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A Child's Journey Out of Autism: One Family's Story of Living in Hope and Finding a Cure

A Child's Journey Out of Autism: One Family's Story of Living in Hope and Finding a Cure

by Leeann Whiffen

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Told with the intensity of a medical thriller, the extraordinary story of how Clay Whiffen and his family conquered autism.

"Leeann Whiffen's fight for her son is a poignant, intimate story of perseverance and love - a reminder to all of us that a mother is the greatest ally a child with autism will ever have. A Child's Journey out of Autism


Told with the intensity of a medical thriller, the extraordinary story of how Clay Whiffen and his family conquered autism.

"Leeann Whiffen's fight for her son is a poignant, intimate story of perseverance and love - a reminder to all of us that a mother is the greatest ally a child with autism will ever have. A Child's Journey out of Autism shines a heartfelt light on a future of healing and hope."
Jenny McCarthy, author of Mother Warriors and Louder than Words

When Clay Whiffen was diagnosed on the autism spectrum, his parents didn't know where to turn. They refused to believe that he could not be cured, and began to try every therapy they could afford - and many they couldn't.

Frantically they worked, knowing that Clay slipped further away every day. When intensive medical testing revealed that Clay no longer fit the criteria for any condition on the autism spectrum, the Whiffens' wildest dreams were realized. Clay had conquered autism.

Written by Clay's mother, with a foreword by autism specialist Dr. Bryan Jepson, A Child's Journey out of Autism spells out what treatments worked, where the family found help, and how they made it through this crushing crisis. In a time of despair and confusion - when another child is diagnosed with autism every 20 minutes - this is a profound, proven message of hope for anyone whose life is touched by the disorder.


"I have heard so many stories like Clay's that I thought I could no longer be moved by them; I was wrong. This is an important book to read if your family has not been touched by autism,because it's important to understand the disorder that has affected so many all over the world. If someone you love is on the autism spectrum, read it because it will allow you to see that autism is treatable. While not all children make a complete recovery, improvements in their quality of life are possible at any age. I strongly recommend this moving and intelligent book."
Jane Johnson, Executive Director, Defeat Autism Now!

"This uplifting and positive book gives parents of newly-diagnosed children hope for the future. There is no easy fix or magic bullet for recovering a child from autism, but as Leeann so skillfully shows us, with perseverance and determination, the possibilities and rewards are endless. Thank you, Leeann, for sharing your story and empowering parents to make that journey to rediscover their child."
Chantal Sicile-Kira, author of Autism Life Skills, Adolescents on the Autism Spectrum, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

"Leeann Whiffen takes the reader onto the rollercoaster ride that is autism from the first chapter to the last. A Child's Journey Out of Autism is field guide on how an average family can grow in love as they take on autism, refusing to accept the mainstream doom and gloom pronouncement that there is no hope or treatment. This is an important, really powerful book. If you know a child with autism, read this book for them."
Kim Stagliano, Managing Editor, Age of Autism, and mother of three girls with autism

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

The story of Clay Whiffen started out no differently than that of countless others diagnosed with autism: his parents, author Leeann and her husband, Sean, felt they could only watch as their happy baby morphed into a child they did not recognize. At first, the parents, in their 20s, denied their son could be autistic. (In the foreword, Dr. Bryan Jepson writes that in the mid-1980s, autism was a rare condition-1 in 5,000 children; by the mid-1990s, it had become the most common developmental disability with 1 in 150 children diagnosed.) But soon, Leeann writes, "I feel compelled to do whatever it takes to help Clay.... I stay up all hours of the night investigating everything related to autism." As Sean worked hard to cover the cost of Clay's treatment, Leeann became a master networker. The Whiffens decided on an applied behavior analysis program, and "I press forward in sheer faith that what we do will help him." Although the book's dialogue is often stilted, Whiffen has written an inspirational and educational story. (Mar.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
"A well told and compelling tale of a family trying to understand what has happened and how to treat their son and find the answers needed... The intensity of the story makes this book almost impossible to put down as you read of Leeann's search to heal her son.

" - Autism File

"An inspiring account of love, luck, and dogged determination.

" - Booklist

""More than just one family's story, A Child's Journey is a touchstone for issues that are now controversial flashpoints in the autism community, raising questions in the ongoing debate about autism treatments, from causes to diets to federal funding... an important story for a nation still coming to grips with the ever-growing numbers of children with autism." " - Autism Society of America

"A Child's Journey Out of Autism leads us through Leeann's incredible path of always holding on to hope." - Lily's Reading Extravaganza

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

I amble out into the balmy June morning with a pregnant swagger. The fog is still heavy in the air at 6:00 a.m. My hospital bag clutched under my arm, I maneuver my awkward body up and into the car. I hear the thumping of Sean's fingers and turn to see him tapping the keys of an imaginary piano on the steering wheel. As we drive to the hospital, I think about Drew, our two-year-old son, who can't wait to meet his brother. I envision the boys growing up together as best friends, sticking up for each other amidst trouble, playing sports together, sharing a room, double dating. It is then I remember why we chose to have our babies so close together.

Just as I'm settling into my room at John Muir Hospital, gentle music begins pouring through the hallways. I look at Sean, puzzled. He points up at the intercom in the ceiling. As it plays longer, I recognize the familiar melody. Brahms' "Lullaby."

