Turn Autism Around is my second book, released in 2021. It came several years after my first book, The Verbal Behavior Approach, which has sold over 100,000 copies and is published in 17 languages. In this very special episode, my friend Ann Sheybani, a Harvard-trained writer, interviews me on what went into the publishing of Turn Autism Around and what it’s like to be a writer for a topic like autism.
What’s a book synopsis?
Ann Sheybani’s audience consists mostly of writers and those interested in writing books. I have had guests who are authors, and I may have listeners interested in this goal too! I wanted Turn Autism Around to be different from The Verbal Behavior Approach. When I decided to write this book, I was set on getting an agent, PR, and publishing with a well-known publishing house. When I went to Ann for advice, she made it clear. First step…write a synopsis. A synopsis is 1 to 2 pages of the nuts and bolts of your book: Why you? Why this topic? Why is it relevant? What will it offer? Answer all the questions about why your book is needed and why you are the one who needs to write it.
Is autism a polarizing topic?
Polarizing topics can be good and bad when looking for an agent or publishing house; they get traction, BUT sometimes people might be worried about negative attention. Autism can be a controversial subject because it is such a spectrum. There are individuals like my son Lucas who need 24/7 care as adults, as to those who operate with full conversation skills, go to college, drive, and live a mostly typical life. There is a minority of fully functioning individuals with autism who say it is a gift, who say it shouldn’t be “turned around” or fixed. The reality is that when you have a young child with delays, there is no crystal ball that will tell you their future. I have a positive, child-friendly approach that can greatly increase their chances of success, reduce problem behaviors, and even catch up on many delays. Because I feel strongly about my positive approach and the extensive success stories behind me, I do not leave room for debate or negativity on my platform.
Going beyond the book, Turn Autism Around resources, courses, and community.
Those who read Turn Autism Around not only get access to the incredible content and stories inside the book, but they also get access to the Free Book Resources I reference throughout the book. I point to the resources 6 or 7 times throughout the book, and these are crucial for people to take advantage of. Beyond the book is my business, where I offer courses for parents, which is really an important pairing for people to see videos and get practice putting my approach into action. In addition, there is my online community, where members who’ve read my books, taken my courses, and consumed my free content can come together to ask questions, share experiences, and support each other.
This was a great opportunity to share another story of mine. I hope you enjoyed this interview and even took away some inspiration or information on writing your own book.
Ann Sheybani on Turn Autism Around Podcast
Ann Sheybani is the co-founder of East Hill Writers’ Workshops, a supportive community for blossoming writers. She received her Masters in Creative Writing and Literature from Harvard University. Her blog, Things Mama Never Taught Me, can be found at www.annsheybani.com. She and her husband split their time between Canton, Connecticut, and County Cork, Ireland.
- What is a book synopsis?
- How to get started writing a book?
- Is autism a polarizing field?
- Beyond the book, where does my business fit in?
- Advice for writers.
- Getting started with autism or delay concerns.
Ann Sheybani – Turn Autism Around Podcast Transcript
Transcript for Podcast Episode: 227
Books on Autism with Ann Sheybani
Hosted by: Mary Barbera
Guest: Ann Sheybani
Mary: You're listening to the Turn Autism Around podcast episode number 227. A few weeks ago I aired a podcast interview with two behavior analysts interviewing me all about how to better support teachers in schools as well as our school staff. And hope you enjoyed that interview. Today, we're doing something similar. I was interviewed by my good friend Ann Sheybani, who is a Harvard trained writer. She is a book doctor, ghostwriter. She also owns a publishing house. You can find out about her work AnnSheybani.com. And she is interviewing me here. And I'm going to play that interview. Another turn the table interview, if you will. But she interviews me on why the first book, why the second book, Turn Autism Around. Ann actually helped me create the synopsis for my second book. We talked about that. We talk about autism being a controversial subject and how I deal with that, those controversies. It's a great episode if you want to hear more different stories potentially from me. And it's also a great episode to listen to and watch. If you are thinking that you might want to write a book someday. It's a great interview. I hope you love it. Here's Ann Sheybani interviewing me about writing autism books.
