“You Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”: Our Family’s Journey with Autism

“You Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”: Our Family’s Journey with Autism

This week I have been reading You Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”: Our Family’s Journey with Autism by John M. Harpster and Tamara Harpster. The authors, parents of a son with autism, tell their story of raising an autistic child to adulthood. Their autism parenting book is helpful for others travelling the same path and educators and others who want to know more about autism.

Tamara Harpster writes, “We started in the 1990s, before widespread Internet access and when autism was still viewed as a lifelong disability that needed to be cured. Over the last twenty-seven years, we have seen the view of autism change.

The chapters in the book each contain three sections: my husband’s memories, my memories, and a section with resources, references and reflections. The resources and references section of the book contains material we quoted or found helpful, and actions we might change now that we know more about autism.”

John writes, ” One of the purposes of this book is to show that while there are differences between people on the autism spectrum as opposed to those who are not, the conflicts that occur can usually be smoothed over with patience and understanding.”

Raising an Autistic Child Has Many Ups and Downs

Other parents of autistic kids will relate with the challenges the Harpster family had to overcome. They took the decision to home-school their son. They had to deal with meltdowns, wandering, fascination with fire, bullying, anger issues, etc.

The following are short excerpts from You Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”: Our Family’s Journey with Autism

  • Sometimes we would actually sit with him until he went to sleep after he had concluded his screaming, crying and thrashing fit.
  • His running and humming simply became a background behavior that he performed in between his other activities.
  • He wanted to communicate with us, but did not have the language skills, so he used his pictures to reach out. Through these images, he began to communicate and gradually figured out how words could be used as a way to express himself as well. They also provided a bridge that reduced his frustration while he worked on his speech skills.
  • Another aspect of his conduct that is quite frustrating to this day is inappropriate giggling.
  • Later in his development, he also had problems with the pronoun usages of “I,” “me” and “you.”
  • He built a three-foot-high model of an oil rig based solely on pictures he found on the Internet. It was complete with people, cars, piping and a little cart. There was an amazing amount of detail that exactly duplicated what he saw in the website’s image.

Many Resources Mentioned

Readers will appreciate the many links and resources mentioned in the book. Tammy found three books that provided some semblance of hope:

  • Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin,
  • There’s a Boy in Here: Emerging from the Bonds of Autism by Judy Barron,
  • The Sound of a Miracle by Annabel Stehli

All three provided some optimism that children diagnosed with autism could grow and thrive and live their lives away from an institution.

Advice from John M. Harpster and Tamara Harpster

  • When J.T. was around fourteen or fifteen, he became more difficult to handle. Their son in his teens was already 6’2”. They knew it was very important they help him deal with anger issues so that he would not lash out at others or ruin things.
  • All autistic teens need a safe place where they can be themselves and take a break from the transition period between childhood and adulthood.
  • For a child on the spectrum, the world can be a confusing and frightening place. By having a special interest on which to focus, it can reduce their fears and anxieties.
  • Part of my job as a parent has involved learning when to step in and protect my son, and when to step back and let him experience the world.
  • We have found, as many others have, that there is no cure, and no clean or simple solutions for a young adult with autism who wants independence. There is not just one solution, but many different methods of dealing with young adults who are on the spectrum and who want to move into the adult world.

Guest Post by Tamara Harpster

“You Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”:

Our Family’s Journey with Autism


In the early ‘90s, my husband and I became the parents of an active, inquisitive baby boy. As he grew from an infant into a toddler, he began to exhibit signs he was different from other children his age. When he attended preschool, we discovered his remoteness, meltdowns and speech delays were due to autism. Our book provides a look into our day-to-day life of our family and dealing with autism while working to connect and communicate with our son. We describe our failures and successes using different strategies such as artwork and LEGO bricks in connecting with our son. Along the way, we learned the crucial bond of family and appreciating normal moments of home life that most people take for granted.

