wanted him to do, and punish him for things we didnt want him to do. The rewards would be feeding him Cheerios, or saying Good Boy, James! with a big smile, or hugging him (if hed let us). The punishments would be not giving him Cheerios, or saying No, James, without any smile.
This had to be done for everything and not an easy task, but they did this with sitting on the toilet a few times a day and working on making eye contact. Lizzie thought it was like a magic show with Cheerios.
One late night Jonathan overheard his parents arguing over placing James in an institution. This confused Jonathan because he thought now that James was in the special school this would not happen. His parents said it still was a possibility in a few years. His father said he doubted that James would ever learn to read, use the toilet or take care of himself. This conversation upset Jonathan so he interrupted his parents and voiced his opinion.
Things changed with a new focus for Jonathan. He and his friends had a carnival and Jonathan took his percentage to present to the school where James attended since they needed funds. Then the newspaper did a story on Jonathan. When Jonathan went back to school he was proud of James and himself.
Inside Out shows the compassion for another sibling and the bonds that are formed when the family takes part in the therapies and schooling of the special child. This offers a glimpse into the family dynamics with an autistic child. The characters were developed and realistic. I felt happy reading about Jonathan and his growing devotion toward James.
Inside Out is hard to find at libraries and retailers. I lucked out with finding a copy on eBay I would suggest those with young adults in their household who are siblings or relatives of someone with autism to read this book. It will help that person know they are not alone and open up a line of communication with the family based on the reading material. Another book that is written by an older sibling is entitled, And Dont Bring Jeremy.