‘To write a book was my lifelong dream, and it’s even better to have it be about the subject that I love the most.’
Debra O’Fee, Massapequa Park
“At the age of 3, Ryan was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder. At the time, I didn’t realize that PDD was autism. When my son was 4, I wasn’t sure what his abilities should be. I decided to keep a journal of what was going on with Ryan. Later, when I would read back, I’d be crying or laughing, or I’d be frightened because I couldn’t believe we had lived through the experience.
“We eventually learned that Ryan would elope, which happens in 48 percent of children with autism. He’ll wander or disappear. There was one episode when he was 5 and he was missing for 20 minutes. It was terrifying because he is nonverbal and unaware of things like cars, streets and bodies of water. Luckily, it was resolved. Later that day, I went to find books on children who wander and I couldn’t find any. There were plenty of books about autism parenting, but none focusing on our immediate concern. I took my journals and turned them into my book, ‘I’m Sorry Jimmy Muscle: Why My Son with Autism Wanders.’
I feel like the book is a love letter to my children. This, along with my children, will be my legacy, no matter how many people read it.
“Readers are telling me they laughed so hard they cried and that they learned so much from it. To write a book was my lifelong dream, and it’s even better to have it be about the subject that I love the most: helping special needs children and their parents. Plus, I got to write it about my two sons.
“What I find even more fascinating than Ryan and his autism is watching my older, neurotypical son, JT. He doesn’t have pre-conceived notions or judgments. When something was going on with Ryan and we wouldn’t know how to deal with it, sometimes we would look to JT to see what his natural response was.
“‘I’m Sorry Jimmy Muscle’ is named after a boy that I grew up with. I believe he has autism, but we didn’t know about autism when I was growing up in 1982. Jimmy Muscle got that nickname because he would come up to us and say, ‘Can I feel your muscle?’ Many kids would be mean and run away screaming. I hadn’t thought of him for more than 20 years. Then I had Ryan and all of those memories came back. Now, Ryan is 11 and JT is almost 13. I feel like the book is a love letter to my children. This, along with my children, will be my legacy, no matter how many people read it.”