Intro: Welcome to the Turn Autism Around podcast. For both parents and professionals in the autism world who want to turn things around, be less stressed and lead happier lives. And now your host, Autism mom. Behavior analyst and bestselling author, Dr. Mary Barbera.
Ann: So I'm super excited to have my friend Mary Barbera here. Mary is the author of Turn Autism Around. So, Mary, you and I have known each other a really long time, and we had the opportunity to work together on the synopsis of your book. And I want to talk about, you know, some of the interesting things about your synopsis in general. But probably the first question my audience has is why would anybody need to write a synopsis? You've written a nonfiction book and we'll talk about what your book is about because it's really important. But why did you have to write a book synopsis?
What is a book synopsis and why should you write one?
Mary: So thanks for having me today. As you said, we've been friends for a long time, since about 2016. So I'm in the autism world. I've been in the autism world since 1999 first as a confused, overwhelmed parent then as a behavioral analyst. And then I decided to write a book in 2006. I wrote it in 2007. It was published by a niche publisher, a traditional publisher, but a niche publisher. This book is called The Verbal Behavior Approach How to Teach Children with Autism Related Disorders. So that was my book. I didn't think it was going to be a big deal. Most books sell a thousand copies in their whole lifetime. My book has sold probably 100,000 copies. It's in 17 languages. I traveled around the world. It put me on the map. I went on to earn a Ph.D. and now I sell online courses to help parents and professionals help kids with autism and toddlers showing signs. But when I decided to write another book, which is Turn Autism Around, which came out through Hay House in 2021, I didn't really know about a book synopsis. I actually came to you as a friend and knowing that you are a very good writer and ghost doctor, book editor and all the roles and a publisher, and I basically was like, okay, I've decided I'm going to write a second book. Kind of let me pick your brain and see like, where should I start? I mean, I had a book proposal for my first book. I had a journalist that helped me write my first book. I didn't get an agent for my first book. And I, like I said, I had a traditional I didn't get an advance with my first book. And so you and I said, if I'm going to write a second book, I want it to be huge. I want it to be as big as possible. I want to get a really big publisher, if at all possible. I want to get an advance. I want to get PR, I want to do it. If I'm going to do it, I want to do it right. And the first thing you said was, that's great. And the first thing you need is a book synopsis to help you. It's basically a page or two to really get your ideas fleshed out, what the book's about. Why you? Why now? How is it different than your first book? What is the demand for it? You know, just really the nuts and bolts that you could take and give it to an acquisitions editor, whether it's a big publisher or a small publisher, or whether you can give it to an agent if you wanted to get an agent. I was very set on the fact that I wanted an agent. I wanted this book to be as big as possible. So we started with the synopsis.
Ann: Yeah, I want to talk about that synopsis, too, because I look at a lot of synopsis. A synopsis I think, is the plural of it. And as you probably know that writers in the desert and people struggle with a synopsis and one of the things they struggle with is they really need to put themselves forward. They really have to show the agents and the publishing houses who you are and why you are the person to be writing this book. And you come to the table with all the credentials that experts wish they had, right? You've got the Ph.D. in behavior sciences, you've got the nursing degree, you've got, you know, you've got the alphabet soup behind your name and you've got the previous publication and you had a pretty big platform of people who are following you and whatnot. So you're the golden child and you're the person that agents want to work with because you've already developed that platform and that audience. But the real secret, the real hook that you kind of touched on in the beginning, but but almost went off, went away from, is your personal connection to autism how how you had a toddler very early on in the whole kind of autism development of your autism development expertise, who had it and you had done what a lot of parents do and put your head in the sand. And what's really compelling about your story is there's a very strong feeling that if you had known differently, if you'd been an expert at that time, you probably could have saved your son or you could have slowed down developmental delays.
