Reviewed for AAIWW and OAARSN

The Road Trip: Life with Autism

by Gloria Pearson-Vasey and J. Kevin Vasey (Ottawa: Novalis, 2005). ISBN 2-89507-603-0.

A powerful portrait of an Ontario family’s journey with their son from age two, when he was first diagnosed with the symptoms later defined as autism, to his mid-thirties. Other parents have written of the searing experiences of learning their child has autism and of searching for real help and understanding. We can all relate to the journey into the “dark and frightening place” where “the maps were riddles, the roads abruptly merged into a maze, and the destination was hidden from view” (p.11).

            What is distinctive about The Road Trip is that so much is told in Kevin’s “voice”, though he seldom speaks. The book began as a collection of transcribed conversations in 1992, during a family trip to Atlantic Canada, after Kevin had just been introduced to a form of alternative and augmentative communication in which his hand is steadied to type on an electronic device. Kevin’s observations and statements provide evidence of his exceptional intelligence, his interests in social justice, travel, nature and music, and his sensitivity to the plight of persons who suffer injustice.

            A book consisting only of Kevin’s words would have been worthwhile for its glimpses of what his mother calls “the soul of a boy-man, at once innocent and wise, sometimes sophisticated, and often touchingly naïve” (p.9). But the book’s editor wanted more—more about the whole family’s perceptions and experiences, before 1992 and since. So the road trip became more complex, and “the journey threads its way through several dimensions” that help us to understand Kevin’s life and to imagine more about the lives of other adults with autism.

            Gloria Pearson-Vasey, Kevin’s mother and co-author, has been a Secular Franciscan for more than 20 years. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is a pastoral minister. She has been a nurse, music teacher and journalist, and has published novels and devotional books. Gloria was also the mainspring behind the creation of St Francis Advocates, the agency created in the later 1980s that operates five residential homes and various other initiatives for adults and children with autism in the tri-county area of southwestern Ontario from its base in Lambton County. The book is infused with her life experiences and spiritual insights.

            The rich material of The Road Trip is organized thematically, in chapters on major topics, each weaving together Kevin’s communication of his thoughts with discussion of contexts and the perspectives of his mother and other family members. These are the chapters:
Hope and Dreams
Pioneers and Pilgrims
The Quest for Meaning
Going Home
The Advocates
Confronting Rejection and Loneliness
Pilgrims’ Process
The epilogue, “As Far As I Can Tell” sums up the authors’ Franciscan spirituality.    

            We recommend The Road Trip as a compelling read, through which we learn respect for the humanity and spirituality of some adults with autism, especially those who may seem most severely impaired. We also appreciate how parents and families grow through their acceptance of suffering and the love and compassion they express in their lives for and with their vulnerable sons and daughters.