NFL Films producer and debut author O’Brien offers a frank, firsthand account of his and his family’s journey with autism, starting with his son’s early childhood diagnosis.
The author had a lot going for him when his twin children, Grace and Frederick, were born in 2001. He and his wife, Bernadette, had a strong, loving relationship and a supportive extended family; he was also enthusiastic about his sports-producer job and fatherhood. But as time passed, concerns about Frederick surfaced. At first, the O’Briens assumed that he was just a late bloomer, but by the time he was about a year old, they realized that he wasn’t connecting emotionally with people. After countless evaluations and interventions, Frederick was diagnosed with the dreaded “A word.” His autism, along with a degree of mental disability, translated into a lifelong need for constant assistance and supervision. This book, however, is not a simple or predictable inspirational story. Instead, it recounts the complications and nuances, both logistical and emotional, of living in a family with a special needs child. The intense work never ended, and it took an undeniable toll; O’Brien reveals many negative emotions, including jealousy (of neurotypical families), anger, and sadness, and he describes frustrating attempts at “normal” family dinners and theme-park excursions, during which the family felt the glares of the uninformed. But the book also includes good measures of joy and revelation, showing the family’s rocky journey to acceptance and their improbable adoption of an infant son from Ethiopia—an event that turned out to be a well-timed gift to all the family members. The author packs the book with anecdotes, often told with wry wit, which make his story highly tangible. He also shares abundant insights, including spiritual perspectives and thoughts on the benefits of being Frederick’s father. There are a few text-formatting issues, including some unnecessarily boldfaced type, but they don’t detract from the overall quality of the read.
An honest, riveting work about living with autism that will enlighten and offer hope to readers.