Interview Bobbi Sheahan: What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism

Interview Bobbi Sheahan: What I Wish I’d Known About Raising a Child with Autism

Today we have the opportunity to meet an Assistant DA who gave up her legal career to be a full-time mom to four with one child with autism and a part-time writer. She is also editor at @fhautism, a SI Focus columnist, and speaker.  When I wrote the book review of 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 by Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D, by the last page of the book I felt as if I knew the young mom, Bobbi, and would really love to have help from a professional like Dr. DeOrnellas.

The following interview with Bobbi Sheahan will add another helpful friend to your list. And if you have not yet read my review of the book or the book itself, Bobbi’s honest, encouraging answers should entice you to do so.

Bobbi writes beautifully and I enjoyed every chapter!  The margins of my book are filled with my symbols for “Wow this is SO good”.  I appreciate Bobbi’s comment about my review that she felt:” You really, really understood what we are trying to do. Thank you so very much!

Congratulations to Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D! What I Wish I’d Known about Raising a Child with Autism was a finalist in the 2012 About.com Readers’ Choice Awards.

  1.  1.Your use of humor throughout the book is very effective to convey your message dealing with such a serious topic. In your everyday life raising four children how does humor get you through rough patches?

>> Bobbi  Sheahan:  My kids keep me laughing!  I believe that a sense of humor is sanity-saving, especially with the stressors that come along with parenting a child with special needs.  I often talk to parents who are sad and overwhelmed, and they need some encouragement and a good laugh.

 2.       I interviewed Julie Clark and wrote a review of her book Aspergers in Pink. Do you think if Grace, your child with autism,  had been a boy, you would have had an easier time getting a diagnosis, treatments, and accommodations? Do you feel boys with Asperger”s/Autism have been researched more and given more attention in our medical and educational fields?

>>Bobbi Sheahan :  I loved Julie Clark’s book!  I am sure that the fact that boys account for 80 percent of the autism diagnoses impacted my thinking when I was searching for a diagnosis; I would say, “It can’t be autism because she is affectionate, it can’t be autism because she is a girl…”

As it happens, my co-author, Dr. DeOrnellas, is leading a research team on this very topic, so stay tuned!    She is looking into whether the current diagnostic tools are serving girls as well as boys, among other things.

 3.       I found your thoughts on children with autism and friendships very interesting.  As Grace gets older, are the problems concerning friendships/playdates getting more difficult? What is your advice to other parents of a 5 to 9 year old autistic girl?

>>Bobbi Sheahan:  The further that I go into this journey, the more comfortable I am with letting my child lead the way.  Yes, it’s true that our children need friends, but I think it’s fair to say that we worry about this more than they do.   Parents today are barraged with activities and sports for our children, and it’s easy to feel like a slacker if you don’t have your child in every single one.  Less is more, and that is especially true when you throw autism into the mix.  I think that it’s especially important for parents of kids on the autism spectrum to resist  the temptation to overschedule, and follow our children’s lead.   I used to worry that it would be like a punishment or a disappointment for my child if I didn’t include her in an activity.  I quickly learned that, to a child living with autism, being taken places and expected to participate can sometimes feel like punishment.  I have also learned not to limit my definition of “friend” to my child’s age-mates.  Some of her loveliest relationships are with adults, or with children who are much younger than she is.   I think that this is one of the blessings that accompany autism.


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 by Bobbi Sheahan and Kathy DeOrnellas, Ph.D4.       You mention when you accepted the ‘the death of the dream’ of what your family could/should have been you felt better.  You write we have to let go of the fantasy of the perfect child and perfect family.  What were some of the hardest issues concerning this? 

>>Bobbi Sheahan: Autism is life-changing, but it’s not a tragedy.  Having a diagnosis helps a parent to accept and to make the best of what is already true about their child and family.  I loved the story about the doctor calmly telling the mother that her child was the same wonderful kid that he was before he got the diagnosis.  I have actually heard people refer to autism as “the A word,” and approach it with apprehension and fear, or even think of it as a stigma. To me, this is unnecessary.  Also, it’s miserable.   My story about realizing that my family wasn’t going to be the pretty family sitting quietly in a row at church is unintentionally funny.  (I surely didn’t find it amusing at the time, but now I laugh.)  Several readers have related similar stories to me.  The truth is, there aren’t any “perfect” families, and if I were part of one, I’d mess it up!   This was an issue that came up frequently with the families that we surveyed for the book.   Life is much happier when we accept the messiness and imperfection in ourselves and others; all children can teach us this truth to some degree.

5.       You were an Assistant DA who gave up her legal career to be a full-time mom and part-time writer. Are there days you question your decision? What convinces you you made the right decision?

>>Bobbi Sheahan:  Of course!  That’s the beauty of always being able to adjust and figure out what works.   I have tried many variations of stay-at-home, work-from-home, you name it.  I loved full time law practice for many years, and now I am in a different season of my life.   Of course, there are tough days, but the kids will only be young for a short time, and this time with them is irreplaceable.  I am very grateful for the life that I have. I once heard a parent say that the days are long, but the years fly by.

6.       I thoroughly enjoyed reading your book and believe all parents of special needs children will benefit greatly from it. Since it has been published, are there particular comments/reviews that have made your writing effort worthwhile?

>>Bobbi Sheahan:  Thank you, and wow, what a great question!  Every time someone says that I’ve helped them to avoid some confusion and to have more understanding, it warms my heart.   That’s why I wrote this book.  Autism is a very feared diagnosis, and it needn’t be. I hope to help to dispel some of the fear that people have when they learn that their child is or may be on the autism spectrum.    Information is power, and I wanted to help people to cut through all of the noise about autism and get right to the heart of what they need to know to get started.

Also, a lot of readers have reflected on the fact that having a child with special needs can be isolating.  One reviewer, Dr. Donahue, commented that we must appreciate and not take for granted the kind people who reach out to us and our kids.  I really appreciated that, and I think it’s true.  Our experience has been that we have the nicest people in our lives because everyone else has fled.  :-)

7.  What stands out to you about writing the book?

>>Bobbi Sheahan: I loved collaborating with Dr. DeOrnellas to try to spare other parents some of  the pain and confusion that can accompany the early years of parenting a child on the autism spectrum and the journey of discovery.  I wish that I could bring all of my readers to her office; since I can’t, I am proud and grateful to be able to bring her to you.  I also have the greatest respect and appreciation for the brave and candid parents who shared their stories for the book.  Their stories range from touching to hilarious to poignant, and my life is enriched by them.

8.  Who do you think will benefit most from your book?

>>Bobbi Sheahan:  In writing the book, I was reaching out to two particular groups of people:  parents of young children who have or may have autism; and the friends, teachers, neighbors, doctors, and relatives of children on the autism spectrum.   I want people to be armed with information so that they can face the challenges without fear, and get on with enjoying life with their children.

Thanks to Bobbi for this interview. It was a pleasure to collaborate with her on this interview and on Tweetchats.

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

READ ALSO: Review of 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

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.
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