What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism by Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas PhD

What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism by Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas PhD

Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D’s  book, What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years, should bring hope and encouragement to all who know, love, and work with children who have autism (ASD).  Reading their book will bring understanding and compassion to others… hopefully those standing in line with you at the checkout counters.

Bravo to authors Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D. in achieving what they set out to do. Write a book to assure those who love and care for an individual on the autism spectrum that life goes on.  Raising a child with autism doesn’t have to be all depressing, hard work. If you are an educator, or know a family with an autistic child, this book is also for you because you will understand the challenges these families face.

About What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years 

Bobbi, the young mom, writes that parents are not in a position to fix, to cure, and to change their autistic child. That the longer she lives with her daughter, Grace, the more ways she finds to work with her child’s challenges. The authors share these ways so you too can go on with enjoying life in a new and different way.  The authors’ main point is to convince parents that they can’t handle this alone. They need a personal support system and professional guidance. Bobbi writes about the importance to have the right tools in our arsenal: experience, training, and reading. Their book, What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five Years, is one of the reading tools you will need.

What do the authors cover in their resourceful book? All aspects of raising a child with autism and they do so in a very entertaining way by braiding humor with their advice and comments. These are but a few of the numerous topics they touch:

  • Small disruptions to her routine can rock her world as though she’s being evacuated for a hurricane.
  • My child isn’t being a high-maintenance eater just to annoy me. I have to be clever and persistent about this.
  • You know how your toddler climbs on the table and trashes stuff? Just don’t expect that to end, and you’ll be fine.
  • The fact that your child has an autism spectrum disorder is an explanation, not an excuse. Requiring your child to be in the habit of listening to you will save you both a lot of grief.
  • I don’t know about you, but I’ve wasted a lot of energy worrying about my child’s social life, or lack thereof. Really, we shouldn’t get ourselves so worked up; we’ll have so many other opportunities.

About the Authors

Bobbi Sheahan (photo) and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D's  book, What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism: A Mom and a Psychologist Offer Heartfelt Guidance for the First Five YearsBobbi Sheahan (photo left) and Kathy DeOrnellas make a great team. Bobbi, an Assistant DA, left her legal career in 2003 to become a full-time mother and part-time writer. This is the third book for the mother of four. She wrote this book about the first five years of her second child, Grace, who is autistic. Grace has been diagnosed with PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified). Supported by her husband, Ben, an electrical engineer, her writings appear in Bookmarks magazine, Entrepreneur.com, and Thefreelibrary.com.  She and Dr. DeOrnellas write a column about autism for Andaaztv.com.

Dr. Kathy DeOrnellas, a licensed psychologist, works in her private practice with children, adolescents, adults, and parents who are affected by autism (ASD). She also teaches and does research at a university, is a writer, a wife to Ron, a mom and now a grandmother. Bobbi writes about meeting Dr. Kathy DeOrnellas for the first time as their psychologist: “She didn’t judge us, she didn’t insult us, and she amazed us… Before Dr. DeOrnellas became my co-author, she rescued my child from her silence and helped us learn how to reach her.”

A second tool in your arsenal should be experience, before you gain your own rely on Bobbi and Dr. DeOrnellas’s combined expertise and experience. Autism entails both disability and giftedness. They show us how our happiness or misery in life comes from how we’ve set our expectations. Bobbi reminds us that in the thick of the treatments, schedules, and accommodations, it is easy to forget that you are building the foundation on which your child with autism can stand, will grow, and take her place in the world. Bobbi writes: “Please, please believe that your best is what your child needs. He doesn’t need the Perfect Program, the Perfect Therapist, or the Perfect Anything. He needs love; he needs you.”

Bobbi tells us that the first years’ of a parent’s journey with a child with autism is lonely and confusing. She hopes her book will comfort and encourage you and that you will be spared the feeling that you’re trying to connect the dots with a blindfold. “Having a child with autism is a challenge, not a tragedy.” Bobbi goes on to tell parents in her conversational style: “Once I gave myself the freedom to mourn the picture of the family that I thought I was going to have … it became much easier to get on with the realities of my new life.”

 Throughout the book, Bobbi has clever, immediately useful, advice also given with a humorous twist that she calls: What I Wish I’d Known.  This section in her chapter entitled TALK about IT summarizes the main point of their book: “I wish I had known how to find and access the amazing network of other parents in the same boat. Every city—and most small towns—will have a support network. Reach out. Do it know.”

Think you can do it ALL without help?

Bobbi writes being the parent of a child with autism does not mean that you have to be a martyr. We do our kids no favors if we knock ourselves out trying to be Tireless Mommy all the time. Here’s Bobbi’s quiz:

  • Are you yelling at your kids all the time?
  • Are you crying several times a week?
  • Do you feel like your spouse isn’t helping you enough?
  • Are you exhausted and pissed off most of the time?
  • Has it been too long since you’ve found your kids delightful?

Take it from a mom who IS there and like Bobbi writes: “If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

The shaded sections throughout the book are Dr. DeOrnellas sage advice supported by lists of references. Her council on the topic of caring for yourself first: “I can’t stress too much the importance of nurturing yourself and your marriage relationship… your partner should be your best friend and your greatest support.”

 Dr. DeOrnellas also cannot emphasize enough that parents, even if they are the experts on their child, must reach out and establish a support system. The professionals know more about autism than the parents and they have seen LOTS of kids with autism; therefore they can point out some things parents are too close to see. She tells the reader that other parents are hungry to share their experience and help share your load.

At the end of the book, you reluctantly turn the last pages of this heart-warming account of another family’s journey raising a child on the autism spectrum and like a wonderful visit from a friend, you feel sad that your time together is coming to an end. As you pat yourself on the back for at least having found and read this excellent, practical guide, you find eleven pages of Bobbi’s Annotated Bibliography. Not only do Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas feel like trusted friends,  they hand picked resources for you to read before they leave.

READ ALSO: Interview with Bobbi Sheahan Co-author of  What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism 


Bobbi Sheahan, Lorna and Pierrette were on  Twitter for The Coffee Klatch TweetChat on Monday, September 5, 2011.

November 21st 2011:  Lorna and Bobbi were on The Coffee Klatch Tweetchat . Topic: Struggles of Special Needs Families

Feb. 6th  2012,  The Coffee Klatch Tweetchat  Guests, Bobbi Sheahan and Dr. Kathy DeOrnellas, authors of What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism joined Lorna. Topic: Siblings of children with autism.

Buy What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism Amazon.com   Amazon.ca  Future Horizons 

This post was written by Lorna
Lorna d’Entremont: Co-owner of SentioLife Solutions, Ltd. the company behind KidCompanions Chewelry (2007) and SentioCHEWS (2013), mother of three, grandma of 5 and wife. She is a retired teacher and special needs advocate. Throughout she has taught all levels from grade 2 to grade 9. Lorna loved teaching and enjoyed seeing the students progress in the school system. During her 30 year career she took a few years off to raise her three children.