As I was provided this book to review, I quickly thought to myself about other “For Dummies” books that I’ve come across. Admittedly, I was skeptical, but this reference book ended up being not so scary, most likely because of our field and background knowledge. Understanding Autism for Dummies was written with the purpose to “provide parents, teachers, therapists, and others who care for individuals with autism with a guidebook that offers objective, balanced information, thereby enabling [readers] to make intelligent decisions.” This book proves to be just that, an easy-to-navigate reference. It is organized into five basic sections, or “Parts,” as the book refers to them. Each “part” is then broken down into chapters that are further broken down into bolded, specified topics for easy reading. Therefore, this piece is simply a summary of an easy-to-use reference book.
All five “parts” and their related chapters within the book Understanding Autism for Dummies focused on families and caregivers, taking time to define, explain, and provide strategies for a variety of topics. Part one of this reference book focuses on educating the reader. It takes the time to define autism and the variations within the autism spectrum. It is dated, as the DSM-V no longer divides Autism into various diagnoses, such as Asperger’s, as the book relays. Part one also dives into various theories that were available at the time of publishing (2006) and guides caregivers/parents in the process to receive/rule out the diagnosis of autism.
Part two emphasizes the importance of learning as much as possible, or as the authors state, “injecting yourself with knowledge.” In this section, the authors discuss possible medications that might be used for people with autism, mostly to treat coexisting conditions, such as ADHD or anxiety. The authors repeatedly recommend using medications wisely and to consult with medical/healthcare professionals when starting/stopping medications. Furthermore, an entire chapter is dedicated to improving immunity and biochemistry, reminding the readers that autism can not only be a disorder of the brain, but may be present with other disorders, such as immune system weaknesses or gastrointestinal differences.
Within part three, the book begins to inform the readers of various intervention models and therapy options, explaining them in detail and giving examples before introducing readers to sensory differences and the need to help children learn using tangible methods. The authors clearly advise caretakers/parents to use literal, concrete, concise terms when interacting. They also encourage the incorporation of a daily routine and offer strategies to assist caregivers/parents further understand a child’s behaviors. Furthermore, practical ideas are shared, such as limiting TV and video games, talking frequently to those they care for, and encouraging areas of talent. The idea of consistency was repeated frequently for the reader.
In the depths of part three, the authors address communication—our piece. Although broad, the authors introduced bridging communication gaps with an array of strategies. Developing sign language was quickly addressed, followed by the strategies to achieve functional communication using low tech systems (calendars, schedules, pictures), medium tech systems (voice output machines), and high tech devices. This section was short relative to the length of the book, but meaningful nonetheless. If you need a refresher, these few pages may get you started down a path of improved communication for your students!
In additional to guidance in the realm of communication, further guidance is offered for caregivers/parents in understanding and navigating through the educational model, providing information in what to look for when observing quality classrooms and understanding accommodations so that appropriate accommodations are provided. The authors of Understanding Autism for Dummies highly encourage caregivers/parents to be active in the school setting, getting to know school staff, and other parents. Advice is offered for freely talking about autism within the family, the school, and the community. The authors also offer an entire part dedicated to teaching concrete living skills to help children with autism become functional adults. Tools are included to help individuals reach higher academic goals, to access accommodations at the higher education level, to help manage daily life, and to match possible employment positions to individual skills.
Understanding Autism for Dummies closes with potential responses caregivers/parents/professionals could use when responding to challenging comments or questions that may be overheard or asked by family and community members. The authors give some reasoning behind typical questions asked of caregivers/parents, offering potential responses that could be used and, in a way, counsel caregivers/parents through these difficult situations. This last section, Part Five, might be the best section to read in order to help caregivers/parents emotionally navigate through the challenges of raising and educating these special kiddos.
In conclusion, Understanding Autism for Dummies is a reference book that could be used to gain general knowledge about a variety of autism related topics. It is an initial, user-friendly guide to help readers understand autism, the challenges that may be present, and potential interventions and strategies that have been proven to work. This book may be used as a guide, but use some caution, as some information within it is dated/no longer accurate.
o Quick reference for definitions/theories of autism
o Quick reference for 7+ intervention models
o Quick reference for basic strategies/skills (for yourself or to share with parents)
o Quick reference for low & high-tech communication strategies
o Quick reference for understanding sensory differences and strategies to address them
o Examples of tools/charts related to behavioral issues
o Examples and tools/charts for matching skills/needs with appropriate employment positions
o Strategies to help families accept the diagnosis and communicate within their families and the community about their child and his/her needs
o Strategies to offer family members, caregivers, and peers to aid friendships/relationships
o Quick reference for transitioning into adulthood—higher education, independent living, etc.
o Guidance for caregivers/parents in planning for the future (i.e. designating guardianship, setting up a trust or will, etc.)
o Quick reference for hard-to-answer questions