Book by Ann Palmer
Review by Sybil L. Holloway
Center for Counseling and Human Development
Disabilities provide many challenges throughout life for affected individuals and their families. One woman’s captivating and poignant account of supporting her autistic-spectrum son – both the struggles and the successes – is candidly told in Realizing the College Dream with Autism or Asperger Syndrome.
Ann Palmer’s personal story from a parent’s perspective is well-written and engaging. She recounts Eric’s entire life, from his early years and autism diagnosis at the age of 2½ years old, to his progression through various levels of schooling through college. Palmer addresses many issues, discusses her parenting choices and the rationale behind them, and offers several useful suggestions for other parents in similar situations. However, she cautions that “…all individuals on the autism spectrum are different” (p. 14) and that what worked for her son may not be the best course of action for others.
One of the main points made in the book is the importance of self-advocacy, especially at the postsecondary school level when laws about the provision of services change and the responsibility for accessing services shifts from parents and teachers to the student who must initiate contacts, seek out support, and request accommodations if needed. Palmer describes in detail how she talked to her son about his Asperger’s diagnosis and his options after high school, helped him acquire necessary life skills (e.g., Chapter 4, “Everything You Need to Know About Life: A Summer of Lessons”), and remained a constant source of support. Her level of involvement and patience is remarkable. As a stay-at-home mom, she had more time available than many parents would to work very closely with her son and his needs became a high priority. Her involvement seems very appropriate and not overly controlling. As Eric became older, she allowed him more freedom to explore and challenge himself – and she was surprised by what he was able to do.
Colleges have a variety of services to help students with many types of disabilities and these are noted and discussed. Palmer states, “Any accommodation a student receives is based on the documentation to support the need and is determined individually for each student” (p. 101). She mentions the availability of extended time on tests, distraction-free settings for testing, use of computers for in-class writing assignments and tests that require writing, note takers or scribes, books on audiotape, priority registration for classes, priority seating in classes, and tape recording of lectures as a few possibilities for students who qualify (p. 101). She strongly encourages students to connect with their college’s disability services office as a main point of contact. The pros and cons of self-disclosure of a disability are discussed.
Palmer devotes a chapter to the positives of the college experience (Chapter 8). For her son, these included things like independence, decision making, problem solving, self-advocacy, and others. For her, the main positive thing was learning to let go. The following chapter discusses the next steps after college – in particular, the transition from college to employment, and the importance of having realistic career goals and evaluating one’s strengths and weaknesses in order to achieve maximum success and happiness.
I really enjoyed Realizing the College Dream with Autism or Asperger Syndrome and its strong positive message of hope and the focus on what is possible. Palmer’s heartwarming story is educational and relatable. Furthermore, she offers pages of valuable resources at the end – Useful Books and Websites (Appendix A), Sample Self-Disclosure Form (Appendix B), and References – several of which she is personally acquainted.
The back cover states that the book’s main audience is “any parent considering college for their child, for disability service providers in colleges, and for ASD students themselves.” In addition, I feel that advisors and other college personnel who have frequent interactions with students will benefit from reading this book. Recent discussions of autism in the news as well as the changing criteria for diagnosis that will occur with the 2013 publication of the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, in press) add to the relevance of a book such as this one.
American Psychiatric Association (in press). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington DC: Author.
Book Review #1415. Realizing the College Dream with Autism or Asperger Syndrome: A Parent’s Guide to Student Success (2006). Book by Ann Palmer. Review by Sybil Holloway. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers,176 pp. $21.95. ISBN # 978-1-84310-801-6.