I am so pleased! Our Author Interview Series will now include an interview with the co-author of one of the favorite, most practical, immediately helpful book I have reviewed. I reviewed The Child with Autism at Home & in the Community: Over 600 Must-Have Tips by Kathy Labosh and LaNita Miller exactly two years ago and many of the effective tips are still fresh in my mind. Read my review here. Then later I had the pleasure of reviewing The Child with Autism Learns about Faith: 15 Ready-to-Use Scripture Lessons, from the Garden of Eden to the Parting of the Red Sea by Kathy Labosh by Kathy and the review is here. Ms. Labosh has a third book in this series entitled The Child with Autism Goes to Florida: Hundreds of practical tips, with reviews of theme parks, rides, resort.
Kathy Labosh tells us in her preface of The Child with Autism at Home & in the Community that she wrote this go-to guide for families because a particular child may have the symptoms of Autism, but the entire family is affected. Mom of two sons with autism, she has successfully written this ‘book of instructions’ for parents, grandparents, friends and professionals on how to make life easier for the caregiver and easier for the child. Her book is a helpful tool filled with 600 bullet point, practical tips and tried-out strategies for families and educators to use to meet the needs of autistic children.
Once you have enjoyed a first reading of this easy-to-read, instructional guide book; keep it handy to refer to it often. The detailed index will let you find exactly the tip you are looking for to take on the issues and obstacles of home life and outings to make your day or your child’s day a better one.
Lorna: Welcome Kathy! I am so happy to have connected with you to make this interview happen. I read you graduated from Penn State and worked as an economist. Please tell us about your journey from Penn State to mom, to author.
Kathy Labosh >> Penn State is where I first met my husband at a campus prayer group, we dated more off than on for the next 13 years while he went to medical school and I worked as an economist in Washington. I remember being anxious during that time, wanting settled down, get married and start having children. Looking back, I’m really glad I had that time of being single, traveling, working and going out with friends, because all of that was about to come to grinding halt when my kids were born.
When I got married I left my job at the Bureau of Economic Analysis to move to New Jersey and marry Tim. I worked as a real estate agent for a while, before giving birth to Sam! I was over the moon with that child. He was wonderful in so many ways. He also seemed to cry and be very scared of the world and others. I remember him when he was only 6 weeks old, trembling like a leaf in my arms at the sight of these giant babies (5 and 6 months old), he buried his head in my armpit, looking back that would probably be the earliest indication that something wasn’t right. To me, it was just a little quirk that with enough love we would get past. I also couldn’t leave him with a baby sitter, he would sob nonstop the whole time we were gone, barely pausing to catch his breath. I was blessed in that he really loved and trusted me which some parents are not so lucky.
He seemed obsessed with letters and numbers and would stare intently at my husband’s medical school textbooks, carefully and examining all 500 plus pages of them. So, he wasn’t talking. The kid was obviously brilliant! Sam was around 3 when people started suggesting autism to me. I was pregnant with Nicky at that point. I got very angry. I couldn’t see his distant side, because we were so close, he was just fearful of others. He was nothing like those kids I has seen who sat in a corner and rocked while banging their heads against the wall. That was my vision of autism at the time. It was the early 1990s.
It took the birth of his baby brother to really bring the problem to the forefront to me. I was about to enter the most hellish period of my life. Sam refused to look at his brother or acknowledge his existence even in the hospital and that was before Nick started screaming. Nick only slept 6 unconnected hours a day. He had colic that went on for years it seems. Sam’s response was to hide in a closet and sob. When Nick slept however briefly, Sam would cling to me for dear life. He was looking more and more like that dread vision of a child with autism. I thought I was losing my child right before my eyes. I was only getting an hour sleep here or there and I had to cope with all of this.
My husband put me on some medications which helped but what I really needed was sleep. For some reason people weren’t lining up to watch my kids for me. I was close to God before, but we got really close back then. He was literally about the only one I had to talk to. My husband was working long hours and was talked out by the time he came home. A lot of my tips came out of those early desperate years. I carried around a set of rules in my head and tried to learn from every situation that went wrong. I think writing those books was a therapy for me. A way to reach back to that desperate parent I was and offer her the kind of advice and support I would have cherished back then. Both my boys are now teenagers. Sam is 19 and Nick is 16. Sam still doesn’t like hanging around with his brother, but both boys are known for their sweet smiley dispositions. Nick still has temper tantrums from time to time, but is more known for giggle fits and his happy dance. As a mom I am pretty proud of them.
Lorna: I noticed the book covers of your books are not the same as when they were first published. Now the eye-catching covers have many similarities. This should be wonderful for parents who appreciated one book and then your other ones catch their eye. So will these books become a series? Are there other topics you are considering writing about?
Kathy Labosh >> When Future Horizons took over my books they decided to repackage them. So they combined my old Town and Home booklets into one book – Home and Community, they expanded my Florida book to included tips on traveling with kids with autism, a section on beaches, and I threw in a chapter on hurricanes. We were in Florida when Hurricane Charlie hit, so I threw in a few tips about that.
