Following Ezra – Austism Spectrum

Following Ezra: What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism and Love from His Extraordinary Son

Tom Fields-Meyer, Author

New American Library, Nonfiction, September 2011

Suitable for:  Parents, Family Members, Teachers, Special Ed Teachers

Synopsis: “The walk was always the same.  Then one day it was different.”  During the summer of 1999, Tom and his wife Shawn spent two months at a retreat with their three sons.  Ezra was three years old when they began to notice subtle changes and unusual behavior.  On an early morning stroll with his dad, Ezra took off down an isolated road.  Tom followed him for nearly half a mile.  Tom kept backing off to see if Ezra would realize he was alone and get upset.  Not Ezra.  He was utterly alone and in his own world.   Tom felt bewilderment and fear.  “Ten years ago I watched  my solitary son venture down an isolated road, ” said Tom.  “Long ago, I made a choice to follow Ezra, and to watch in awe and mystery, as my son makes his own unique way in the world.”

Following Ezra is a must read book for parents with children diagnosed with autism!  This is the most powerful, compelling and inspiring book I’ve read to date about how one family chose to reach their autistic child.  Instead of listening to a therapist tell Tom and his wife, Shawn, that they needed to “grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be,” they refused.  “When Shawn and I dreamed of starting a family, I carried no particular notion of who our children would become,” said Tom.   I didn’t carry any conscious notion of what my children would be like — whether they would be girls or boys, tall or short, conventional or a little bit odd.  I planned only to love them.”

Autism effects  each child differently  In Ezra’s case, he showed signs of isolating himself, playing alone, and hiding in closets.  He showed no fear, or didn’t understand consequences.  He liked to be wrapped tightly in a blanket so he could feel his body, but he didn’t want to be touched.  He spent hours lining up his dinosaurs in a row.  Loud noises and crowds overwhelmed his senses.   If you asked Ezra a question, he would look off into space and just repeat the question.

Although Ezra participated in special education classes and therapy that was available, Tom chose an unconventional approach to working with Ezra at home.  Tom decided that he  wasn’t going to “fix” Ezra, but rather follow him into his world so he could understand and find a way to reach him.   There are many moments of humor.

Instead of discouraging Ezra’s obsessions with trains, Gumby figures, the color red, and zoo animals, Tom saw it as an opportunity to build a relationship with his son.  Tom spent many afternoons with Ezra at the zoo.  He watched in amazement as Ezra happily followed his traditional path around the zoo pointing to animals and reciting information.  Tom discovered that the zoo represented order for Ezra,  as every animal was in its place.  This order helped calm Ezra.  Over time, Tom realizes that Ezra understands that his father cares about what he cares about.   The connection between father and son continues to grow,  as does his potential to have relationships with family, friends, and other people.  It also helps that Ezra is the middle child, as he is forced to interact with his two brothers.

Ezra is smart and memorizes numbers and dates of favorite Disney movies.  He begins to connect with people by asking their birthdays and then telling them what movie was released on that day.  He develops a fascination with cartoons and animations, because the faces have fixed, predictable expressions.  Tom enrolls Ezra in an animation class, and Ezra begins making animated films. (Click on  “The Alphabet House”  to view Ezra’s animation that  became a book he co-authored with Tom Lichtenheld.   E-mergency was released in October 2011.)

Ezra is gaining a sense of self-awareness by age 12.  It helps him prepare for his bar mitzvah on his 13th birthday.  His bar mitzvah really culminates in a celebration of the past 10 years of his life.  Ezra greets 300 people, shakes their hands, thanks them for coming, and fulfills the required chanting, recitations and speech.  This is a remarkable achievement for a boy who couldn’t look at people, and a testimony for Tom and Shawn’s perseverance, belief and love for their son.

Tom Fields-Meyer, a former senior writer for People, has written for dozens of publications, includig The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.   A graduate of Harvarard, he lives in Los Angeles with his wife and their three sons.  Follow Tom on his website at http://followingezra.com.   He travels and speaks to parent groups all over the country. 

