Jenny’s Book Club: How stories about autism brought neighbors together


Written by Jenny Mauro, a digital producer/designer and mother of three.

This past summer one of our neighbors suggested we start a neighborhood book club. Enough of us loved the idea so she started a Facebook group and we were official!

During the fall, we scheduled two book club evenings and enjoyed the time set aside to chat, get to know one another better, discuss books, and of course, nibble on yummy food. The third book club was mine to host and I decided to try out a PBS Utah Book Club in a Box.

I signed up for the box that had a focus on autism. My own son is likely on the spectrum and we are in the process of diagnostic screening. It turns out that one of our neighbors has a grandson with autism, another has a husband who works with children and adults with autism (and other disabilities), and many of us know at least one individual who is on the spectrum. One of the women had read the book years ago and expressed how much she enjoyed “re-reading” it in audio form. She said she enjoyed the story even more this time around. The box contained the book, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, a unique mystery story written in the voice of an intelligent young man with autism, and the documentary On the Spectrum, a locally produced film that I found very touching and eye opening. I loved the concept of pairing a book with a documentary and then supporting it with the discussion questions and other items in the box.

The first decision we had to make was whether to watch the documentary as a group or on our own. The majority of the group preferred to stream it online, which provided more time for discussion during the actual book club. About a week before the book club, I sent out a reminder including an online link to the video. The video was free to stream and most of the group was able to watch it beforehand. The Book Club in a Box had a recipe for sugar cookies, along with a cute cookie cutter in the shape of the puzzle piece that is often associated with autism. I made a double batch of cookie dough and, luckily, took a couple photos of the cutout dough because I accidentally doubled the butter and the cookies ended up melting into one huge blob. Oops!  I pulled together a few refreshments and arranged the various Book Club in a Box goodies, flyers from local autism support centers (provided in the box), metal pins with the autism logo, and other PBS materials.  

Some of the items that were in this Book Club in a Box

We ended up having an engaging and open discussion how autism impacts most of our lives in various ways. We discussed a number of individuals featured in the documentary, particularly the single mother with multiple children on the spectrum, the mother who turned her experience into an opportunity to work towards stronger rights and better services for those with autism, and the autistic mother who pointed out positive aspects of living with autism. I found it interesting how some of the personality traits and interests of the main character mirrored my own sons’ traits and interests. Also, the parents in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime each had their own way of reacting to their son’s diagnosis and, although their responses were extremely different, it was validating to know that there is no one right way to feel or react to having a child on the spectrum.

Our discussion was organic and free flowing. As a host, it was super helpful to have prepared questions and other resources. They provided a nice structure and helped moved the discussion along. We had a fun evening, not only learning more about autism, but also becoming closer as neighbors. I was comforted by the discussion with my neighbors as I learned how common autism spectrum disorder is. I would recommend Book Club in a Box to anyone considering hosting their own book club!

April is Autism Awareness Month! Register for this box today to be sure to get it in time for your book club discussion in April!
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