Getting my Asperger in gear for Autism Awareness Month

autism ribbon and puzzle pieces

Autism Awareness Month rolls around again.

Next Thursday, April 2, I’ve been invited to speak at the Totowa Library in honor of Autism Awareness Day…but I’m really not sure what to say.

I’m the father of a 13-year-old son with autism, and I’ve written two books and a bunch of articles about autism, parenting, and raising a special needs child. I suppose I should be plugging my latest book, “Autism Dad 2: Continuing Adventures in Autism, Adolescence and Fatherhood.” But sales of the book are slow (weak, actually) and reader feedback isn’t much better.

My mom doesn’t like “Autism Dad 2” because I write about falling out with the Catholic Church after my son’s autism diagnosis. This was over a decade ago, and I’ve since made peace with the Catholic Church and God him/her/itself, but mom is still disappointed that I put it all in writing for everyone to see. I think I embarrassed her (or maybe she’s embarrassed for me), but either way, she’s disappointed she can’t share my latest work with her friends at the senior clubhouse.

My sister called me in tears after reading Autism Dad 2.

“I didn’t know all those things happened to you,” she said. “I just…feel so bad.”

Maybe that’s the risk you take when you publish a memoir — sometimes those closest to you are in for harsh surprises. I probably over-shared “too much information” in my new book.

I think my biggest mistake in “Autism Dad 2” is that I strayed too far from the title topic. The book is more about my personal feelings and reactions to my son’s autism rather than my son’s life as a young adolescent with a developmental disorder. But autism has a way of permeating your life and influencing your decisions for better or worse. In the early days after my son’s autism diagnosis in August 2003, it was for the worse. I wasn’t thinking clearly. I was grieving, and a lot of that dark mojo bled through into my writing.

Also, “Autism Dad 2” may have been hurt by my stance on childhood vaccines in the first book. I didn’t come out as anti-vaccine in that book — nor am I anti-vaccine now — but I did voice concerns about the amount of vaccines infants are given. I still have concerns. Do babies really need 36 different vaccine shots in the first 24 months of their lives? Why do immunizations and the vaccine schedule have to be one-size-fits-all and not tailored for each individual child? Am I a bad parent and a terrible human being for even asking these questions?

It seems so. The backlash against “anti-vaxxers” has been severe, especially in the wake of recent mumps and measles outbreaks. (Even though there’s no link between these outbreaks and a lack of immunizations, vaccine proponents are using these return of the mumps and measles as a media rallying cry. But that’s a topic for another time.)

Vaccines are good, and parents who don’t vaccinate their children are bad. The message is loud and clear. Study after study has shown no link between vaccines and autism. I get it. I got it back in 2010 when I was writing the first volume of “Autism Dad,” too, but I still came down pretty hard on big pharmaceutical companies and childhood vaccines, and maybe that cost me readers.

I hope you’ll come out and watch me fumble for words at the Totowa Public Library next Thursday. It’s the first of several speaking engagements I have this month. I’ll be addressing a class of parents, educators, and teachers at Centenary College about special needs kids, and visiting my daughter’s fifth grade class as “professional writer guy.” I need to get my act together and tell everyone about the rise in autism rates, the importance of Autism Awareness Month, and why acceptance, understanding, and love are the best treatments for this strange — but increasingly common — disorder.