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

47 thoughts on “Following Ezra – Austism Spectrum

  1. Parental love is truly one of the most powerful things in our world! I love the example and the choice that Tom, and no doubt his wife, took to enter into Ezra’s world and follow him, rather than expecting Ezra to follow them. Another fabulous review, Pat, and I book I certainly plan on reading.

    I couldn’t do a search here to find out if you had already reviewed Rules, by Cynthia Lord, I seem to remember you have? She has just spent a weekend in Belarus sharing her book with parents of autistic kids there who have far, far fewer resources and books than we do in Europe or the US. She has been posting on Facebook and the impact her book and her presence had on these isolated parents brought me to tears.

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    • Joanna, I have been very eager to review this book ever since I featured “E-mergency,”the book Tom Lichtenheld co-authored with Ezra. Ezra’s parents are remarkable and their love is what reached Ezra. They had times that would test any parent, but Tom really was patient, steady and predictable for Ezra. Entering Ezra’s world to show him he cared, was the key. I wish I would have shared how Shawn shared with Ezra he had autism, it was very moving. Ezra is now 15 years old, and in 10th grade. He dreams of becoming an animatior, or working with zoo animals.

      Yes, I review “Rules,” last April. Great book. I’m so glad that Cynthia Lord was able reach out to the isolated parents in Belarus. I should check out her blog. Thanks for your thoughtful remarks. – Pat

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  2. Wow. If only everyone could have such an attitude toward their kids – not just children with special needs, but all kids. The whole concept of “the child he didn’t turn out to be” raises questions of parental expectations of every child, but particularly special needs children. Stories like this one make it seem very possible that those children are not unreachable – it’s just a question of learning or understanding how to reach them. I agree with Joanna – Rules is an excellent book!

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    • Susanna, thanks for your comment. I found myself thinking the very same thing. This kind of parenting is applicable for all children, not just those with autism or special needs. Parents have expectations for their children. The child that may not meet those expectations suffers. This book is such a testimony for all parents. We are such a fix-it society. Tom was wise in how he patiently drew his son out and let Ezra’s uniqueness emerge. I did review “Rules” last April. – Pat

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  3. tom totally gets it – i know we accomplish so many more (physical) gains when our activities are child-led. i didn’t get that at first and we experienced many frustrating days. then we started considering our daughter’s interests when exercising and got creative. there are still tough days, days where i have to do a little more persuading, but things are much better now.

    this sounds like a great read. what an encouragement to parents to know it’s ok (and sometimes necessary) to raise your children “unconventionally” (then again…is there even a common way to raise children anymore? *ha*).

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    • You know, there really isn’t a conventional way way to raise children anymore. I just appreciate that Tom was such an advocate for Ezra. And, through his book Tom is giving so much hope and inspiration to families with kids with special needs. You are right, he totally gets it! I’m glad that your daughter is doing well. It is tough to find a balance. Thanks for your interesting comments. – Pat

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  4. You know how much I adore this book Pat!

    There are so many books filled with advice on how to ‘fix’ our children, our relationships, and our own selves. In the autism community it is sometimes quite devisive, parents insisting that you must try *this* therapy or *that* supplement if you are a good parent. “Following Ezra” is a refreshing, accepting book that broadens the definition of good parenting to include listening, following and celebrating our children for who they are, and who they will become.

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    • Cathy, thank you for weighing in on “Following Ezra.” I love your comments as you know. The book is a refreshing approach to good parenting in general. Thanks for encouraging me to review it sooner. I know this is an important book to you! Ezra is 15 now, and continues to be an expert animator and his parents watch in wonder where it will lead him. – Pat

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  5. This sounds wonderful. Books like this are both inspiring and informative to me. Being the parent of an autistic child sounds so hard and scary to me. I find people that do it so well inspire and strengthen me. I recently watched the show “Temple Grandin,” and loved it. She is amazing and her story is amazing. After seeing that, I would really enjoy this book. It piques my interest. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Thank you Leigh. The beauty of the book is that Tom’s method are just good parenting. Instead of molding them, we follow their lead. Wish I had this advice when I was raising my kds. I love Temple Grandin. We are entering a time when kids in the autism spectrum are entering adulthood, and they bring with them many unique talents. And, look was Temple did to change an industry because she had a very unique way of understanding animal behavior.

