New book Coming Home to Autism takes a room-by-room approach to guide the parents of a newly diagnosed child through day-to-day family life. There are ideas and routines to try at home, including advice on toilet training, diet and nutrition, sensory play, and much more. We sat down with co-authors Tara Leniston and Rhian Grounds to find out more…
Congratulations on the publication of your first book! We want to let our readers know a bit more about it, so, can you tell us who this book is for? Who did you have in mind when you were writing it?
Tara – When my son was diagnosed with autism 5 years ago, I was looking for a book like this. I needed simple practical advice that was easy to read, and something I could use at home. All the books that were available at the time were either very medical based, diaries of other people’s journeys, or books on pointing fingers as to why your child had autism. I was very fortunate that I lived in the London borough of Wandsworth at the time Dylan was diagnosed, and I had access to the best help. I was also in a position where I could throw myself fully in to learning all about autism and Dylan. While I was writing I was thinking of all the information I wish I’d had in one place – as opposed to spending hours, weeks and months researching and wasting a lot of money on things that didn’t really help at all.
Rhian – Yes, as Tara says, it was written for families with younger children and those children with a relatively recent diagnosis. I was constantly thinking back to all the families I have worked with, what they said was most useful during their sessions and what they wished they had more advice on. I was also thinking of all the other professionals I have worked with over the years and how their knowledge has contributed to helping children and families consider and plan for all their child needs; from the day to day activities, sleep and communication. This book really is a combination of all those experiences and expertise.
How did you discover your shared desire to help and advocate for autistic children?
Rhian – My career has been dedicated to working with all ages with ASD. I have worked, volunteered and supported autism awareness campaigns. At the same time Tara was raising money for the National Autistic Society; launching herself off buildings, clearly advocating for Dylan and autistic children! She was also supporting local families with advice and signposting them to resources and services. Through our common desire to advocate and consider ASD as part of our families and communities we developed a friendship.
Tara – I gave up my career as an actress to help Dylan and I threw myself in to learning all about autism and how I could help others in the same situation as us. The autism community is a fantastic group of supportive people, families and professionals. I believe Dylan brought Rhian and I together to write this book.
Why did you decide to write a book? What did you feel was missing from the conversation?
Rhian – Myself and Tara had often reflected on what she had found most useful in her experiences and that she really wanted an easy to pick up and balanced practical resource. I found my work was most impacting when child and family were considered together and communication opportunities weaved throughout the day. I also have had great experiences of working jointly with parent advocates. I felt the combined professional and parent perspective was rare in the information out there. So, when Tara called me proposing the concept I was very excited.
Tara – One of the many reasons Rhian and I are friends is that we have a shared experience in being bought up abroad, but also, that we want to help people. We would often bounce ideas off each other about what had worked and what hadn’t. I found that I was helping lots of families in the community and also had friends who had a newly diagnosed child. I often found myself writing emails until midnight making suggestions or trying my best to help them. I came up with the idea about 5 years ago and actually asked Rhian in a restaurant one night if she thought a book like this would be a good idea and would help other families. I stopped and started writing this book for about 4 years, but really felt something was missing and the missing piece was Rhian. She is a wealth of knowledge and practical advice. I managed to track her down in India and luckily the stars aligned and she agreed.
Can you tell us a bit more about the unusual structure of the book, it’s shaped around the rooms of a house, is that right?
Tara– One thing I found when I was researching and trying to help Dylan, is that I would often have to read a whole book to get an answer to one question. I was also emotionally and physically drained, so I found it very difficult to concentrate on anything let alone reading. I really wanted the book to be easy to read and be a book you could dive in and out of. So that if you were having a problem with your child’s eating habits, you could just go to the kitchen section, or if your child was not sleeping, go to the bedroom section.
Rhian – I loved the challenge of thinking about the different communication skills to talk about in each room. Many of the approaches/strategies talked about come up again and again, linking how they can be used to develop a range of skills. I felt that mapping some of the theory out there directly onto a family life structure offered a real opportunity to simplify things and empower people to try practical things without expensive resources.
Where’s the best place for people to find out more about your work and about the book? Are there any websites, social media channels etc that you’d like to keep in touch with readers through?
Tara – You can buy the book on the JKP website, on Amazon or most bookshops can order it in for you if you ask them. I also have an Instagram page which I update regularly on our daily family life and on Dylan – @taraleniston
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