Carrie Cariello’s What Color is Monday? was recently featured on Fox News and was selected by Parents Magazine as the “perfect book for Autism Awareness Month.” We sat down with Carrie to discuss the motivation behind her memoir, how autism has changed her life and what words of wisdom she can share with others.
What motivated you to write WHAT COLOR IS MONDAY?
Both the title and the subject of the book were inspired by my autistic son, Jack.
My children motivated me to begin compiling my essays into a book and consider publishing it. As I watched each of them take delight in each other and Jack, and our family grow stronger as a result of his autism, I felt compelled to reveal the other side of the spectrum disorder; the uplifting, heartwarming, positive angle that often goes uncelebrated.
But I was equally compelled to reveal it with candor and honesty, to highlight the challenges that endless stimming and perseverations, limited communication and rigidity can bring to a family.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing WHAT COLOR IS MONDAY?
For me, finding the time and the discipline to write every day was the most challenging part of writing the book. And once the manuscript was completed, the tedious task of editing and proofing with the publisher was very difficult. I hated the book, then loved it again, then hated it once more. Now I think it’s okay.
What is the message you want readers to take away from your book?
I hope readers see the funny, frustrating, confusing, brilliant aspects of autism. I hope they can relate to both the challenges and joy of raising a larger family with a special-needs child.
I especially hope young parents with a newly-diagnosed child can read the opening chapter and see themselves in it, and understand that although the road ahead will be challenging, it will also be rewarding. And fun.
How did writing about your son Jack’s autism help you understand him better?
Since I started writing regularly, a certain phrase comes to my mind often: to see him is to write about him and to write about him I need to see him. Essentially, writing about Jack helps me to observe him at a distance and yet understand him much more thoroughly. It has helped me reflect. At the end of a long day of his obsessions, stimming, and tantrums, I sit and write and untangle it all until it becomes meaningful for me.
And likewise, after a day where he says sentences with a lot of words and shows me his quick smile and finishes his math worksheet without exploding, I sit and write and quietly celebrate.
Describe your writing schedule. Do you outline? Any habits?
Unfortunately, I do not outline. I do keep a journal full of notes—funny things the kids say, interesting situations—and use them as a starting point. I typically start an essay or a piece first thing in the morning, and mull it over through the course of the day while I drive small people to gymnastics and cook Shake & Bake for dinner. Then, once the house is quiet again at night, I return to the computer and color in the details.
Are there any books on autism that stand out in your mind as the most inspiring and helpful?I
I thoroughly enjoyed Temple Grandin’s books, The Way I See It, and Thinking in Pictures. I was also inspired by her mother, Eustacia Cutler’s book, A Thorn in My Pocket.
Also, Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird has been very helpful when I feel overwhelmed at the task of writing another chapter, another essay, another sentence.
What have you learned from this experience?
I have learned—cliché alert—that I can do something once I put my mind to it. I have learned that my husband is a generous person who will give me the time and space I need to be creative. I have also learned that making my family come alive in my writing has helped me enjoy and appreciate them even more in real life.
What advice you would like to give parents of autistic children?
I would tell moms and dads of an autistic child to get help when they need it, whether that help is in the form of a great babysitter who gives you time to yourself, or a psychologist who helps you figure out why your son or daughter is wiping soap all over the walls.
I would tell them to hang in there and to hold on, because one day they will realize that they have been given a gift in their extraordinary child.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
The best parenting advice I’ve been given has been primarily practical. Back in Buffalo we had a pediatrician—a towering Chinese man in his forties—who told us that babies need to learn to sleep and it’s our job to teach them.
Our psychologist once told us to always assume our children’s behavior has a purpose. This single piece of advice re-shaped my perspective as a mother and helps me deconstruct my children’s motives and emotions throughout the day, especially Jack’s.
And when I was a small girl my mother always said never put anything in writing unless you’re sure you want people to read it. I’m not certain if this was good advice or not, but it’s always stuck with me.
What are you working on now?
At this point I’m writing weekly posts for my blog and quarterly submissions for Autism Spectrum News. I’m also trying to learn how to do a pull-up unassisted.
Carrie blogs regularly on her website and shares humorous, poignant and eye-opening stories of life in the Cariello house.