"What's this?" I ask, looking upward.

"Another baby was just born," my nurse says, like she has answered the same question over a hundred times this week.

"Oh, how nice," I say.

I think about how lucky I am that I'm even here on this day, June 20, 2000. I'm overdue. Consuming slice after slice of "prego pizza," a specialty pie with every topping in the house that Skipolini's claims will kick-start labor, didn't deliver anything but severe intestinal distress. When my OB/GYN offered to induce, I instantly took him up on it.

I squeeze Sean's hand, noting his boyish hairline and dark chocolate eyes. His masculine, geometric jawline beckons my gaze. I mouth the words, "I love you." Holding up his hand he grins slightly to one side and flashes me the "I love you" sign.

The entire labor process blurs, setting itself apart from my grueling first delivery. I clench Sean's hand again, this time so hard he pretends to grimace dramatically. I shoot him the look that says, you are silly to try and tease me now.

"Push," the doctor says again. "He's almost there."

"One more time!" Sean says excitedly, leaning in closer. I bear down with all the energy I can marshal. I feel the blood rush to my face and the veins pop out of my head and neck as I strain to deliver this new life into our world.

"There he is," I hear the doctor say in a calm low voice.

A tiny, shrill cry penetrates the air. I lift my head off the pillow and smile, seeing his wet, curly hair matted to his head. His scrawny reddish-purple body swims in the hands of the doctor.

A feeling of peace and reverence fills the room.

The doctor hands the scissors to Sean and shows him where to cut the umbilical cord. The nurses take our son to the sink and wash him. They wrap him tightly in a thin blanket and put a beanie on his head. The room is quiet except for his tiny cries. The doctor takes him from the nurse and places him in my arms. I brush my lips against his face and inhale his sweet smell. I kiss his soft, warm head and nestle him close to me. Brahms "Lullaby" softly plays above.

I hold him only for a brief moment before one of the nurses whisks him away to weigh him and check his vitals.

"He scored a 9 on his Apgar test and his measurements were right on target," the nurse says.

She hands him back to me and places him on my chest. His warm body relaxes me. He stretches and squeaks so much he sounds like a dry hinge. I quickly glance at his hands and feet to ensure he has all five fingers and toes. I pull down the front of his diaper. "Everything is there," I whisper, easing my new mom jitters. I exhale a mental sigh of relief as I look at his tiny hand clasped over my first finger.

"So far so good," I say, looking over at Sean.

"Our baby boy is a healthy, normal little newborn. He's beautiful, and so are you," Sean says.

"I'm so happy, sweetie."

"Me too," he says, stroking my face and hair.

At that moment I realize that I love him more than I ever have.

At a few days old, Clay seems to be the perfect baby. I revel in his mild temperament and wonder how I got so lucky—Drew had colic, and I was dreading it again. He only wakes twice in the night to breast-feed, and rarely cries. I'm thrilled with his disposition.

Clay's first week goes by, and we take him into the pediatrician for his first well-child visit. She highly recommends he receive the hepatitis B shot at this visit.

"You'll need to sign this first," she says, handing me a clipboard with a consent form.

I scrawl my signature at the bottom of the paper without looking it over.

"What mother who cares at all about her child would refuse to vaccinate them?" I ask her as I mentally pat myself on the back for being so conscientious.

"Oh," she chuckles, "You'd be surprised."

"We are so fortunate to have two healthy boys. I could never live with myself if they were to get sick with a preventable disease."

She hands me an immunization schedule. "In order to keep Clay healthy, you'll need to make sure to bring him in for all of his well-child visits."

"Of course. We won't forget."

Four weeks pass and Clay seems less happy. He cries a little more, sleeps a little less. By his sixth week, he cries incessantly and hardly sleeps at all. His behavior evolves into days and nights filled with piercing screams, an arching back, and inconsolable crying. Soon Clay rarely sleeps for longer than thirty minutes at a time. He jerks awake, screaming frantically as if someone is pinching him. The area surrounding his eyes looks like a bull's-eye from lack of sleep. I'm frustrated because I don't know how to help him. His shrill screeches arouse every nerve in my body, wearing them raw. I get so attuned to hearing them, even everyday sounds like the running dishwasher mimic his cries.

I call the pediatrician, who says, "Oh, yes, it's probably just gas. Don't worry too much." She recommends some over-thecounter drops to help ease the "supposed pain" in his stomach. I hang up the phone, bolt to the drugstore, and purchase the drops that will hopefully solve all our problems. We begin using them right away, but it doesn't seem to help. As his crying becomes more intense, so too does the constant reminder that I'm failing to meet his needs. I spend entire days rocking him, cuddling him, talking to him. I play soft music, and Drew and I sing to him.

Yet nothing I do seems to comfort him.

Meet the Author

Leeann Whiffen lives in Salt Lake City with her husband, Sean, and her three sons, one of whom used to have autism. Leeann serves on the Autism Council of Utah, collaborating with autism organizations and individuals around the state to help families find solutions. Leading autism specialist Dr. Bryan Jepson, the parent of a son with autism, has treated hundreds of children on the autism spectrum. He established the Children's Biomedical Center of Utah to provide the most-up-to-date care and to raise awareness. He is currently the medical director of Thoughtful House in Austin, Texas.

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