Autism Book Must-Haves Part 2

Activities, Autism, Special Needs Parenting

Overcoming Autism by Lynn Kern Koegel, PhD., and Claire LaZebnik


Overcoming Autism is the second book in my must-have collection.  I’ll tell you why it’s the perfect combination of information, interventions, and hope.  I’ll tell you about the topics the book covers and why I love the tone and authors of this book.  


I’ve been a special education teacher for 15 years and I love finding great resources that I can share with others.  As a teacher and parent, I don’t have a lot of time and I certainly don’t want to waste it on books and information that aren’t going to work and aren’t based on strong evidence.  Therefore, I want something that is going to be upfront and honest, tell me what I need to know and why, and offer some troubleshooting.  Overcoming Autism does just that!


The Authors of Overcoming Autism


Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel


Dr. Koegel is a psychologist who founded the Koegel Autism Center, along with her husband, in Santa Barbara.  She has also presented at a lot of universities, conferences, and for other organizations.  I first saw Dr. Koegel on a “Supernanny” episode years ago.  She helped a family with three young children, the youngest of which was autistic.  She used strategies like motivation, daily routines, parent coaching, and visual supports to help this family teach their son new skills.  


Claire LaZebnik


Claire LaZebnik is a parent of an autistic child.  She talks about the interventions and strategies Dr. Koegel discusses from her point of view and how to make them work in real life.  I love her inclusion in this book because she also talks about the impact of a child with special needs on the rest of her family, on her mental health, and is a huge support for families.  Additionally, you can hear her honesty and hope throughout the book.  My favorite quote of hers is, “You don’t have to be extraordinary.”  You only have to “take the right steps and be willing to do some work.”


Claire’s quote about not needing to be extraordinary hit me in my heart — hard!  I’m not the mom who is researching 24/7.  I don’t have a model-looking home.  I’m pretty shy and have a small core group of friends.  I don’t like putting myself out there on social media.  I hate confrontation.  My kids aren’t in 10 different types of lessons.  Claire says she is definitely not a “tiger mom” and I raise my hand and shout, “Same!”


My Experience


After my son was diagnosed with ADHD, I felt very overwhelmed.  I was willing to do the work, but it was hard and sometimes I just wanted to let him go play video games.  At the same time, I saw other moms who seemed to have everything together and I thought that I needed to have the perfect home and social media accounts dedicated to my son’s diagnosis and our journey.  I thought I had to be an ADHD advocate 24/7 yet still be involved in all of the things his peers were in (soccer, basketball, lacrosse, etc).


I needed a Claire in my life to tell me to trust myself.  Trust the choices I made for my son because I know him best.  I wish she also told me I didn’t need to be the social media mom — perfect house, pictures, clothes, documenting my kids’ 27 different activities.  


We all need a Claire in our life when we feel anxious and vulnerable to offer reassurance and hope.  


Hard Work, No Cure, No Quick Fixes


From the beginning of the introduction, Dr. Koegel and Claire tell us that hard, consistent work (NOT miracles) will bring about change and improvement for young kids with autism.  There is not a cure.  There are no quick fixes.  


And, as a parent, you need to be very wary of anyone promising you instant success or promising you the world!


Behavioral Approach


Dr. Koegel’s approach is based on applied behavior analysis.  This is the application of decades of research on how humans learn and behave.  When working with young kids with autism, this means:


  • What can my child do right now?
  • What skill is my child missing?
  • Why are problem behaviors occurring?
  • What in the environment can I change to support learning?
  • How can I change what happens before a problem behavior to prevent it in the future?
  • How can I change what happens after a problem behavior occurs to decrease it in the future?
  • What does my child love to do that I can use as motivating activities?
  • Using strategies such as modeling, chaining, task analysis, reinforcement, environmental arrangement, visual supports, etc to teach new skills and decrease problem behaviors.


Using a behavioral approach requires a lot of time and effort on our part!  Again, no miracles and no quick fixes!


I also love Dr. Koegel’s focus on “strengths-based interventions.”  


Most of the time parents and teachers are very quick to zero in on all of the problem behaviors and things our kids cannot do.


Instead, we need to think about what our child can do already and expand on that!  We can use the things our child enjoys and the skills they already have to build on.


Autism Symptoms


Overcoming Autism is organized based on symptoms which is great for parents and teachers.  You just need to look at the table of contents and find the first symptom you want to address and read that chapter.  You’ll find questions from parents, answers to those questions, additional examples, and Claire’s own experience with this topic and strategies.


Autism Diagnosis


The book begins with a wonderful chapter on the autism diagnosis.  This chapter covers everything involved with a diagnosis:


  • What is autism?
  • Is it something else?
  • Parents’ feelings
  • How to talk to your child about the diagnosis
  • Treatment options
  • Stress of a diagnosis on all areas of your life


This chapter is one of the most important ones for the families that I currently work with.  The kids I work with are from birth to age three.  Sometimes I’m the first person to bring up the possibility of autism.  Other times, I’m the person parents ask whether or not I think their child has autism.  (I cannot diagnose autism, but I can discuss early signs of autism that I’m observing.)


I wish I had a copy of this book to give out to all of my families when autism is suspected!!  That’s how good the autism diagnosis chapter is!!


After the Diagnosis


Other topics in the book are:


  • Communication
  • Meltdowns and aggression
  • Self-stimulation
  • Social skills
  • Fears and fixations
  • Education
  • Family life
  • Self-management


Again, I love that this book is separated by symptoms because any intervention plan needs to be tailored for what your child and family needs!  


If your child isn’t aggressive, skip that chapter for now.


If you want to focus on communication or eating at the table, head there first!


For many of my families that have very young kids with autism, they won’t need the chapters on self-management or education quite yet, however, they can come back to them later on as their child gets older.


Motivating Kids with Autism


Lastly, the final chapter covers how to put all of this great information together.  This is always the hardest part for me.  I know the information, but what’s the best way to make it work for my son?


Dr. Koegel’s approach to teaching skills and behavior change is that the kids must be motivated and enjoy the activities.  Communication and social interactions are already hard!  If we make the learning opportunities difficult as well, everyone will end up in tears!


Additionally, she discusses the importance of being involved in all aspects of your child’s therapies, using the same strategies and techniques wherever your child is (home, school, grandma’s house, etc.), including your child in daily activities (even when it’s really hard), and choosing skills that will give you the most “bang for your buck.”  




Overcoming Autism has been on my bookshelf for years!  It’s a book that I come back to over and over.  


Dr. Koegel’s individualized, evidence-based behavioral approach combines decades of research in behavior analysis with a family-friendly approach that allows us to teach skills during daily activities.  


Out of all of the autism books out there, this is definitely one that I would recommend to families just starting out on their autism journey as well as those that have been in this for awhile.  The organization of this book allows you to tackle whatever you need to focus on right now and then come back to another topic later on.


As always, one book is not a replacement for individualized, intensive services.  Continue to work with your child’s team of service providers, teachers, and medical and behavioral professionals.  Only the professionals that know your child’s history, strengths, and needs can assess and make changes to your child’s programming.  If your child’s behaviors are severe, you may need to include a Board Certified Behavior Analyst on your team.


Check out last week’s choice and my absolute favorite autism book.


Have a favorite autism book that you recommend?  I’d love to hear about it!


*Disclosure: I only recommend products I would use myself and all opinions expressed here are my own. This post contains affiliate links.  If you click on the links and buy something, I may earn a commission.  Thanks!


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