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  6. Patricia, thank you for posting on this intrepid Dad and his fascinating Son. I agree with other posters here – if every parent could pay this much attention to their child, think how much we all could learn. My son is five, and his “best” friend from preschool is autistic (my son has cerebral palsy) and watching the two of them I’m amazed how a kid who is seemingly emotion-free interacts with other kids and what their “imagination time” play is like. Within an imposed order, they find endless variation.

    I will definitely be adding this one to my reading list! Thank you again for another great recommendation.

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    • Melissa, thank you for adding your own perspective. Your observations about your son and his friend are very interesting. “Following Ezra” really makes you think. There are a number of parents who’ve contacted me who have children with cerebral palsy, ranging from mild to severe. I’ve reviewed a couple of MG books on the subject. Unforunately, there’s aren’t many children’s books on the subject. I didn’t share in the book how Ezra’s mom told him he had autism. It was beautiful. Hope you have a chance to read this book.

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  7. Many thanks for the lovely review, Patricia. I’m so glad you enjoyed “Following Ezra.” And thanks for noting the humor. It was important to me to include some of the many funny moments we’ve experienced along the way — and Ezra is such a funny kid. I’m also grateful that you mentioned the importance of Ezra’s brothers. I often say that his greatest blessing is that he’s the middle of three brothers. They don’t treat him like a “special needs” kid. They treat him like a brother. And that’s as it should be.

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    • Tom,
      Thank you for commenting. I’m glad you liked the review. I was going to contact you tomorrow after the comments had come in. I thought it was important to mention the role your sons played. I had another sentence about the relationship, but ended up having to cut the review. Write them too long, and you lose your audience. I also wanted to mention how Shawn talked to Ezra about autism, as it was so beautiful. Saw that your book was a finalist in the National Jewish Book Award, as well as all of the great reviews from the LA Times, NYT, Huffington Post, USA Today and so many more publiations. Your book is groundbreaking and as most of my readers realized, that your approach is good parenting. It is a beautiful story of hope.

      Pat

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  8. This sounds like a wonderful non-fiction book Patricia. I’ve recently been reading a medical non-fiction book on a topic that impacts my family. When I decompress from that experience, I’ll check this one out. For now, I’ll share this post with friends and family on facebook. Thanks.

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    • Thanks for commenting Stacy. After reading this book, I’m struck by the fact that it is parenting at its best! It’s a great book for families who have special needs, but it is wise parenting for everyone. -Pat

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  9. Thanks for sharing this review, Pat. This sounds like a ground breaking book indeed, for parents of autism and parents in general. My kids are grown but I can see that this book would still interest me as it says what I did right in raising my kids. They are both wonderful and happy and don’t seem to have suffered from loosing their father at ages ten and fourteen. Apparently I did something right. lol.

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    • Clar, I was hoping you’d catch this review as I know of your interest. It is a beautiful story written by a very open minded father who just wanted to love his son. It is a must read for parents of autistic kids, as well as any parent. – Pat

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  10. Your review has made me really really want to check this book out. I especially enjoyed the opening line in your synopsis: “The walk was always the same. Then one day it was different.” Autistic children take a different walk, one in which details are acutely observed and given attention.

    Claudine

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    • Claudine, thank you for stopping by my blog. Glad you enjoyed my review of “Following Ezra.” It is the best book I’ve read to date for parents and teachers. I featured the book that Ezra co-authored with author Tom Lichtenheld in November, “E-mergency.” If you are interested in books for children on autism, I have review quite a few very good ones. Again, thanks for visiting. – Pat

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  11. Thank you for this! Definitely one to be added to our shop. We have good friends with an autistic son and the love and fun and amazement that fills their lives has always inspired us. Special needs? Maybe. Special gifts? Definitely! Two other books we recommend…. “How to Talk to An Autistic Kid” and “My Baby Rides the Short Bus.”

