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.