Living with Autism: New Books by Local Authors

Patricia Taylor, author of Runaway Words, held a book signing at Chiles Peach Orchard on June 21. Sitting: Patricia Taylor; Standing: Addison Taylor, Erika Robinson, Amy Jessup. Photo: Adam Taylor.

If you have an autistic friend or family member and want to know more about what it’s like to live with someone affected by this neurological disorder, two new books by Crozet authors have recently been published to help you. Runaway Words, written by Patricia Taylor and illustrated by Wendy Leach, and My Life With Lee: Adventures in Autism, written and illustrated by Dabney Elizabeth Farmer, both offer useful real-world examples of living with autistic children.

Runaway Words is a touching children’s picture book that tells the story of Taylor’s daughter’s devotion to her autistic brother and quest to understand him. “Being a sister is a very important job,” declares Addison at age 6. 

Runaway Words tells of Addi’s hunt for her autistic brother Charlie’s lost words.

When her brother Charlie “loses his words,” she views it as her job to help him find them. So she goes looking for the “runaway words”—in his closet, his books, and his backpack. In desperation, she finally writes to Santa Claus, asking him to bring back Charlie’s words as her Christmas present. When even this fails, Charlie must learn to communicate his love for his sister in other ways. Taylor’s blog post of Santa’s response will bring tears to your eyes: “It’s not often that a child spends her Christmas wish on someone else, asking not a single thing for herself.” Leach’s lively, full-page illustrations of Addi, Charlie, and their younger brother—including the family pug—are utterly charming. Taylor artfully conveys the love between siblings as they share the imaginative endeavors of childhood and the challenge of overcoming the psychic pain caused by this increasingly common condition. Her book signing at Chiles Peach Orchard’s Orchard Jam on June 21 was well attended. This sweet and important book will help young children understand and deal with autistic friends and family. It is available at Over the Moon Bookstore as well as on Amazon.

My Life With Lee: Adventures in Autism, describes the effect of the author’s brother’s condition on her life with wry humor and hilarious cartoon illustrations.

My Life With Lee is Dabney Elizabeth Farmer’s first-hand account of living with her younger brother, who developed autism at age three. It is aimed at a young adult or adult audience, so longer than Runaway Words. She explores how her family faced the challenges of Lee’s first fifteen years with a light touch, describing his relationships—for example with toys, animals, babysitters, and baths—and how they affected her. Farmer illustrates these often hilarious “adventures” with many delightful, original cartoons reminiscent of Matt Groening’s Simpsons, but with a flair all her own—for example, when he comes downstairs to their New Year’s Eve party wearing nothing but bubbles from his bath! She tells about Lee’s ups and downs, his escapes, and his sojourns at two autism facilities with a wry sense of humor and a lot of love—laughing with rather than at her brother: “It’s all about repetition.” She gently mixes the joyful with the troubling times as her brother grows into adulthood. Farmer also writes the Dabbycats blog and sells sweets and smoothies at the Crozet Farmer’s Market. Her book is available at Over the Moon Bookstore, New Dominion and Telegraph Art & Comics on the Charlottesville downtown mall, and on Amazon. Shop local!

Dabney Elizabeth Farmer, author of My Life With Lee: Adventures in Autism.

“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. According to the Center for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 59 children in the United States today” ( 


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