Stella Waterhouse is an enormous literary figure for autism spectrum disorder individuals and their parents. She is well known internationally and is now making inroads in the United States. My intent in writing this blog is for the reader to become better acquainted with her. If you are in any way interested in autism Stella’s book Autism Decoded (available through Amazon) is a must read. This is the first of several volumes attempting to cover the high points of what any individual should know about autism. Her detective work is presented in an unbiased manner and propelled with wonderful artistic prose.
I have had many electronic communications with Stella. In these communications I have noted that her book was a labor of love and that it should have taken many years for her labor to become a reality. In talking to Stella I was interested in getting to know how did it all start, where was she located and what was the most important message she would like her readers to know. Stella was kind enough to answer my questions and has allowed me to share those in my blog:
[Stella agrees that writing her book has been…] a labor of love. – My fascination with autism began in the late 1960s when I met three very different children. I was very puzzled because all shared the same diagnosis and yet all three seemed completely different.
One, Cara was almost “other worldly”: a beautiful child with a faraway look who seemed totally unaware of her surroundings. Tommy needed watching constantly as he ate anything and everything, food or not, gulping it down, regardless of how hot or cold it was. Then there was Mandy, a wild child who lacked any sense of danger and often disappeared only to be found wandering aimlessly, miles away.
That set the course of my life. Intrigued by the challenge of communicating with people who are generally thought to be non-communicative after training I went on to spend much of my career working with both children and adults with ASD as a teacher, caregiver and finally in the 1980s, as a Deputy Principal of a residential community for adults.
At that time autism was generally portrayed very bleakly and most of the books painted a fairly depressing picture – especially of the future. But my experience didn’t tally with that as I’d seen many positive changes in the people living there. By then I was also clear that anxiety was common to everyone I’d worked with but, as that didn’t feature in the literature either, I thought I’d write a short booklet on anxiety – with a positive approach.
I began by trying to find the reasons for that anxiety but the more I learned the more research was needed, especially in relation to the sensory differences and their often devastating effects. Thus my booklet gradually developed into two full length books, a series of short books for parents and teachers and latterly my new 4 part series, Autism Decoded.
I’m now based down in Dorset in the UK relatively near the coast. I’m also currently in the process of completing the second book Autism Decoded – The Ciphers which offers answers to some of the most puzzling questions including the causes of those problems with social communication and social interaction and the dividing lines between autism and Asperger’s (assuming it exists).
I think it’s important to make everyone aware that, however puzzling or challenging a child’s behaviour is, there’s always a reason for it, whether that be anxiety or sensory problems or a situation – like shopping in a crowded place that’s overwhelming. Once the reasons have been identified the difficulties can generally be alleviated, making the child’s life (and everyone else’s) much easier.
As an autism awareness expert Stella’s books build on her personal and professional experience and understanding of the autism spectrum and the many challenges that people with autism and their families face in their daily lives. That enables her to offer practical advice, insight and solutions to enrich and support the child while also enhancing family life.
Autism Decoded ~ The Cracks in the Code is the first of an ambitious four part series. It takes a light and somewhat controversial approach to this weighty and complex subject, illustrated by personal accounts, film and literature. It offers an overview of autism through the eyes of some of the great educators, physicians, psychologists and researchers and, most importantly, through the accounts of people with autism themselves; giving a real insight into the world of autism, both throughout history and as it is today.
As one reviewer wrote “Through the Cracks Will Come Light!” Thus this book provides a solid foundation for the rest of the series, offering views that will challenge the reader to reassess their thinking and join the debate.