If you're a pastor and you know parents who have recently received an Autism diagnosis for their child, the last thing you should do is hand them a book. But for those who have settled into the new reality of parenting a child with unique needs and are asking for resources, these are the books I recommend. Moreover, I recommend reading them in this order.
1. Finding Your Child's Way on the Autism Spectrum: Discovering Unique Strategies, Mastering Behavior Challenges by Dr. Laura Hendrickson, (Moody Press, 2009). The late Dr. Hendrickson, who was trained both as a psychologist and a biblical counselor, left us with this hopeful and practical book. Two appendices, one which provides counsel for those in the diagnosis process and a second for parents selecting a behavioral treatment program, are helpful for parents soon after diagnosis. Her glossary of terms is a practical support for those who are drowning in all of the new jargon. Chapters on social skills, rituals, relationships, managing emotions, and discipline are biblical, hopeful, and they provide a careful nuance. Hendrickson was confident that parenting a child with unique needs is very different from parenting typical children, and she encouraged parents to look for God's purpose in their child's unique way.
2. The Life We Never Expected: Hopeful Reflections on the Challenges of Parenting Children with Special Needs by Andrew and Rachel Wilson, (Crossway, 2016). When a child is first diagnosed with special needs, parents are in survival mode. But the moment there is margin, all of the emotions begin to flood. Andrew and Rachel Wilson are vulnerable about their deep pain and the deep joy they've discovered in unexpected places. With raw honesty, they share about the challenges they face on a daily basis--all the while teaching what it means to weep, worship, wait, and hope in the Lord. This book will challenge you and help special needs parent grieve the new life God has given them.
3. A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul E. Miller, (NavPress, 2009). Paul Miller defines 'the desert' as the space between our hopes and reality. Few people know quite how this place feels like a special needs parent does. Miller has a daughter, Kim, who struggles with Autism, along with two typically developing children. He knows the battle of living a godward life when so many prayers are deferred.
A Praying Life has encouraged me to believe in the midst of dry seasons, and I've found Miller's prayer card method to be just the handhold I needed to learn to cry out to God with more consistency. In one of my favorite passages, Miller shares how hopes deferred made him more dependent on God:
Kim brought Jesus into our home. Jill and I could no longer do life on our own. We needed Jesus to get from one end of the day to the other.
4. Leading a Special Needs Ministry: A Practical Guide to Including Children and Loving Families by Amy Fenton Lee, (B&H Books, 2016). Not every parent of a child with special needs is called to start a special needs ministry. Many would find this to be an unnecessary burden. But God does comfort us in our afflictions so we can in turn comfort others with the same comfort we've received from him (2 Cor. 1:3-5). For those who will step into ministry to other special needs kids and families, Amy Fenton Lee gives a step-by-step guide for accommodating and including children and loving families. Specific sections of this book dedicated to laws and trends as well as behavior and participant safety make this an excellent start-up guide.
5. A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships by Paul E. Miller, (Crossway, 2014). In this exposition of the Book of Ruth, Miller grounds a life of love in the sacrificial, covenant love of God. He also reminds us that the Christian view of history is a J-curve. It's death followed by resurrection. For suffering caregivers like special needs parents, this is an important theological truth. Because Christ lives, we can move from bitter despair to a place of loving hope. Because he first loved us, we can continue to serve and be helpful to others. We can continue to care even when we receive nothing in return.
What other books would you include? Are there any that I've left off the list?