Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wednesday is Fish Sticks, Green Lime Jello for Dessert.

Imagine having a beautiful baby boy with big blue eyes and soft blond hair falling across his forehead. He rarely looks at you but more looks through you. You worry he might be deaf because he doesn't seemed to react to any sound. He makes no sounds except for crying long after he should already have a word for Mom and Dad, well after he should be able to point and clap and laugh. He hits fifteen months without so much as a peep.

Imagine thinking this was because of something you were or were not doing.

Reaching Charlie is one mom's experience discovering and coming to terms with her son's Autism. It is every parent's nightmare that their children will have some disadvantage that colors the way they will encounter the world. Janet, the blog's author, captures well the stages of grief she went through to get to the place of acceptance she is now.

Reaching Charlie is loosely structured like a book with chapters taking us through Charlie and family's exodus from "normal" childhood into what is even today, not territory entirely known. There is a lot I could say but I think Janet's own words express it best.

He has just recently become able to call me Mom and his father, Dad, but it is not said in the same manner as other kids would say it. It is a learned response and is said in exactly the same tone as it was taught to him. When he truly needs someone due to an injury or other deep need, he has no word for it. He just moans.

Rachel started talking at nine months. At 14 months, she was more communicative than Charlie was at nearly five.

What is cute for a two year old is embarrassing for a five year old.

The diagnostic criterion has haunted me. I was able to delude myself into thinking that Charlie would grow out of whatever was making him non-verbal.

At this point I was thinking that autism was synonymous with mental retardation. And I knew my child was not mentally retarded, so therefore, how could he be autistic?

She said that his behaviors were classically autistic and that with the spark that he did show of intelligence he might be able to attain independent living. Our jaws hit the floor. Independent living???

It is hard to admit this, but my own misconceptions and fears about autism held Charlie back. At the time that I was looking into alternatives for transition, I had never, ever met another child with autism. The movie RainMan was about the only frame of reference for autism and there were not too many books on autism.

A lot of people look at Charlie now and when he has an outburst they seem to think he's being bratty. I no longer explain about the autism. I just let it go.

Janet wants to help others who are dealing with a diagnosis. She also uses Reaching Charlie as a primer for people who will care for and educate Charlie, as she calls it, Charlie 101. By her own intent for the site, I would say this blog is a success. Were I a parent dealing with a new diagnosis, I would be all over the Internet looking for info on the next step. Reading the personal experiences of someone who's already walked the road would be tremendously informative and comforting.

The design is simple and clean. The work as a whole could use a good once over to correct a few grammar, usage and typing errors. The errors are not glaring, however, since this is set up to resemble a book, it should be clean and free of mistakes. The other thing I would suggest is to actually add some resource info to the sidebar. Janet may have avoided this because there are so many informational blogs and hers is more narrative and personal. Still, I would appreciate links to things that have been helpful or informative to her, much in the same way that if I find a favorite blogger, I like to check out what they read. I also, in spite of not having any specific interest in Autism, want to know how Charlie's doing now. It appears that the story stopped a while back and I want the rest of the story which is a testament to Janet's simple but evocative heart on her sleeve writing style.

The Autism bloggers, and there are many, are a very niche community with a very specific appeal. For the average Joe, this will not likely be your cup of tea.


  1. Thanks for the review, I will try to post some other information on the sidebar. I do appreciate the critique. It's hard to get an good look at something that you've put together yourself, which is why I submitted it. We're just too close to the situation.

    Charlie does happen to love fish sticks and jello, but he likes red jello. It's scary, isn't it?

  2. Personally, I feel like the layout of this "blog" is better suited for something like a free host such as Google Pages or the like. Clicking "Older Posts" to get to the next chapter felt awkward. Yes, I'm being picky, but it's my opinion. Also, I felt like the layout was almost too sterile, making it feel less personal than it truly is.

    I'd also like to point out that in the links list we discover that Charlie has his own blog, where he talks about Chevrolet trucks (among other things, but mostly Chevrolet trucks). It's an interesting look at Charlie through his words and images.

  3. Okay, I'm going to probably sound heartless, but I was bored by it. It feels like reading a textbook. And it's not that I don't find autism heartbreaking and fascinating, I've read lots of books and stories on the subject.

  4. Great suggestions, MM. Blogs like this are hard to review, I think. And I agree with SciFi Dad on the design and layout.

    Resources like this can be so useful to people dealing with disabilities. There's nothing like a first-hand account, you know? My little cousin is autistic, and I work in the background for educating special needs kids. Being informed matters so much. So thanks, Janet.

  5. It even looks like a text book. Not my thing, I can appreciate what she is doing, going through, but I just took my prozac and it's Friday. Great review, well worded, I love green jello.

  6. Jan: You do write very well, really you do.

  7. I am in love with Charlie's blog.

    He is a boy who knows what he likes. And it's trucks.

    What a sweet guy.

  8. God, I'm crotchety today. Maybe I need to start taking an anti-depressant for breakfast the way that everyone else here seems to. I tried reading it again because if Gok says the writing is good, then I believe him. The writing just feels so blah to me. Bogged down with too many details or something. I'm going to go check out Charlie's blog, though.

  9. MM- Your review was fantastic. Well done.

  10. Gwen, don't worry about it. It's in an interesting story with an honest, unique perspective.

    But the exact opposite of what I enjoy reading. Too lifetime movie for me.

    Charlie's blog, on the other hand? I find that one fascinating.

  11. And for some reason, the blog reminds me of a yellowing anatomy book, and I expect black and white etchings of muscles and heart chambers.

    Which can be neat, but I think it should look friendlier.

  12. This may be the best review I've seen on Ask. I like that you could objectively review this blog and offer advice even though it's clearly not your cup o' tea.
    Not to turn this into a book review, but if anyone is interested in books on autism, "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime" is probably one of the most awesome books I've read lately. Plus it holds you attention and reads quickly.

  13. I have to say this is the 2nd one this week I don't think has gotten the credit it's due.

    This is what I call a living and breathing blog, there's nothing more important in these people's lives. We constantly ask for more below the surface from the blogs we review, and while this may be airing on the instruction manual side of things, it doesn't get much more to the bone than this.

    AND Charlie's own blog is brilliant.

    but yes, a hard one to review.

  14. I cant even imagine...I just cant.

    And though it pains me to say this, I have to agree with Gene.

    Jello makes me gag. Unless its jello shots. And I loath fish sticks.

  15. I really found this blog readable and absorbing. I'd probably have given more stars, but this is how it works when different people do different stuff.

    I always think it's interesting how personal blogs are, in terms of what people like, and don't like.

  16. So, are we getting a new review today?

  17. No one be popping pills today


Grow a pair.