By Kristina Houck
Only 1 in 10,000 children were diagnosed with autism when author Chantal Sicile-Kira first wrote “Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Complete Guide.” Today, 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism by age 8, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Sicile-Kira’s son, Jeremy, was diagnosed with autism when he was 3 years old.
Living in France at the time, doctors told the New York native to put her son in a psychiatric hospital. They said bad parenting caused his autism, Sicile-Kira recalled.
“That’s what propelled me to write my book,” said Sicile-Kira, a Carmel Valley resident. “I knew better, having worked with professionals in the field in the United States. But it really bothered me that all these parents, who didn’t know anything about autism, would hear that from their doctor.”
Published by Penguin Group 10 years ago, the book won “Outstanding Book of the Year” by Autism Society of America and “Best in Health” by San Diego Book Awards. A decade later, Sicile-Kira has revised the book, which has a slightly different name: “Autism Spectrum Disorder: The Complete Guide to Understanding Autism.”
The 371-page book covers all aspects of the condition, including the causes of autism, treatments, and teaching strategies and resources for educators and other professionals.
“I’ve rewritten about 85 percent of it because of all the changes and information that we now know about autism that we didn’t know before,” Sicile-Kira said.
While a student at UC Irvine in the 1970s, Sicile-Kira worked with autistic people at Fairview State Hospital, now called Fairview Developmental Center.
The Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Act had passed in California in 1977, giving people with developmental disabilities the right to services and supports that enable them to live a more independent and normal life. In preparation for their de-institutionalization, she taught people with developmental disabilities self-help and community living skills.
With a bachelor’s degree in social ecology, Sicile-Kira later worked as a case manager for Regional Center of Orange County, and provided information and resources to families.
Her experiences proved invaluable when her son was born and eventually diagnosed with autism. At the time, psychoanalysis was the only treatment available in France. Children with autism also did not have a right to education, Sicile-Kira said.
“If I hadn’t had the experience of working at the state hospital and at the regional center, I would have never understood everything I did about autism,” Sicile-Kira said. “If I didn’t know any better, maybe I would have ended up putting my son in a psychiatric hospital in France. Maybe I would have thought it was my fault.”
After a stint in England, Sicile-Kira and her family relocated to California.
She has since written six books, including the revised version of her first book, and founded autismcollege.com to provide information about autism and training to parents and educators.
She co-authored her fifth book, “A Full Life with Autism: From Learning to Forming Relationships to Achieving Independence,” with her son.
Now 25 years old, Jeremy graduated from Torrey Pines High School and delivered a speech during the 2010 commencement. Also a painter, he serves as a youth representative to the United Nations for the Autism Research Institute.
“When he was growing up, I was given no hope for him. I was told to put him in an institution,” Sicile-Kira said. “There is hope. I just love empowering people with the information they need to help somebody.”
For more information about Sicile-Kira, visit www.chantalsicile-kira.com or autismcollege.com.