You may remember that last month I had trouble putting down, Sparrow Migrations. (Read my review.) I was thrilled with the story, and am happy to have Cari Noga, author, and autism mom visit with us today. Feel free to ask her questions or leave comments in the comment section for her.
CARI NOGA, Author of Sparrow Migrations
Thanks, Jeannie, for the invitation to guest post. And for reading Sparrow Migrations. Mostly for that. Free time is my own most precious commodity, so it’s incredibly gratifying when someone else spends his or hers reading my book.
I wrote the first draft of Sparrow six months after my son Owen was diagnosed at age four and a half. It’s now four years later. Looking back, I see my beliefs and emotions and experiences as an autism parent span a spectrum of their own, from despair and fear to pride and joy.
Back then, in 2010, as I say in my acknowledgments, Sparrow was a 342-page prayer for Owen and our family. Then, as now, his greatest challenge lies in socializing with peers. He manages with adults, but unpredictable peers are orders of magnitude harder. Thinking about Owen’s future—one in which his dad and I will, eventually be gone—I imagined him alone. That scared me. If he isn’t to find someONE to love, however, I thought that someTHING to love might suffice. So the fact that autistic people often develop deep passions about special, niche interests soothed me, and I used it to inform Robby, my main character.
I’m often asked if Owen has a passion, like Robby does for birds. He is very interested in trucks, especially construction equipment. So are a lot of little boys, but now at age 8, it seems to be enduring longer with Owen, whose peers have moved onto Legos and superheros and Star Wars. Shortly after the Sparrow came out last year, I met Temple Grandin when she came to my town on her own book tour. We had dinner and I got to introduce her before her appearance. She asked about Owen’s interests, and suggested that I try to find some kind of truck simulator that he could “drive” in. I haven’t found one available to children, but with her endorsement, I keep looking for ways to connect his challenges — socialization and academics – with trucks. One of his favorite videos is called Garbage Monsters. Maybe one day Owen will help keep our world clean.
More immediately, truck-wise, something the novel’s made possible is a ride on a cherry shaker this summer. Last month I visited a book club that read Sparrow, and a member who lives on a cherry farm offered. A shaker is more akin to a tractor than a truck, but it’s still a huge piece of heavy equipment with wheels. So we’ll give it a try. My NT daughter Audrey will probably have fun, too.
Speaking of her, my greatest challenge as a parent is balancing the needs of my two very different children. My instinct is to try and treat them fairly, which is hard enough on a level playing field. Tilt that field with autism and it becomes nearly impossible.
That’s not saying Owen is always the tougher kid. There’s a lot less drama and more independence than with his three-years-younger Audrey. But when the two are at opposite poles on something – say she wants to sing in the car, and he wants it quiet – I’m more likely to seek her accommodation, even as my conscience pricks me.
On the other hand, I’m proud of the tolerance and acceptance she unconsciously models. Owen’s her big brother, not her autistic brother. I hope it stays that way.