Mary: I could have changed the trajectory. But I don't believe that, you know, he wouldn't have autism. But I do believe that the autism spectrum is very wide. And many of my clients have gone on to go to college, drive, you know, that's how long I've been in this. And I always say that if I had the knowledge in here that I have in the turn on my book, that I believe is Lucas's life, and my life would be really different. And it's not just Lucas, it's all the clients, all the course participants who have told me their stories and told me how they were. You know, I changed their life. Their child went from two words to 500 words in 30 days with just my course. Even to me, that's kind of remarkable and hard to believe, almost. And they've become part of my success stories, part of the success stories that are in the book. A couple of them work for me now as coaches because they've watched everything. They believe in it. They can see the power that this works in. Whatever. You know, we don't have a crystal ball. Like we can't go back and see what Lucas would be like if I had this information. Nobody had the information. That's the problem. And we can't go forward. So, you know, my whole thing is I was in denial for more than a year after my husband, who's a physician, first mentioned the possibility of autism. I told him it wasn't autism. I never want to hear the word again. I went into a deep state of denial. In the opening of my first book, The Verbal Behavior Approach, I say I was a registered nurse with more than whatever experience. I mean, I've been a registered nurse since the eighties. When my husband first mentioned the possibility of autism, I told him I never, ever want to hear the word again. And I went into a deep state of denial. And so now back then, the autism rate was one in 500. Now it's more than one in 50. So the numbers have gotten much worse. The waiting lists for evaluations and treatment have gotten much worse. A few things have improved, but it really is a struggle. And the autism spectrum is very wide. So that.
Ann: Right there. Those numbers. Those numbers really speak in a synopsis.
Mary: And they were in the synopsis because.
Ann: As to why this book matters right now and if and when you and I were talking about it, we were we're you know, an editor is always listening for the hook. An agent and a publishing house are always looking for the hook. And you had a really bold hook. And the bold hook was essentially that if you catch autism pretty early on, you can dramatically improve the chances.
Mary: The outcome, whatever the outcome is. I mean, we don't know what the outcome is. And the subtitle of Turned Autism Around is super important, too, and the Action Guide for Parents of Young Children with Early Signs of Autism. So I want to get to my parents well before it's autism. And that's where I'll just add to what you said. If you catch autism early enough, if you catch speech delays, developmental delays, social differences early on, you can oftentimes change the trajectory, catch kids up in as many areas as you can, prevent problem behaviors, teach them things like how you teach yourself how to deal with picky eating, sleeping, potty training, dressing, which kids with autism tend to have more issues in those areas, tend to have much more speech delays and things like that tend to have more problem behaviors. So the key is that it doesn't matter if it's autism or if it's a speech delay or if it's early signs of ADHD or even early signs of giftedness. These are all positive parenting strategies to get a child from wherever here is to moving forward. So the key differences between my first book and my second book is my first book is the Verbal Behavior Approach, How to Teach Children with Autism and Related Disorders. But I know I had to once I got up on the mountain, I had to go back down to get the parents in denial, waiving on wait lists because time is of the essence and the best time to treat it is now. It's kind of like planning a tree. When's the best time to plan it? You know, 20 years ago or.
Ann: The audience was the same, but they were at different stages of the problem. Let's call it up.
Mary: And I wanted to get them while they were just worried about their babies. I mean, even now, just this week, I think I got five messages on social media from parents of six month olds, parents of a nine month old. You know, should I be worried? Could this be autism? It doesn't matter if it's autism or not. Half of the participants in my toddler online course don't have a diagnosis of autism. I mean, this really is just great parenting, great advocacy. Become your best child's best teacher, an advocate for life. But I needed to stay in the autism field because that's really what I'm known for. And so it wasn't time to pivot to that general parenting market. It might be for my next book, but that's where coming back to the synopsis and working with you, at least at that stage of the journey, really was helpful.
