Okay, let me be honest. The first time I met Rupert Isaacson, which was last year at the fabulous Square Peg Ranch in Half Moon Bay, our discussion quickly turned to the subject of sex. Well, not in that way, but to the issue of our autistic children and how to acknowledge and safely facilitate their sexual lives. It was my duty as an autism mom, he said, to give this topic very serious thought. Looking into his blue eyes, I was pretty much, "Like, uh-huh, whatever you say... sex surrogates are legal in Amsterdam, I'm on it...."
That's the kind of guy Rupert is. He's a bit spellbinding, and does not restrain his thinking for the sake of niceness or political correctness. While overwhelmingly affectionate toward those with special needs, he is not squeamish about the messiness of autism or the thousands of challenges it brings. He's a hyperenergetic, intelligent, accomplished, out-of-the-box thinker, but also a prolific doer and a damn great writer. When you meet you let's hope you are infused with just a bit of his positive vibe, you will not need a B12 shot for a year. It's not just his autism-dad-heartthrob status, it's the wild chutzpah he has about his life and his approach to raising his autistic son, Rowan.
Rupert was an acclaimed journalist and activist even before he gained fame as author of the "Horse Boy," which was made into a beautiful documentary film of the same name. The book chronicled the family's journey to Mongolia to seek transformation for Rowan through ancient shamanic practices. We in the autism world have been trained to think learning and improvement can only happen through licensed professionals in fairly clinical settings but Rupert's narrative shows us that the entire world has hidden treasures that can touch our children deeply. I am usually an uptight science geek about all things autism ("show me the evidence" is my middle name), but I must admit to recognizing our special kids often make connections and growth in unexpected ways. And sometimes intuition and exploration, and not science, must be our guide.
Rupert now runs the Horse Boy Foundation, a program based in Texas that helps children build communication and learning through horses, physical play and the environment. And he's also published a new book, The Long Ride Home, which takes Rowan, with continuing travel gusto, to healers in Namibia, Australia's rainforests, and the Navajo Reservation. As a confirmed armchair traveler and autism story nut, I am grateful for this book. Lacking time for an in-depth review let me simply say the Epilogue contains some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read about the nature of autism and about the vital need for interconnectedness and community to support those affected. If nothing else, just skip to the end.
I was honored to be asked to introduce Rupert at a Los Altos event last week sponsored by Square Peg. I got a bit distracted by the wanderings of my daughter Sophie, who is 10 and has autism. Rupert could not restrain himself and did his best to engage with her as she wandered down the street, somehow involving a large American flag in the process. It may not sound like much but there are precious few autism dads I know who unashamedly Work It like he does.
Should you read the book? Yes, somehow, somewhere you will find inspiration about new activities or adventures you can try with your own child. Some parents have a hard time even making it to the park, or going for a walk, or to the beach, much less Africa, Australia, or the southwest. Maybe this book will open your horizons and enrich your life with your special child. Give it spin.