Those who have never known a child with autism but have definite opinions on the subject will happily correct any of their misconceptions after reading a blog created by Nease High School senior Jack Hilbert.
At calderism.com, the Eagle Scout and Peace of Heart volunteer documents the experiences, thoughts and sayings of his 12-year-old brother, Calder, who is nonverbal autistic.
Much of the content is derived from Calder’s own words; since he can’t communicate verbally, he has spent years learning how to type using his mother’s iPad. And what he shares opens a window into his world.
“Just because he can’t talk doesn’t mean he has nothing to say,” Jack writes on his blog site.
The posts reveal a boy who is funny, often stubborn and genuinely caring.
But the blog doesn’t sugarcoat reality. It offers an honest look at how autism affects the entire family. And Jack shares both “the good and the bad.”
Jack said he hopes the blog will help people better understand his brother and that there are reasons he behaves in a way some might find perplexing.
To keep Calder safe and keep him from raiding the family’s food supply, the doors to the refrigerator and cabinets are secured.
This is something families unfamiliar with autism might not understand.
“Once, I had a friend come over and he was like, ‘Why is the fridge locked?’” recalled Jack.
He tried to explain that otherwise, his brother would get into it.
“He’s like, ‘Huh?’” said Jack. “He didn’t understand at all.”
Dad Ryan Hilbert said he hopes the blog will inspire other families to share their own experiences with autism by contacting Jack.
“This would be great if it evolved into an online community,” he said, “not only talking about Calder, but everyone sharing their own photos and stories about their kids. The more that we do that, the more that we realize we’re all in this together.”
Blog visitors will discover Calder’s sense of humor, as when he typed: “You need to respect our freedom to snack.” In the companion blog, Jack calls his brother’s “insatiable hunger” one of the best and worst things about him and explains why.
Readers will also discover the time Calder wanted an inflatable Grinch in place of the traditional Christmas tree. And they will find a story Calder wrote himself about the family dog, Total.
Named by Calder after a polar bear character in the Timmy Failure series written by Stephan Pastis, Total has some surprising adventures.
In Calder’s story, the dog drives to the grocery store with canine friends Bob, Greg and Steve and buys cigarettes, which he smokes in the car. Total also goes sledding and shopping at a “doggy store,” where he purchases toys and treats, gum and cigarettes.
The story actually grew out of a series of exploratory questions asked by Calder’s family. Ryan Hilbert said his son enjoys writing about Total because it allows him to express himself.
Jack described how Calder’s compassion for characters in some of his favorite books — which he listens to on audio recordings — reveals his capacity for empathy.
“There’s a stereotype that people with autism aren’t empathetic and caring,” Jack said. “I don’t know where that came from, but that is very far from the truth. That’s part of why he likes stories so much, because a lot of the characters, he empathizes with them.”
One of Calder’s favorite authors is Chris Colfer, who writes the Land of Stories series. In fact, Calder wrote him a fan letter, which has been published on Jack’s blog.
Other favorites are “Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diane Wynne Jones and “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson. The latter, which deals with some very strong emotional issues, made Calder feel sad.
“He feels emotions and sensations more vividly than we do,” explained his father.
It troubles him when people think there is something wrong with his son. Rather, Ryan Hilbert said Calder is just different.
“They have a saying at the various schools that he’s gone to, which is: Presume competence,” the senior Hilbert said. “His mind is working. He feels and he shares experiences the way all of us do.”
In fact, the blog often reveals a boy who is exceptionally observant.
The blog was actually the idea of the boys’ mother, Suzanne Turner. Jack gave it a try and soon he began to hear from his readers.
“I started getting feedback from family members and their friends, and they were like, ‘Jack, we love this. This is awesome,’” he said.
Most of his readers live in either the Jacksonville area or on the West Coast, where the family had lived before moving here and where they still have relatives.
Ryan Hilbert said he was proud of his son and his blog.
“Jack’s a very good writer,” he said. “The more Jack uses his skills as a writer to share these stories and let people know what it is we’re experiencing, I’m all for it.”
Jack and Calder have one other brother, Dashiell, 15.