Little Squares with Colors: A Different Way to Look at Autism will surely raise awareness to the fact that families coping with a child with autism need support and services. Mom-author, Christina Dagnelli, writes, “Autism affects nearly every area of Noah and our family’s daily life. It’s like being stuck in the terrible twos for extra years, without all the fluffy cute kid stuff.” Today we have the pleasure of introducing you to a mom you can all relate to and you know this by just reading some of her chapter titles:
- I’ll face it with a grin; I’m never giving in on with the show
- What Does Not Kill Us Makes Us Crazy
- You don’t know me, you don’t wear my shoes
In her book, Little Squares with Colors: A Different Way to Look at Autism, Ms. Dagnelli gives you a front row seat to the first seven years of their life raising their son Noah. She aptly weaves facts and great advice with funny anecdotes, and lots of frustrating episodes to win your heart. Read my complete review of her book here.
Lorna: Welcome to our Author Interview Series! Please tell us about yourself and how you decided to write a book for other parents with a child with autism.
Christina Dagnelli >> I am a writer by nature, I have kept a journal most of my life and always knew I would write a book. Probably because most family, friends and colleagues throughout my life would make that joke to me based on my inquisitive/nosey nature- “what are you writing a book…well leave that chapter out and make it a mystery.” I also felt like I had to compartmentalize our story for my own sanity. But most of all I felt most of the autism stories I read were from a more frustrated point of view, and not everyone feels that way. I wanted to share my voice and ideas also. Everyone’s story is a bit different and we learn from each other. I wanted to take a more light-hearted approach so people would laugh, feel hopeful.
Lorna: I read that Noah would now be considered a middle of the road child with autism but he was much more severe before intervention both by his parents and the outside help he received. What were the Red Flag signs that alerted you to the fact your son had autism? What advice do you have for parents who have a gut feeling their child in not developing like he should?
Christina Dagnelli >> In the beginning I didn’t even think Autism, I just knew something was wrong. There were many red flags, he didn’t like to be held, couldn’t sleep right, little eye-contact and didn’t want to play, though I didn’t associate those things with autism. But the biggest two flags were the lack of talking and the head banging. As far as advice, do not just accept what your doctor is telling you if in your gut you know something is wrong. Keep persistent, change doctors if you have to. I accepted what I was told for too long, but eventually my doctor realized her mistake. Never stop talking to your child either, therapy can take a while to start up, so you are your child’s therapist in the meantime.
Lorna: What support and services did you receive that helped Noah become a “middle of the road child with autism”? How is he doing now?
Christina Dagnelli >> We were able to get a team of behavioral therapists through our school district, occupational therapy and speech. The behavior therapists used many different approaches like we did, with ABA, Natural environment teaching and Floortime. What made the biggest difference was changing his diet to the gluten and casein free diet after we had labs done confirming enzymes were off. This is what opened the door to being receptive to learning. I swear his occupational therapist (Sydney from the book) is just magic though. The diet and OT, took away much of his stimming so now we could reach him. He is doing awesome now! We still have some issues with concepts he doesn’t understand (just because it’s dark you can’t pee on your bedroom floor) and overall he functions as a younger child. We all understand we have to adapt to each other. He spends most of his day in a main stream classroom with an aide, and next year he will no longer need a shadow. Our school district has done a much better job in providing what Noah needs.
Lorna: One thing I loved about your book was that you bring hope to other families on the same journey as yours. You wrote,” Autism ultimately makes you grateful for the everyday, the little triumphs, and those moments when you have practiced something a hundred times and he finally gets it.” Are you still experiencing “little triumphs”? How can parents make sure their child knows they are pleased and proud of their child’s daily efforts and achievements in ordinary things?
Christina Dagnelli >> Yes, there were many more between when I finished the book and recently that have to do with taking a shower on his own (but he still doesn’t wash his hair) picking up his laundry, drinking from a cup, and those times he thinks about someone else’s feelings. Sometimes it can be easier to let your child know if they react positively to you being very animated and happy. Some kids don’t like touching/hugging too much so that can be tough (was for us for a long time). But I just go with always telling him I loved him. Now he frequently asks if I would be proud of him if he does (insert whatever task). Yesterday he chose to drink water over juice because it was healthy, so he wanted to know if I was proud of him. I told him I am always proud of him.
Lorna: I read you enjoy writing comedy articles and a feature in your book I enjoyed was the humor you added even though this is a serious topic. Does Noah share your sense of humor? Is this one way you have for going over rough patches in your lives?
Christina Dagnelli >> Noah is a HOOT! He is known for his funny sense of humor, which is a little different than other kids. He is so literal. Once when I was telling him it was raining cats and dogs he just said “that’s impossible!” His teachers always adore him, and have told me many times he is “king of the school”.
Lorna: In your book you included your husband’s role, reactions, and reasoning in your parenting journey. It is refreshing to read a father’s point of view also. What are some comments you have received about your book that have made the effort to write it all worthwhile?
Christina Dagnelli >> One of the absolute best comments I received was from a woman who worked with autistic people and discovered their own sensory problems. She said this book helped make sense out of that part of her life and until she read my book she didn’t understand how she was limiting herself. She thanked me and said I changed her life. I think everyone that puts their personal self out there to teach, hopes for that idea that you can help one person.
Lorna: Tell us about your blog, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Crazy. When did you start blogging? What do you write about? Who is your target audience?
Christina Dagnelli >> Official blogging began in February of 2010, but I have been journaling the old fashioned way in notebooks since I was 9. I mostly write about life with a child with special needs, so that was my target audience. However, autistic kids really teach us so many lessons in empathy, tolerance, about our judgements and all the other issues we have as humans and parents it really should be read by everybody.
Christina Dagnelli >> Thank you, I really enjoyed these questions! I have a new website where you can find more information about the book, sample chapters and links to where you can buy it. You can purchase directly or from Amazon.com . The Site is www.adifferentwaytolookatautism.com. I just finished revamping the cover of this book and will be sending it to be sold in Barnes and Nobles stores. I am working on providing a column to one of our local papers. But it isn’t just autism specific, what makes it translatable is looking at the world through autism-tinted glasses. Dealing with the various behavior issues and the very mind of autistic kids, changes a person’s world view. There are numerous lessons in tolerance, judgment and empathy.
Lorna: Christina sent us a message to say she had finished the new cover for her book. So you are aware of the old and new look, I will post both here and on the review. The new cover shows her son with a dog.
Read Christina Dagnelli’s posts as the Newark Autism & Parenting Examiner Examiner.com