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    • Craig, glad you enjoyed “Following Ezra” and are going to promote it through Reach and Teach. Love your comment about “special gifts” over “special needs.” Ezra is certainly gifted as are many children. Ironically, I’m going to be reviewing Daniel Stefanski’s book. I know the illustrator. Thank you for taking the time to stop by my blog. – Pa

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  12. It sounds like their story offers a lot of hope and inspiration! My sister has 3 boys with autism. There are struggles for sure, but I think special gifts is a great way to describe them. 🙂

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    • Coleen, thank you for responding to my post. I have found that every time I write a review about a book on autism, I run across more individuals who have a child, or have family members with autirm. I do think Craig’s comment about “being special gifts” is right on. I hope your sister has found this book. Again, thank you for sharing.

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  13. Follow their lead is a lovely way to go with autistic and normal kids. There was a boy lived opposite us in NZ and we thought he wasn’t parented properly, he just watched tv all the time and wandered aimlessly with no interaction. They had him labelled as autistic and lots of us couldn’t believe it. It’s not that we were ignorant of it, but it must be so hard to pin something like that on someone when you’ve seen the circumstances in which they live every day.

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    • Thank you for your input Catherine What an interesting story. If he was autistic, perhaps his family didn’t know how to work with him. You will never know. I think Tom’s methods are just good parenting.

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    • Catherine, I’m curious about that description of your neighbor. Our son Ezra likes to pace in our back yard. Like a lot of people with autism, he prefers to be in motion: It makes him feel better and helps to calm his nerves and ease the anxiety that comes with autism. While he paces, he often talks to himself about the things he cares about: Pixar movies, and, lately, the upcoming Dr. Seuss film, “The Lorax.” To our neighbors, it might look like he “wanders aimlessly with no interaction.” But when he’s inside the house (or at school) he has *plenty* of interaction with all kinds of people. They’re just witnessing his down time. Also, as I explain in “Following Ezra,” the word autism doesn’t bother him. He understands it as neither good nor bad, just the way God made him.

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  14. What an excellent review, Pat. I’ve been up to my ears in a couple of things, and haven’t done much blog-visiting in the last few days, and I’m so glad I came over for this one! The book sounds so very good, and I was delighted when I realized it was the boy from “E-mergency”.

    The comments, too, have been so eloquent and profound. And I so appreciated reading the author’s comments, as well.

    I know I’ve said this before, but you have such a valuable blog. Well done!

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    • Thank you for your comments. It really is an excellent book as you can tell. I bought it when I did the review on “E-mergency,” as I knew I had to review it. I had contact with Ezra’s dad at that time. Once I read the book, I realized I was reading something very special. Yes, I’ve been pleased with the discussion that has taken place on my blog. Bev may ike this book. Again, thank you!

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      • I thought of Bev immediately, as well. When she has less weighing on her, I’ll tell her about it. Right now, her Mum (my beloved poet-aunt) is nearing the end of her life (at 95), and Bev’s focus is with her.

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  15. Hi Pat, have you already reviewed the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time? it is also a fascinating read about autism. I would share this with my teacher-students as well, thanks for such a thorough review. 🙂

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  16. I think I would really like this book because someone really close to me (my little sister) has a “sensory processing disorder”. I don’t really understand it but I am learning about it. My parents try to allow her (and me too) to just be who she is. Do you think it is an OK book for a kid? I told my mom and dad about it. They are going to read your review. You always review good books 🙂

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    • Erik, I think your parents would like the book a lot. It’s a beautiful book! We’ve had a good discussion about his book in my “Comments Section.” And, with the reading level you’re at, I think that you would find it helpful. Siblings play an important role. The author has commented several times on my review, so make sure you read his first response. He’ve very assessible for questions. At the very bottom of my post is his post and you can send a private message to him if you have questions. — Pat

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  17. Okay, thanks Tom. I’m not sure I’ll ever know for sure, but I used to babysit and visit their house a lot and he wasn’t played with at all, was in his own little world and watched ridiculous amounts of tele. He hardly interacted at all at any time of day although it did seem to improve as he went to school. Whatever it was he has a carer now, so he must be coming along and enjoying more attention anyway. I respect autism, but I am also aware there are often other reasons for similar behaviour.

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    • Catherine, I guess you never know what’s going on inside another person’s family or another individual’s mind.