They are a series. Right now, I’m trying to work through the Bible for the Learns the Faith Series. When the second book comes out that will finish the Old Testament. Then we can move onto Jesus. I have had people speculate that I am Jewish, which I wear as a badge of honor. I am Christian, I just believe in doing things in the order God gave it to us. I also was so blessed by the support the local JCC gave to me when the kids were little, I wanted them to be able to use my books for teaching their kids too.
Lorna: Your two sons have autism. Would you please tell us about the challenges and joys of raising these boys? Are you finding the support and services they need?
Kathy Labosh >> Well, the challenges I spoke about in the first question. The joys just spring from their personalities. There is an innocence and enthusiasm for things. For example if we go to get pizza, Nick gets so excited about the thought of pizza he starts doing his happy dance. Nicky also has the best giggles on the planet. Sam is our adventurer. He is a roller coaster addict, and loves skiing. He can do black diamond now. He went with his dad and the youth group from our parish to World Youth Day in Madrid, just him and two million of his closest friends from around the world. My husband had a mini-panic attack when Sam just up and joined a chain dance of people weaving through the crowd. The only reason, I said mini was because some others from the youth group ran up and told Tim, they had someone in front of Sam and behind him, so they would get him back to the right place. It is just really fun for me to see my kids get such a kick out of life. I never would have predicted this, all those years ago.
Now, I have a good support system, back when they were little, my family lived out of town. For some reason, people found two kids with autism intimidating. They would tell me how much they admired me, but not actually step forward to give me a break. The local JCC is a camp for kids with disabilities and they took both of my kids. I remember my body just shook with sobs of relief. It was the first time since my second son was born that I would have time away from the kids without having to negotiate with my husband who would watch them so I could go to the store or get my haircut.
I remember the first day of camp, I told my husband I had a dentist appointment. He was concerned because he had something else he had to do. I said, “It’s okay. The kids are in camp!” I have never been so giddy going to the dentist in my entire life. I also had a neighbor, whose family watched the boys for a weekend, so that Tim and could get away. There must be an eternal blessing on that lady’s head too.
Lorna: Many of the clever strategies explained in The Child with Autism at Home & in the Community are to develop the necessary skills that a child with autism needs to master if he is going to function in society (home, school, community…). I especially agree with your way to discipline in a clear, consistent manner that gives the child clear signals about “NO” and “YES” and how he is accountable for his actions; therefore he must apologize, make restitutions, clear up his messes. What advice do you have for parents/teachers who are at wits end because of discipline problems?
Kathy Labosh >> Try Tylenol. Not for you for the kid. So many acting out issues can be pain related. Teeth coming in, headaches or just being hypersensitive to pain can be helped dramatically with a pain pill. It is also a good way to diffuse the situation. It was a happy day for us when the last of Nick’s teeth came in.
Beyond that try to make whatever it is a learning experience. Have them clean up their messes. Send them to their room to calm down until they can act in a civil manner. I allowed them to watch TV to help them settled down. That purpose is twofold: It removes them from the stressor and teaches them that while we can be frustrated, we don’t inflict those feelings on everyone else around us. Sending them to their room removes you from the stressor which is a bonus.
Lorna: Tell us about your second book, The Child with Autism Learns about Faith: 15 Ready-to-Use Scripture Lessons, from the Garden of Eden to the parting of the Red Sea. Explain why you felt a book on this topic was needed, how it was received and what comments/reviews have made writing it all worthwhile.
Kathy Labosh >> I wrote the faith book because it was needed. I started a religious education class in my church because the regular religious ed classes were not cutting it for my kids. I figured out a way that you could make the same class useful for kids at all different levels of disability. Certain parts were group and other parts were individual projects the kids would work on with an aide. Those projects could be doing a puzzle, coloring a picture, or reading a bible story depending on the child’s ability.
When others heard about my project they wanted to add kids to my class, but I wanted to keep it at 5 and for the kids in my church for practical reasons. So I started explaining to people how to do it. The book was a way of letting people duplicate what I was doing in their own churches.
To me this book is one of the most worthwhile things I ever did. I think isolation is the number one personal problem for families with autism. To feel excluded from your church, can be especially painful and almost feel like God is rejecting you too. Autism is much more common now, but back then dealing with a child with autism was a scary experience outside of just about everyone’s knowledge. This book takes these people by the hand and says see, you can do it. There will be times when it’s like a three-ring circus but that’s okay.
The moments that have really gotten to me, are when people come up and they say, “My uncle had mental retardation, and you have no idea what this means to me.” These kids were stuck in institutions and hidden from the world. I’m putting them in church which as children of God is where they belong.
Lorna: In my review I wrote, “Kathy’s unconventional tips may bring a smile to your face; but if it is a solution, so be it! For example, she advises: “If you need a break but can’t leave the house; step outside for a few minutes…Take your keys when you step outside; children playing with the inside knob could accidently lock the door.” I am sure many parents can relate to your down-to-earth, been there- done that strategies. Do you do speaking engagements/conferences? What topic do you speak on and what are the favorite tips you share with parents?
Kathy Labosh >> Yes I do do conferences, but usually only when asked. I am just not organized enough to submit papers for approval and the whole submission process. I understand completely why it is done, but I am a very distracted person.
