Interview: Cynthia Lord
Current Mood: accomplished
Current Song: Will & Grace theme song
When Cynthia Lord's son was two and a half years old, he had a substantial regression. His mother watched helplessly as he lost words and skills. Even his personality changed.
Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with autism.
"I think some things that happen in life are so big, you are never the same person afterward," Lord shares. "Having a child diagnosed with autism was one of those moments in my own life. It rippled change into every corner, organizing even memories into 'before' and 'after.'"
Autism can present in any number of ways and at many different ages. "In some children, it is obvious from birth, while others with Asperger's Syndrome can be four to six years old or even older before receiving an official diagnosis." Lord goes on to say that two and a half years old is a common age for a child to receive the diagnosis because that is the time when delays in language and social skills become increasingly apparent.
SHARING THE STORY
Lord's new fiction book for kids, RULES, is a tender look at adolescence and autism. Through the eyes of 12 year old Catherine, we see how her little brother's autism touches each of her family members in different ways: her mother is caring, her father is distant, and Catherine is both his sister and his teacher. No matter what happens, she tries to teach David rules to make sure he knows the do's and don'ts of life. (Read my full book review.)
Since the world of autism is one she is intimately familiar with, she did not have to do a lot of additional research. What she did have to address were certain technical questions about wheelchairs and other situations for more of the outlying characters. She wanted to ensure that the book had a full and honest portrayal of life for Catherine and her family members.
"Though the family in Rules is not my own family, the book was my attempt to answer some hard questions and understand that whole experience for myself."
BREAKING AND MAKING THE RULES
A few years ago, the rule most often broken in the author's own household was: "No toys in the fishtank!" This is said many times in the book and well-depicted on its eye-catching cover. "Don't touch anything on Mom's desk!" and "Bring dishes back to the kitchen when you're done with them!" are the most often-broken rules nowadays.
Lord also has rules for her own writing: "In a first draft, don't look back. I call that my Pickett's Charge method of writing a first draft: Keep your head down and run! I have to simply push ahead during a first draft and let revising be the reward for finishing."
Other rules include: "Just because it's true doesn't mean it belongs," and "A book is a book, not a place to hold every thought or question I might have -- even if those questions are important to me."
SEEDS, START GROWING!
The classic Frog and Toad books by Arnold Lobel feature heavily in Rules. Lord finds these stories "both simple and utterly profound, a graceful and rare combination. Her favorite collection is FROG AND TOAD TOGETHER, which includes two of her most-favorite stories: "The Garden" and "Cookies." (This interviewer shares her love for that collection and those two stories, as well as "A List.") Lord also loves "A Lost Button" from FROG AND TOAD ARE FRIENDS, "Ice Cream" from FROG AND TOAD ALL YEAR, and another Lobel book entitled OWL AT HOME.
Lord thinks she is more like Frog than Toad, seeing herself as very careful and thoughtful about everything she does. She is quick to add, "Life would be empty without all the Toads I know and love, who shake me up and keep my world fresh."
THE REAL DEAL
"Recommending a helpful non-fiction book about autism depends on many factors," Lord begins. "Autism includes a wide spectrum, from Aspergers Syndrome all the way to children who struggle with the most basic elements of self-care. The first question I usually ask is where the child is with functioning and language, and that really determines what nonfiction resources would be most helpful."
Her non-fiction recommendations for adults include:
A SLANT OF SUN: ONE CHILD'S COURAGE by Beth Kephart, a National Book Award finalist. Lord calls the book "a beautifully-written and moving account of the author's life with her own son with autism."
For adults, fiction:
THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME by Mark Haddon
For kids, non-fiction:
VIEWS FROM OUR SHOES: GROWING UP WITH A BROTHER OR SISTER WITH SPECIAL NEEDS by Don Meyer. It's not specific to autism, but it's a lovely collection of personal essays from children about the experience of having a sibling with special needs.
For kids, fiction:
AL CAPONE DOES MY SHIRTS by Gennifer Choldenko
And finally, a list of her favorite fiction books, in addition to those she had already mentioned:
CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen
A WODEHOUSE BESTIARY by P.G. Wodehouse
THE POETRY OF ROBERT FROST: THE COLLECTED POEMS
THE BORROWERS by Mary Norton
BIRD BY BIRD by Anne Lamott
THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND by Elizabeth George Speare
ON WRITING by Stephen King
REASON FOR HOPE by Jane Goodall
MISS RUMPHIUS by Barbara Cooney
In speaking with Lord, her love for literature is apparent. "Some of these (favorite books) are dog-eared, well-loved copies from my childhood."
Also apparent, due to both her conversations and her writing, is her love for her family and her gratefulness for her readers. She is very responsive to questions from kids and adults. She is flattered by the positive reviews RULES has received already. Lord has been writing since she was a child, and she has never forgotten how proud she was of her earliest stories.
She ought to be proud of her newest story too.
My review of Rules by Cynthia Lord
National Autism Awareness Month