The people in this world who are called “caregivers” are amazing folk. Those of us who watch or assist can only be astonished at the strength, the patience, the perseverance, and the love that they lavish on people who need it most. It is as though caregivers are super human, with super powers. Lock Haven resident Paul Nelson is one of these special people—a person who has been not only the primary caregiver for Michael, his son, who has lived with an autism diagnosis for almost two decades, but who, at the same time, was taking care of his wife, Cynthia, during her sixteen-year battle with lupus. Cynthia’s disease settled in her brain, creating hallucinations and eventually making her totally dependent on Paul for all the daily tasks we take for granted.
When his wife died in 2013, Paul began thinking about how the world, and Cynthia’s illness and death, looked to Michael, who, with moderately severe autism, is mostly non-verbal. Years of taking care of Michael had taught Paul his son’s limitations, but his special “caregiver eyes” also saw his strengths. He saw the intelligence and amazing analytical talents. He saw that Michael had a photographic memory. Years of work and caring helped him “to see people with autism and their amazing abilities.”
Recent research confirms what Paul sees, and it appears that, in many instances, indications of autism are present in people of remarkable intelligence and ability. Paul says, “Think Einstein. Mozart may have been autistic. ink Steve Jobs, Bill Gates.” And look at what Dr. Temple Grandin, certainly one of the most well known individuals with a diagnosis of autism, has done to communicate to the world about the world of autistic people.
But how to tell Michael’s story? How to tell the tale of a whole group of people with different challenges and abilities? Paul found a simple and direct way: storytelling. And the book he wrote, Through Fisher’s Eyes, along with the books that followed, gives the reader a real insight into the world that Michael sees. The books, on the surface, seem simple. The language is straightforward, with a limited, unpretentious vocabulary. But don’t be fooled. These are the stories of a visual person, not a verbal person. The resulting imagery and story are rich. Paul calls the three young adult books that feature Fisher, a character based on his son, “autism fiction.” And there is fiction, and action, with Fisher’s autistic friends’ super powers, and meetings with Michael, a spirit who guides and helps Fisher develop his power and his self-confidence. But the situations, the reactions of other people to Fisher and his dad, and life in a world that communicates in a far different manner, are very real. As real as the reactions Fisher has to the world, and the ways that he and his friends learn to quiet their minds, and develop the skills they need to adjust. These books are also adventure novels, filled with ghosts, demons, and aliens. The books are available locally at The Liberty Book Shop in Avis and The Bus Stops Here in Lock Haven.
Nor has Paul stopped writing—he has more stories to tell and the books have taken on a life of their own. He has just released a self-published novel, Saving Worms After the Rain, which is told from an adult point of view. It is complete with history and mystery, and set in the wilds of north central Pennsylvania. Like his young adult series, there is a thread of autism woven into the story, giving the reader a chance to see another way of looking at a situation, at the world. This book has caught the attention of an editor, making it more likely that it will see a wider audience.
Fisher’s Autism Trilogy, which includes Dark Spectrum and A Problem with the Moon, is attracting attention. A group from PACE University in New York City is now recording the books for audio distribution. The University is using the books as textbooks for students who are learning more effective ways of working with and for people with autism. The first book, Through Fisher’s Eyes, has caught another eye—that of someone in London who is interested in a film based on the story.
Paul’s goal was to create a means by which people with autism can be seen, seen as the bright, creative, compassionate individuals they are. His goal was to help us all see the world Through Fisher’s Eyes.