The future can be a scary place for a parent with an autistic child. It looms there on the horizon, storm clouds of questions that never quite seem to break.
Will our son finish school?
Where do we find teachers who can help?
Will he find a job?
Can he live on his own?
Raising a child with autism is a sea full of questions.
A Fork Amongst the Spoons begins with Ian about to enter middle school. A school full of kids who have never encountered someone on the autistic spectrum. Hank Smith and his wife, Michelle, try to put their fears aside. Father and son, mother and child, those roles slowly change as Ian begins to find his own way, to learn to walk his own path.
And so, the days turn to weeks, the weeks to months, and the months to years. Ian’s steps grow more confident and sure, as he learns about this ‘normal’ world and how to navigate his way through it . . . a fork amongst the spoons.
As the years pass, Hank and Michelle’s questions begin to drop away until finally only one remains. It holds the future, not just a future of days and weeks, but one of years, of decades . . . a question that carries a taste of rain.
What will happen to our son when we’re gone?
Picturing a future they will never see, a life they will never be a part of . . . the storm is here.
EXCERPT . . . I was in the store the other day. A woman with Down Syndrome was there with her mom. The daughter looked to be in her thirties, while the mother was elderly, her short cropped hair steel grey . . . she was easily in her seventies. The daughter held onto the shopping cart, her vivid blue eyes glued to her mom. I noticed that the further her mother moved away from her, the harder she gripped the cart. Her mother returned with some eggs, and the daughter’s grip eased. As they moved away together, arm in arm, she relaxed completely. They stopped a few feet further on in front of a dairy case, and the process repeated. Our shopping lists must have been quite similar, because we were together through most of the store. It was almost like watching a dance, tension and release, tension and release. At one point, her mother briefly walked into another aisle, out of sight of her daughter’s piercing blue eyes. The daughter gripped the cart with both hands, her knuckles white. This time the tension was palpable, but she remained silent. When her mother returned, her grip eased, and the dance resumed. Did she do that on purpose? I wondered. These moments spent out of sight, out of touch — today it was only thirty-seconds, tomorrow would it be a minute, and next week five? In her own simple way, was this mother preparing her daughter for that horribly inevitable day when she wouldn’t come back? I thought about them all the way home. Was there a father? Were there brothers and sisters? Or was it just the two of them, putting their groceries away in that companionable silence that only thirty years of a life together can bring? Later that evening when my phone rang and I saw Ian’s number on the screen, I thought of them again. How do I prepare my son for the day I don’t answer?
This rage is horrible, one of the worst. I watch as my son turns into a raging,spitting animal. Toys become weapons, pounding against my head and back as I force him to the ground and hold him there so he won’t hurt himself . . . so he won’t hurt me. His teeth sink into my arm, and my world becomes white heat, noise, and pain.
And then it is over. My son returns, shaken and scared by what has happened. It is strangely quiet now, but for our ragged breath and soft tears.
Life with my autistic son often felt like living between one rage and the next. But oh those times in between! What magic and wonder there was to be discovered in that separate world of his. And so I began to wonder. Along with its burdens, had my son’s autism brought gifts as well, and would those gifts be enough to sustain us?
