Derek Volk, Maine businessman and now author, holds that day close to his heart. He was all set to finish his business book when something inside of him said “this isn’t my purpose.” He then devoted himself to a new journey that would encourage others. As he jotted down his most intimate feelings about raising Dylan, his son with Asperger’s Syndrome, they incorporated Dylan’s take on each section.
The two wrote an Amazon best seller Chasing the Rabbit: A Dad’s Life Raising a Son on the Spectrum — an extremely rewarding and tear-jerking story of a father’s unique relationship with his son. Co-author Dylan gives honest and brutal details of his childhood experiences until young adulthood in his part called Dylan’s Take. The book is loaded with coping strategies and methods for both parents and children i.e. dealing with behaviors, friendships, relationships, school, jobs and “real-life” with Asperger’s Syndrome as they describe it. Both perspectives challenge the reader to look at autism in a different light.
Derek and his wife Amy spent years trying to get answers for Dylan’s behavior issues since Dylan was two-years-old. Like most parents with children on the spectrum, they bounced from doctor to specialist and so on. At eight-years old, it all began to make sense. Their son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Since coping with the diagnosis sometimes means evading discussion about personal feelings, Derek offers a different solution. He wants parents to know that their feelings are normal. The father’s first feelings himself were anger; he was angry at Dylan and didn’t even realize it. No more prom king or captain of the baseball team as he had imagined.
Derek said a powerful statement, in a recent interview, which was the secret that brought him to acceptance. One day during a book function, Derek described a moment he will never forget. When Derek spoke about his feelings, another dad realized that he felt the same and was searching for the next step — something to soothe the pain. Derek said to the father:
“You have to mourn the son that you thought you were going to have, so that you can love the one that God gave you.”
Autistic children don’t look for a way to share your interests. You have to become a part of their world according to Derek. The book talks about Derek and Dylan’s adventures up at wee hours in morning with the local Audubon Society, tagging and catching little owls to see how they were doing. Dylan loved birds. In second and 3rd grade, he was into cars and Derek learned about each of Dylan’s interests along the way. Certainly, the book doesn’t only mention the happy moments. It also reveals the disappointments straight from their living room.
Looking at Dylan, people would assume that he was a normal boy or would refer to him as high-functioning. However, the label rubs Dylan the wrong way because it allows people to have high expectations for him that he may not be able to live up to. He’s had over 30 jobs but has had the hardest time keeping them. Dylan explains in the book how autistic children miss social cues that other children would normally pick up on. He needs clear instructions and finds difficulty figuring things out if there is the slightest ambiguity to the task. He sent a text message one day to his mom and dad of a picture of a mouse trying to get through a maze. His comparison was to his own daily struggle – completely overwhelming. Social interactions are also challenging for him.
“Anyone with Asperger’s knows that many of those neurotypical people are the ones with a ton of close friends around them the whole time supporting them. They are the people who in high social are valued to spend every Friday night with. They are desirable people of the opposite gender who many want to share their lives with. I’ve never got to have that. Life has weird ways for people with Asperger’s of rewarding us for the stuff we have to go through,” said Dylan on the book website.
This story has a happy ending. The interesting thing about Dylan, now at 23, is his passion that drives him. He is able to write beautifully. Today, he knows everything about pop music and is a comedian featured weekly on Ch. 106. Dirty Pop with Lance Bass and on his own YouTube channel. He does the top 5 pop songs on the radio station. His future looks bright despite his differences.
Although, Dylan may be Chasing a Rabbit, his successes show that with Asperger’s, in all its harsh realities, it is possible to live life to the fullest, be happy and successful.
“I can tell others for advice, it’s all about finding that one thing that because of your Asperger’s gives you an advantage over other people, and running with it. And if you can find a way to succeed in one area of life and it comes as natural to you as breathing in-and-out, don’t feel guilty about it! Because if you can relate to any of the struggles I’m talking about, you better believe you deserve it!” ~ Dielawn (Dylan)