      Pat, I’m so delighted at the lively and revealing discussion your review has inspired. You’re right: so many families are affected by autism. Each reacts in its own way, and we can all learn a lot from each other. Our family has certainly gained strength, wisdom,and perspective from connecting with other families along the way. Thanks, also, for providing information on my website (www.followingezra.com), where I blog regularly on these topics, and on the little stories I am privileged to experience daily as the father of Ezra and his brothers.

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      • Tom,
        I was pleased that your book inspired a very interesting dialogue on my blog. I realize each time I review a book on autism, a number of people have a family member or know someone who has a child with autism. It was a pleasure to read and review your book. I wish Ezra the best on his journey. As a parent, I am sure you are interested in how he will transition into adulthood. I hope you are beginning to think about writing that book as Ezra completes high school. Many parents would be interested. I have reviewed a number of excellent books of fiction on the subject, but parents really need to hear real stories. I hope interested readers visit your great website and your Following Ezra facebook page .
        Pat

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  18. Patricia, I was very moved by your description of this book, especially the line “Tom decided that he wasn’t going to “fix” Ezra, but rather follow him into his world so he could understand and find a way to reach him. ” As Erik mentioned, our daughter, his sister, has challenges making sense of the world around her. Like the author, we have resisted specialists telling us what is “wrong” with her but rather we have tried to learn from her. She has taught us a lot, and I think she has made us better parents, even for Erik. Parenting the highly precocious Erik has it’s own challenges, some of which I would have never anticipated. I am curious to read Mr. Fields-Meyer’s book especially since he mentioned sibling interactions. I am happy that Erik does not look at his sister as someone with a “problem,” but as his sister. I think he is even a bit jealous of her artistic abilities. Thank you for bringing our attention to this book. Ginny

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    • Ginny, I’m so glad that you enjoyed “Following Ezra.” I hope you read Tom’s book. I think you would find a lot of validation of your parenting and may learn something helpful. Tom does talk about sibling interactions. I am so happy that you have been such a strong advocate for your children. You know Josie better than anyone. As Craig Weisner pointed out to me yesterday — “Special needs? Maybe. Special gifts? Definitely.” As I mentioned to Erik, Tom does have a website I listed at the very bottom of my review. You can communicate with him there if you wish. Erik has been a delight with his reviews and I like how he has introduced Josie. She is a good artist!

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  19. Wow Pat, what reaction your blog is getting and especially this topic. A lovely review and I appreicated Susanna’s comment of parents using this kind of interaction with all kids, not just autistic. This is an extremely beautiful book and sends out an amazing message for all. Tom and his wife have certainly shown us what can be achieved by taking the time and road they have chosen, good for them.
    I hope you will also look at the book “Believe” http://www.mindovermatterbooks.com/ Thanks Pat for sharing.

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    • Diane, Susanna’s comments were excellent. I have never had so much discussion among those commenting, as I have had on this book. I am so pleased! And, I have discovered how many families are impacted among our large KidLit blogging group. I am so glad that you enjoyed the review. Yes, I brief comments about your upcoming interview with Kasey and her M.O.M. books. I visited her site. Great series for young children. Will look at “Believe.” Again, thank you for your thoughtful response. – Pat

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  20. Pat,
    I picked up this book last week after you recommended it in a PPBF post. There is so much of my son in Ezra’s story; the pacing, intense passions, routines, organization systems that escape me completely but make perfect sense to Arthur. I kept reading bits of it out to my husband and he’s decided to reads the book, too. We have lately been noticing a huge shift in Arthur’s perception of himself in relation to the world around him and then I read the part about Ezra going through a similar shift – at the same age! I have met too many parents who are so bent on fixing their child that they never see the amazing person standing right in front of them. I love that Tom and Shawn simply love Ezra as he is. That’s why he has flourished, he is surrounded by unconditional love. Thank you so much for pointing me in the direction of this book!

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    • Heather, you made my day. Knowing that someone bought a book I reviewed, read it and found it very helpful, made my day! You gave me such a great compliment! It is the best book out there. Am reading another one, it is very clinical. Identifying early is important. You know, Tom loves to speak to people. You can go to his blog, which I listed on my website, and he will communicate with you! He is so nice. – Pat

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