“My son, who is autistic, loves repetition. He will do the same thing over and over and over. And over. He dragged me out to the garage and we pretended to drive every car on the property. First there was Grandpa’s truck, parked in the garage. Then there was momma’s van, our family car we had used for the drive to Oregon, sitting in the driveway. Plus there was my sister, Aunt Robin’s car nestled on the side of the house. For about two hours we ran from car door to car door. My son would hop in the driver’s seat and do the driving. He would push the buttons on the radio, move the steering wheel and turn on the hazard lights. There would be a particularly broad smile of accomplishment when he conquered the cerebral palsy in his hands and managed to buckle his own seat belt. . . . He would occasionally ask me where we were going and I would make up something like, ‘Take me to my doctor’s appointment,’ or, ‘I need sunglasses from Walmart.’ After a few turns of the wheel we had magically arrived. He would bolt out of the car we were in and run toward the next one saying, ‘Come on Dad. We’re driving.’”
The above excerpt is from Rich Seiber’s latest book Parker’s Story: Essays on Autism and Awesometism, a devotional-style memoir about Rich’s experience raising his son Parker. “Parker’s story is a Philippians 4:13 story,” Rich shares about his son. “‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ I can be born with brain malformation, and I can have autism, and I can have cerebral palsy, and I can still have a life that touches people. The world needs more stories like that.”
What made you decide to turn your experiences into a book?
I’ve always loved to write—I’d written two Christian fiction novels, so I had been a writer for a while—and I found that writing my experiences helped me process what we were going through with Parker. It’s been really cathartic to put my thoughts down on paper. And I had actually been doing that all along. Some of the pieces in the book were written while Parker was still in the womb. I would share some of those stories on social media, and they would always get a tremendous response. People loved Parker, and they would always say to me, “Rich, you need to put these in a book. You need to share Parker’s story with more people, because it really is a story of God’s miraculous provision.” It was feedback from my readers, friends, and family that led me to compose my stories into a collection, put it out there, and see what happens.
You mentioned that you’ve written two Christian fiction novels. How is Parker’s Story similar to your previous writing, and how is it different?
The parallel would be that, regardless of what you’re writing, writing is hard work. It’s laborious; it’s time-consuming. But there aren’t a whole lot of similarities. The book about Parker is definitely the most honest and revealing. The other two stories were fun to write—I kind of have a soap-opera writing style, and I love that—but this is much more personal.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing Parker’s Story?
The stories I would share on social media were often positive: the highs, the achievements. But in Parker’s Story, I try to write honestly about the struggles our family has gone through and how difficult it can be to deal with tantrums and behavioral issues. I had to sit down and talk with my wife and ask her, “Is it okay if I share these things? How do you feel about it?” While I did want the story to be inspirational, I also wanted it to be accurate. I think being a parent is probably the hardest thing most of us will ever do in our life, but being a special-needs parent is that times ten. I have good days as a parent, and I have bad days. It was hard to be that honest.
What’s your next step with the book?
Right now I am trying to consciously promote it. One in 68 children born in the U.S. has an autism spectrum diagnosis, and it’s five times more likely to occur in boys than in girls. Autism is an epidemic that’s touching our nation and our world, and I believe there’s a real need for information and encouragement. I want to get the word out about Parker’s Story because it’s a testimony to God’s ability to provide.
Could you share with us one of the more incredible moments you’ve experienced with Parker?
We’re a huge sports family; we watch a lot of football, a lot of NASCAR. Before every race, they play the national anthem, but because of Parker’s autism, he’s always had an aversion to singing. I don’t know if it’s the pitch, or the volume, but he’s never been able to tolerate singing, so when the national anthem would come on, he would cry and get upset. When he was young, one of the things we had to teach him was that he could leave the room. “You have permission now,” we’d tell him. “The national anthem’s coming up in five minutes.” “Three minutes.” “You have permission to go hang out in your bedroom.”
One day, even though we had been walking him through that process, he decided to stay in the room. He sat through the entire national anthem. Afterward he said, “Wow, Daddy, that girl sings real good.” That was such progress for him, such an emotional experience, for him to have the courage and the desire to let her sing, to not be overwhelmed. That was such a gift.
If readers took only one thing away from reading Parker’s Story, what would you hope it to be?
For readers with autism in their immediate family, I want them to know they’re not alone. Even though autism is becoming more prevalent, you can still feel isolated and overwhelmed easily. It’s important for people to be encouraged and to know that someone else has gone through this before. However difficult, you’ll get through it, and God will be with you through the entire process.
For readers who may not be close to someone with autism, I would hope they walk away from Parker’s Story better informed, with a new understanding of how to offer grace and encouragement to families with children who have autism. For example, I write about a trip Parker and I took to a Home Improvement store. (Parker’s fascinated with lawn equipment. He loves lawn mowers and weed whackers, trimmers, anything to do with yardwork.) One day, we were walking up and down the lumber aisle, non-stop, for about the third time in a row. We encountered an older gentleman who looked uncomfortable, because Parker was doing what many autistic children do when they get excited—he was jumping up and down and flapping his hands. To me, that behavior means he feels safe and he’s having fun, but if you’re not used to it, it can look awkward and even disconcerting, and the older gentleman was clearly uncomfortable.
I believe what’s often missing in situations like that is education. Rather than staring or being uncomfortable, ask questions! I wish I would have gone up to the man and said, “It’s okay. If you have questions, ask me. I can tell you about my son. He is just as fearfully and wonderfully made as you and I are, but yes, he’s different. Yes, he has autism.” Parker’s Story is one way I hope to provide that missing educational piece.
Rich Seiber has been part of the Corban community since 1991, when he began working in Student Life as Assistant Director of Career Services. Although he moved to Northern California in 1997, he still considers himself part of the Corban family, as his brother Tim Seiber works on Corban’s campus as a custodian, and his niece and nephew currently attend. Check out the rest of Parker’s Story on Amazon, available in both print and Kindle format here.