Book’s release on World Autism Day meant to show optimism
CHINA GROVE — It only took a few months for Susan King to write her new book, but in many ways, she’s been writing it for the past 21 years.
“Optimism for Autism” will be released Tuesday, on World Autism Day. It is the story of Susan and her son, Patrick, who was diagnosed with autism at age 5.
At one point, doctors told Susan, 52, and her husband, David, 53, that Patrick was mentally retarded.
Today, Patrick is a sophomore at Pfeiffer University, attending on academic and athletic scholarships. A member of the swim team, Patrick completed his first year with a 3.95 average. He was named Mr. Pfeiffer and won Pfeiffer Idol. Patrick is a computer science major whose goal is to one day design video games.
Now he can add the word “author” to his resumé.
“He’s come a long way,” Susan says.
So much so that she wanted to share his story. Her reasoning, she says, is two-fold.
“I’ve always had a heart for people with special-needs kids,” she says. “Another is that three people told me I needed to write a book: Su Krotchko, my mother-in-law and my mom.”
Truth be told, it was a lot more than three people.
“I just finally listened to all of them,” Susan says.
Eighteen months ago, her church, First Baptist in Salisbury, had a class on writing by author Phyllis Keels.
“I just felt really prompted to go,” she says.
Susan missed one class, so she and Phyllis got together to read six paragraphs Susan had written. Those six paragraphs would eventually expand into the first chapter of her book.
“She got all teary-eyed,” Susan remembers, “and she said, ‘You’re a writer. You’ve got to continue this story.’ ”
That’s what Susan, whose background is in journalism, set out to do.
“The more I wrote, the more the words kept coming,” she says. “I just sat and wrote.”
She began to set aside blocks of time on her calendar to write, and some friends volunteered the use of their mountain house at Linville Falls. Susan went twice, in April and November 2013, in three-day increments.
“I wrote from the time I got up until the time I went to bed,” she says. “It was great. I never realized how energizing and joyful it was to write.”
Phyllis went, too. They wrote and bounced ideas off one another but didn’t interfere with each other’s progress.
By June 2013, Susan had finished a draft. She attended a conference to learn about publishing. She learned to write query letters and contact publishers. In the end, she decided to print her books on demand through Amazon. She’s worked with Kimberly Rae of Narrow Way Books in Lenoir to format and market the book.
“It’s so great how God will put people in your life and lead and direct you,” she says.
Susan also wanted Patrick to play a role in the book, and so his thoughts are included at the end of each chapter.
“It gave us the opportunity to explore the great things God has done in his life,” Susan says. “We shed some tears. It was just a sweet bonding experience. I loved that we had the opportunity to become closer.”
As Susan writes in the book, husband David is her rock, and has also been a source of support in her foray into writing.
“He’s been so supportive and has given me good feedback,” she says. “He’s read the whole book. He calls me a writer now. I think he’s real excited for the book to come out. He’s been a wonderful father to Patrick.”
As he’s done with all of his children, David has chosen to be especially goal-oriented in working with Patrick.
“If you don’t give someone a goal, then they can’t meet it,” he says.
Susan and David also have three daughters: Katie Morgan, 26, a science teacher at Corriher-Lipe Middle School; Emily, 24, an ICU nurse at Carolinas Medical Center; and Sarah, 22, a labor-and-delivery nurse at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.
“The girls have been very supportive and given good feedback, too,” Susan says. “I feel like it’s been a family process. This book has given us the opportunity to look back and appreciate and savor all the God moments we’ve had. Our experience with autism has shaped us to be better people. I’ve definitely seen that in my daughters.”
Of his wife, David notes, “She’s a great writer, but she’s an even better wife and mother. She’s sacrificed so much over the years. I’m so proud of her and Patrick for sharing our story.”
David was also the one to continue working — at his busy optometrist practice in China Grove. Susan left her job as community relations manager for then-Rowan Regional Medical Center in order to take Patrick to all the therapies he needed.
Susan knows how fortunate she’s been, but she also points to a lot of free resources available for children with autism. The TEACCH Autism Program at UNCC has been a vital part of Patrick’s life.
“You have to make yourself aware of what’s available,” Susan says. There have always been support groups, but now there are many online groups, chat rooms and blogs for families of children with autism.
Patrick has also made friends online through the many video games he plays.
One player recently told him, “I don’t mean to be rude, but you have autism???”
“You accommodate, you adjust, you figure out a way to cope in the midst of challenges,” Susan says. “That’s Patrick’s story.”
In addition to book signings scheduled in April, Susan is the keynote speaker at the Special Needs Mini-Conference on May 3 at Catawba College.
Susan and Patrick spoke at the conference in 2012. Says Norma Honeycutt, executive director of Partners in Learning, the event sponsor, “There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. Our families still talk about it. Susan was able to share from a mother’s perspective the pain she experienced. And you heard that pain.”
But Susan worked through that pain to help Patrick overcome his diagnosis, Norma says. “It gives parents hope for the future, and parents see how important it is to advocate for their child.”
Susan and Patrick’s experience also shows teachers the importance of working with families of special-needs children, and that modifications are effective, she notes.
“As the parent of a special-needs child,” Norma adds, “you are put into a role to educate people and give them grace.”
Susan echoes that sentiment. She hopes to speak to others in the special-needs community, as well as to teacher and church groups.
“There is always hope,” Susan says. “Nothing is impossible with God.”
For more information about “Optimism for Autism,” visit Susan King’s blog at susanjaneking.wordpress.com. You may email Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Freelance writer Susan Shinn lives in Salisbury.