Usually I have church groups ask me in to give talks on the Faith books. I’ve spoken a couple of times at the National Catholic Educators conference. I spoke to a Lutheran synod. I spoke at the Oklahoma Autism Conference last fall. I did a session on Mom Tips where I just rattled off tip after tip with some funny stories about how I came by them thrown in. The parents were blown away. I’m not sure by which ones. They are all so old hat to me. The Tylenol tip is always a good one. It’s like a light bulb goes off in people’s heads. Oh, they can have headaches too!
I gave my faith talk out there, and I realized. Oh, I need a different talk for when I am speaking to parents as opposed to when I am speaking to pastors and religious educators. Pastors and religious educators have to be taught all about autism, parents already know.
I did a talk on travel once at a local Autism Society conference. I had the parents just rolling in laughter. I like my Florida book so much, because it lets you do the iconic family vacation going to Disney World and it is so doable. We did it like every year for eight years. They are very accommodating, there are disability passes that let you enter the handicapped entrances and avoid the lines. I have tips for good hideout where your child can calm down if they are having a meltdown.
I love, love, love talking to people. Contact me, we will set something up. I can be reached at Labosh@msn.com I also just do spiritual talks. One I particularly like is on The Gift of Need.
Lorna: Autism puts the wedding vows to the test. In your book you sum it up this way: “Love is about doing what it takes to keep the family on solid ground and caring about what happens to the other person… Assume both of you are really doing your best.” Please elaborate.
Kathy Labosh >> When I talk about autism putting your wedding vows to the test, what I mean is that especially early on, you are at your neediest. You are incredibly tired and stressed. You are worried about your kids, finances, getting the right help for your child, and the person who is supposed to be your main support is in the same shape. You can think if your spouse was doing his share I wouldn’t be feeling so overwhelmed. The truth is you would be. Autism is just an overwhelming experience especially in the beginning. Husbands can feel neglected, wives can feel abandoned, the house is a disaster and nobody smells very good.
If you don’t want to be held accountable to the standards of a Suzy Homemaker, or be compared to what Oprah says a husband should be doing, then accept that your spouse isn’t superman or superwoman either. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you. The best tip I have in that section is each parent needs a guaranteed night away from home every week, preferably on the same night. My husband joined the choir, I joined a prayer group. The friendship we made formed a large support group around us, it gave us a chance to be us, not just mom or dad of children with autism. Those nights away for me were a sanity saver. I only wish I had started them earlier on. We just celebrated our 21st wedding anniversary on April 13th.
Lorna: Thank you so much for making it possible for our readers to meet the author of “The Child with Autism” books. Tell us what Kathy Labosh, mom-author, has on her To-Do list for the coming months. Also gives us the links to follow you and where to buy your books.
Kathy Labosh >> I’ve been made a disability advocate for my parish. I am very excited about that. I want to organize the home-bound into a prayer chain, so that they can pray for others in my church that are experiencing problems. I think it will help them feel connected to the church and they should be good prayer warriors. They will probably know more about what is going on, than the people who are able to come every Sunday.
I want to start organizing little communities and have materials for spiritual enrichment no matter what your disability. God is for all. I want to seek out and find people who dropped out because of problems. We have a deaf-mute couple in our parish. That is the way they describe themselves. I found out there is a church nearby where once a month the whole service is done in sign language, and the priest can also counsel people in sign. Beyond that I want to have closed-caption movies parties for some of our deaf parishioners. I want them to get to know everyone who can sign in our parish so they have someone to talk too. Do I sound like someone who spent a long time isolated from others?
My older son Sam is graduating from high-school. We are taking a small party of 12 down to Disney World to celebrate. Then we are getting him into a school-to-work program to help him find a job.
Once the kids are back in school, I’ll probably get back to work on the next faith book about Jesus. I’ll have to talk to my editor but I’m thinking of just plowing through and doing 35 or 50 different lessons in one book, so you can pick the one that is closest to your scripture readings of the day. I have no idea how I am going to come up with 50 different activities, but that is God’s problem. If He wants them taught He better inspire me.
My godson is helping me create a Facebook page. It is not up yet, but you can go on YouTube and type in Kathy Labosh. You can hear me talk about a number of tips and funny stories from my books. My favorite is “Beware of the Merry-go-round!” It is like I Love Lucy meets Alfred Hitchcock. I am taping my Gift of Need talk this Friday, so he should have that one up soon too. I am going to see if I can get him to post an Iphone video of me trying to get Nicky out the door for school in the morning when he is having one of his giggle fits. I would give you the links, but the urls keep changing. I’m not sure what Nate is doing. So just type in Kathy Labosh and you’ll get my channel. Subscribe and you’ll get anything new that comes out. Keep checking for me on Facebook too.
If people want to contact me they can email me at Labosh@msn.com
If you buy Kathy Labosh’s books from the publisher, Future Horizons, you can get 15% off PLUS free delivery in continental USA by adding the coupon code KIDCOMPANIONS when you checkout of the store. Direct links to buy the books are found in the reviews.