REVIEWS . . . By Arden Hyatt on April 20, 2015 "Sticks and Stones" is a work of the heart. Hank Smith has a way of telling the story of his son, Ian, that makes the reader both laugh and cry. Each chapter is a touching story of the struggles and joys of raising an autistic child. As a teacher, a heightened awareness of what families with autistic children are going through helps me guide students with special needs, but this book is a must read for all - whether you are nurturing an autistic life or not. By D. Johnson on May 3, 2015 Hank Smith's book gives invaluable insights into the world of autism from a parent's point of view. It is a book that touches the heart and changes lives. As a special education teacher, it is a must read for parents, families, educators and all who are involved with individuals who have special needs. By Kellee Ramirez on May 9, 2015 I literally could not put this down, I stayed up and read it in one night. Hank's play by play of how he felt on the journey of raising his autistic son, from denial to 110% involved is moving. Not many father's are willing to put their emotions on display for the world to read. But the emotions are what makes this so touching. If every child had 1/2 the LOVE of a father like Hank... Every TEACHER, COACH, PARENT and RELATIVE of anyone on the Autistic Spectrum needs to read this book from the perspective of this father. You will be glad you did! By vgard on May 15, 2015 An amazing and heartfelt story...but more importantly, this is a book that should be read by anyone who has contact with autistic children or families of autistic children. Our school district purchased a copy of Sticks and Stones for EVERY staff member including the school board members. It is not only for teachers who work with our students, but for every staff member from custodians, monitors, cafeteria workers, librarians, and instructional aides. Our board members make decisions for students at our school. Each staff member needs to have a deeper understanding of the challenges facing autistic students and their families. This book is a valuable resource for educational programs striving to meet the needs of all of their students. By Mary O'Meara on May 22, 2015 I was given a copy of Hank Smith's book about his son. After reading two pages I felt I would eventually see this book on at least a local Northern California best seller list. Planning to read the book the next day I glanced at a few more pages and four hours later I had finished the whole book. It is an absolutely breathtaking ride through Hank's experience raising his beloved son. I felt as though I had lived through the years he described. At the end of each chapter I had to take a deep breath to begin the next, emotionally connected to his and Ian's journey. Having raised a child with special needs I was so happy to have someone verbalize how I had felt while constantly driving my son to doctors and hospitals, feeling as though I could not take another step some days but knowing I had to for my son. This book, though about autism, will reach a much wider audience as it is a guide to how to keep on searching for ways to help children with mental, emotional or physical special needs. One beautiful tiny chapter, only three lines in length, I had to copy and paste on my office wall because it so perfectly described how I had felt and still feel about my son to this day. An amazing book.
EXCERPT . . . Ian trudged up the driveway, carrying his latest stick behind him. Perhaps the word “carrying” should be changed to “dragging”, as his latest acquisition was actually a log. He was beginning to realize the full load capacity of my truck, and with that realization came a whole new world of potential in his eternal stick quest. He leaned his find with the others beside our front door and went inside. I stood there for a moment gazing at his collection. Ian didn’t play with toys like other kids. Due to his autism, his favorite “toys” at the moment were the washing machine, our vacuum cleaner, and these sticks. In Ian’s mind, they were much more than just sticks. Swords, boomerangs, antlers, horns from fearsome dinosaurs- they jostled for position next to the french door. A whole imaginary world leaning there against the house. The pile was starting to slide towards the door, so I began to gather them into a more orderly stack, and as I did so, I thought of my own collection. I have stones that I have collected over the years from various times and places in my life. They are tucked here and there throughout our yard, in the house, even in my truck. Like Ian with his sticks, I find comfort in them. I like the cool weight as I roll them about in my hand, and for a while they take me away from my cares… they even calm me on the dark days when my anxieties scream away in my head. “Sticks and stones may break your bones” went the childhood chant in my mind as I stood there in the cold winter afternoon as the light faded away. The wind was coming up; the scent of rain was in the air. “But your words will never hurt me.” I turned and entered the house. My wife, Michelle, was out, and our daughter, Kaylee, was at a friend’s for the night. I’d promised Ian a movie, so soon we were in the truck again heading up to the video store, winding our way out of the hollow in which we live. The store was crowded, a storm was on the way, and people were ready to settle in with a video or two. Ian headed off to the children’s section to look for his movie as I searched for a film for Michelle and I. Through the noise of the other customers, I could hear Ian muttering to himself as he looked for his video, quoting lines from the movie that he intended to rent in a sort of monotone. “Kevin, you’re all right kid… all right kid… kid… kid.” He rambled on contentedly to himself, and I smiled as I listened. He’s got that movie memorized, and he wants it again, I thought to myself. It was the giggling that made me turn. Two boys, roughly Ian’s age, were standing nearby mocking him. My happiness of a moment ago turned to cold ash. I quickly got Ian, paid for the movies, and hustled him back to the truck. The wind was up, and the last leaves of fall skittered across the parking lot as the first drops of rain pattered against the windshield. Ian happily chattered away about his movie as we wound back down into the safety of our hollow. Michelle was home, and light spilled from the French doors, catching crystal raindrops in midair. We climbed from the truck and ran to the house through the soaking rain. Ian’s sticks stood there in the moist light, the rain dripping from them like tears. For Ian and I, sticks and stones are a balm to our souls in a world that is all too often cold and cruel. Sticks and stones don’t break our bones… it’s the words that hurt. They bite deep.
To Purchase . . .
A Fork Amongst the Spoons: Autism and Independence
Sticks and Stones: A Father's Journey Into Autism
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1.Signed copies are $14.00 each (includes shipping) $20.00 outside U.S.
2.Click below to purchase with PayPal.
U.S. Outside U.S.
3. and send me your name and shipping address, plus what you’d like me to say.