Our journey included alternatives such as homeschooling while dealing with meltdowns, special interests, and isolation from others and within the family. Our firsthand account tells  how we finally learned how to reach our son in his world so he could join us in ours. Our book includes the perspective of my husband and me so that other moms and dads can find a voice to relate to. In addition, we include a section at the end of each chapter describing our mistakes, what we think we got right and references for parents or caregivers who are interested in more information about different aspects of autism.


My husband and I started a self-publishing business a few years ago and a good friend suggested that we write a book about our experiences. My stories about our family life had increased his awareness of the challenges of raising an autistic child and he thought that other parents, teachers and caregivers would benefit in reading about our experiences. After a great deal of soul searching, my husband and I agreed to collaborate and write about our experience with family life with an autistic child. Our purpose is letting other parents of autistic children know they are not alone. We also hope that teachers and caregivers might learn about some of the difficulties families face when raising an autistic child and the need for compassionate support in order to help the family while helping the child.

Target Audience

The target audience is parents of autistic children, caregivers and support people for families with autistic children and for friends and family who are interested in learning about autism and what family life can be like.

Excerpts fromYou Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”: Our Family’s Journey with Autism

The following excerpts explains the name for the book

“He also talked a lot more than before, but he had problems with the correct usage of pronouns, especially “I” and “you.” He constantly referred to himself as “you”–as in “you’d like to go for a ride”–when he really meant “I’d like to go for a ride.” Another odd speech pattern he acquired was to say he did not want to perform an activity, when in fact he really did want to. For example, he would say, “You don’t want to go for a ride now,” when what he really meant was “I am ready to go out right now and drive around. Please take me somewhere.”

This excerpt is from the last chapter of the book and describes how we are a family

“While this is the end of our book, it is not the end of our story. As the years have passed, we have found out through experience that autism isn’t cured, but it is an inherent part of the person and affects them for life. John-John continues to mature, but at a slower pace than his peers. Autism affects the entire family, and it can be terribly isolating as parents and children try to figure out the answers to their problems.  As I look back at this book I’ve realized that its focus is on our life as a family while dealing with autism.  I feel like many families become so focused on autism and the difficulties associated with it that they forget how to simply be with each other. Now that I’m older and possibly wiser, I can see that I am seeing my son as a person instead of a disorder

While we may not have wanted to travel the road of autism, somehow we have moved forward and made it to his adult years. We found some good stories along the way, took some lovely pictures and found our way together. We are still a family that cares for one other. We occasionally fight and bicker, but we make up and realize our mistakes along the way. In other words, we are a family, like so many others in the world.“

John M. Harpster and Tamara Harpster You Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”: Our Family’s Journey with Autism About the Authors

John M. Harpster was born in Ft. Worth, Texas and raised in Arlington. Before the birth of their son he wrote articles for a computer magazine but put that aside when he became the father of an autistic boy. After retiring, John returned to writing with his debut book of the Dancing with the Universe Series, “Doing the E.T. Tango”. He is co-author of the book “You Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”: Our Family’s Journey with Autism with his wife Tamara Harpster. He is working on additional books for the Dancing with the Universe series and other ideas. He is also building a wooden robot that he can put in the front seat of his car to enable him to drive in the HOV lanes on the freeway.

Tamara Harpster was born in Iowa and spent her childhood in various cities in the Midwest as her family moved around for her father’s job. In her spare time, she works with her husband John to polish up his novels, and do her own writing for blog entries and essays. She is co-author of the book “You Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”: Our Family’s Journey with Autism with her husband John M. Harpster. She is working on a fantasy series “Hero Lottery” and a science fiction novel “Year 2038 Bug”. The draft book “Year 2038 Bug” is being published as a serial novel on their website.


Read Also: Interview Tamara Harpster: Raising an Autistic Son to Adulthood 

Buy “You Don’t Want to Go for a Ride”: Our Family’s Journey with Autism  Amazon.com  Amazon.ca

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.