For a parent with a young child who has autism, listening to selections from Jamie Manning's album "What Remains" is like coming home, with all the complex feelings that concept carries. Manning's Kenny Loggins-like vocals lead these tunes, which range from rock rhythm and blues numbers to softer folk songs, through a familiar set of emotional rooms.
There's a sense of loss, a feeling that an irrational turn of events has derailed the life you expected when your baby arrived. There's the wish that you could do more to help your child thrive. There's the bittersweet acknowledgement that because of the sacrifices you need to make to help your son or daughter achieve developmental gains, your home is probably not the nicest one on the block. And most of all, there's the very powerful sense that parenting a child with autism strips the experience down to its essence, that this is a relationship that equals love.
Now if that sounds like mushy TV-movie-of-the-week kind of stuff, it's not. Manning conveys these songs in a straight-ahead style with lyrics that avoid cliche. You can listen to song excerpts on his site. He pledges to donate 5 percent of the proceeds for his CD to Autism Speaks.
A special recommendation for fathers out there. If you have a few minutes, listen to the conversation that Jamie Manning and Michael Boll, host of AutismPodcast.org, recently held. You can find the streaming audio file here. What makes this conversation interesting is the honesty and openness the two fathers share about their experiences. All generalizations have flaws, but here's one: Moms are better than dads about supporting each other during the ebbs and flows of autism parenting. So time-pressed dads out there can listen to this podcast and get, say, a year's worth of support group talk in about 15 minutes. And they don't have to leave home. Or talk.
"My wife and I were on track for a pretty typical, comfortable lifestyle," Manning says in this conversation. There was college, marriage, his music and a day job. They bought a house and planned a family. They had a child. Life was great.
"It's so easy to map things out," he adds. "And then what autism does is that it comes in with a sledge hammer and just ruins everything. From a parent's perspective, it absolutely strips you down to your absolute core." And so this music album answers the question, "How do you react when all your assumptions are destroyed? How do you deal with it, as you go through a recovery process?
"What remains," he adds, is that "all the things you thought were important get stripped out of your life. And what remains is love. The love of your spouse, hopefully, and certainly the love for your child and the joy you can take again."