This is a guest post by Hannah Brown. Her book If I Could Tell You was released today. I read a lot of autism books and this was a really fun break from the usual scientific tomes and how-to-cope manuals. It’s a novel about four New York mothers, all very different, whose children are diagnosed with autism. Suddenly, these women – an ex-model who owns a downtown bar, a high-powered magazine editor, an English professor, and a physical therapist – find that they need each other, as they face the ultimate challenge for any parent. They join together in a support group, and each chapter follows a month in their lives and ends with a meeting.
It’s a rocky road, as they contend with other problems: Quacks peddling expensive alternative therapies; husbands impatient with their children’s disability; other women only too happy to take advantage of the pressures on their marriages; scheming co-workers who try to turn this problem to their advantage; grandparents who are anything but helpful; and resentful teens who run wild while their mothers cope with the crisis. And through it all, these moms support and help each other.
It’s a really fun read. Enjoy! –Alison
So I wrote a novel, “If I Could Tell You,” about mothers raising children with autism.
It probably won’t surprise anyone who knows me that I chose to write this book, since my older son, Danny, was diagnosed with autism (PDD/NOS is his frustratingly vague diagnosis) over 12 years ago, when he was three. And I’ve worked as a journalist for over 25 years. I have also written quite a bit of fiction.
But in the terrifying first weeks and months after he was diagnosed, I was convinced that I would never write again. It’s not that I did anything as grandiose as make a vow to stop writing until Danny was “cured” or “recovered” or however I phrased it to myself back then. I just couldn’t imagine being able to focus on anything but my son.
Fortuitously, I was on maternity leave from my job as a movie critic for the New York Post then. Danny was diagnosed when my younger son, Rafi, was about six weeks old. When the time came to go back to work, I thought of quitting. I just didn’t think I could handle anything outside of caring for an increasingly frenzied and tantrum-prone three-year-old and my newborn baby.
But reviewing movies for a New York newspaper is not a job you leave easily. So I pushed myself. I remember the first review I wrote after Danny’s diagnosis. I put if off and just could not get it done at home, so while my family slept, I went into the newspaper after midnight. I sat in an empty section of the newsroom, and the hum of editors and layout people updating the late edition soothed me.
But I still couldn’t write.
I just sat there crying. Finally, one of the layout staff, I’ll call him Sal, came over to talk. An older man who had always been very kind to me, he sat and listened as I poured my story out. He told me that the son of a friend of his was autistic, and that he was teaching the boy woodworking. His words gave a glimpse into some kind of future for my son, something outside of the narrow confines of words like “autism” and “recovery.” Danny would live and he would learn things. And Sal’s concern comforted me more than I can describe. Sal rarely went to church, he said, but when he did, he would pray for Danny if I wanted him to.
And finally, I was able to get to work. What masterpiece was I reviewing? “Pokemon – The Movie.” The point is – I got it done.
As I gradually got back into my old routine, I told everyone about Danny. My editors could not have been more understanding or accommodating. Before long, reviewing was a treasured escape from the stress at home. I especially enjoyed writing the real-time news from the Oscar telecast in 2000 – that is one of my favorite memories from the entire year (it was the Oscars when Angelina Jolie smooched her brother).
It took much longer for me to start writing fiction again. Eventually, I began to compose stories, by transposing my feelings into the lives of characters coping with other problems.
These stories were about anything and everything – except autism.
Finally, when Danny was in a good treatment center, I felt enough at peace to begin to tell my story – and the stories of so many other mothers I’ve known.
I hope “If I Could Tell You” will resonate with all the families that have autistic children, and people like Sal, who simply care about us.