Julian and I - A Mother's Journey Through Regressive Autism
Around the world, the number of children being diagnosed with autism is growing at an alarming rate yet parents are largely being kept in the dark about the possible reasons for this explosion. In this thought-provoking and thoroughly researched book, Vanessa Stelling gives a deeply personal account of her journey through regressive autism – beginning in New York City and ending in rural Switzerland.
Stelling shares the many important lessons she learns along the way and does not shy away from the often-painful reality of her situation. Weaving a unique blend of narrative and exposé, she covers a wide range of topics that all parents of a child with autism will invariably have to contend with.
At times heart-breaking, often humorous, always compassionate and unflinchingly honest, this timely and ultimately uplifting book confronts a complex – and increasingly urgent – subject head-on. In telling her story, Stelling’s mission is to inform and inspire other parents facing their own journey through autism.
Within minutes of Vanessa Stelling’s private joy at discovering she is pregnant with her second child, the first plane collided with the World Trade Center. That immense communal trauma augured a personal one for Stelling. Julian and I follows a determined but overwhelmed mother as she struggles to make sense of her new son’s health and cognitive problems.
In a compellingly honest and humorous style, Stelling gives us the highs and lows of life in a family with a severely autistic child. The oft-neglected side of autism – chronic gastrointestinal problems, colitis, persistent infections, food allergies and epilepsy – is dealt with empathetically and unflinchingly. Stelling also offers the latest in research on sensory differences and brain plasticity, and calls for a new paradigm in special needs education.
Autism does not exist in a vacuum, and a significant part of Julian and I deals with the fallout of post-traumatic stress on the rest of the family – the attention his siblings couldn’t enjoy, even as they struggled with their own learning differences, and the ultimate toll the situation took on a marriage.
Still more heartbreaking is the “regressive” aspect of Julian’s condition. Having been potty-trained, he goes back to wearing diapers. Whereas he used to voice two-word sentences, Julian no longer speaks. Despite intensive early intervention, Stelling must learn that there is no therapy or strategy that will change Julian’s diagnosis, just as there is no final solution to any situation in life. Challenges continue to arise and instead of striving for a goal, Stelling explains how she gradually learns to accept what is, to truly appreciate the journey, and to consistently find relief in the difficult moments.
About the Author
Born in 1969 in Germany, Vanessa Stelling grew up in Zürich, Switzerland. Upon earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design and a Master of Arts from New York University, Stelling worked as a fine artist, exhibiting her paintings in group and solo shows in Switzerland, Germany and New York. When her second child, Julian, was diagnosed with autism, she found solace in creative writing. Writing became her passion as it allowed her to make sense of her son's highly complex developmental condition, process her grief and reveal the many unique gifts that her son and others like him have to offer the world.
Julian and I was published in July 2019.