Ann: Yeah. So let me talk about that statement you made about moving towards a broader market. So you were dealing with parents of autism. You recognized that if you caught parents of younger kids sooner. Then they would get a different, potentially a different outcome. If you could go back and wind the clock back and grab them then. You would be able to interrupt some of the behavioral issues.
Mary: And teach them positive ways. Like you get all kinds of different advice. You know, your kids have a Gator, well, don't feed them anything besides the good food or don't, you know, let them roam around with two bowls of Cheerios after they refuse to eat, you know, the meal. Like you get all this different advice advice and, you know, as a behavior analyst and as a registered nurse, my philosophies are based on science and it's all based on mostly preventative, all child friendly ways. And so it really doesn't matter if it's autism or just toddler delays or you're worried maybe you have an older child with autism, which then the younger sibling has a one in five chance of also having autism. So these are just parent friendly strategies that work with kids with the language ability of a 1 to 5 year old. So my 26 year old actually still has the language ability of a 1 to 5 year old, teens who are non vocal or having, you know, still not potty trained are functioning at that level. So it's but I didn't want to write a book just generally for autism because I felt like my first book dealt with that I wanted to really target parents and early intervention professionals are very young children with early signs of autism with a diagnosis or without. Doesn't matter.
Is Autism a polarized field?
Ann: Yeah, I want to speak to the fact that you are an expert in a very polarized field. You are an expert in. This is an extremely polarized field. And it's a polarized field that is going to be attracted to publishing houses and it's also going to make them nervous. It's going to you know, there's there's there's a lot of languishing that has to be chosen. There has to be a lot of careful consideration to what the criticisms of your methodology, you know, what those criticisms are going to be. You're definitely going to get criticism out there, putting yourself out as the expert and recommending this methodology, the scientifically backed methodology. You know, it's not something that you made up along the way. You know, you were trained in it. You have a PhD in this. So. Now that having this book out in the world, how has working through this book with this publisher in this particular environment altered how you show up as the expert? How have you evolved? Because of this book.
Mary: Yeah, I. I just first want to address the polarization in the field of autism because writers may not know why it is polarized or if you know, that statement may not be known. But since the autism spectrum is so wide, there are some autistic individuals that are adults who are potentially driving, fully conversational, you know, and they are talking on the Internet and commenting on posts they don't like...they think that autism is a gift. They think that only the individuals or individuals with autism could fully understand, you know, what a young child needs, what my child needs. It's kind of a small minority, but they're very vocal. And so when media and publishers or, you know, TV shows want to feature autism, they tend to only do it in April for Autism Awareness Month. And even though, you know, one in 44 have autism and one in every six children are developmentally delayed or have a disorder. So it's kind of scary. My agent was concerned about that. She had emailed me before she took me on. Like, what? What would you say if somebody said, you know, they don't like ABA Applied Behavior Analysis, which is the most evidence based treatment for children with autism, even saying treatment for autism. You know, it's like people are like, you know, saying things like trying to get kids, you know, better or talking like it's just like, okay, well, what would your suggestions be for a two year old who's not talking, having tantrums, extremely picky, you know, rolling around the parking lot. Like I'm telling you, I use a child friendly, systematic, proven approach. And so I don't. Even before my book, my newest book. And now since then, I don't engage in backlash or debates. If somebody says ABA is cruel, you know, different conversations like how dare you? You know, abusive. There's nothing about me that's abusive and I'll stand behind that. But I won't debate with them. I will simply block them.
Ann: I thought I had. I watch you. I watched you out on social media. I watched you presenting. I watched you staying on point. I watched you bring evidence and stories to support your statements. I don't see you getting hooked. And I'm sure I mean, any writer who gets, you know, backlash from people who disagree with their take, be it professional, scientific take or, you know, a take on how you approach a given situation or your personal story, your personal opinions. You stay really, really steady. And you know, the advice of not to engage with that is excellent advice. And I really love having you speak to that because you really are in that. Really it's a cauldron of people who have very strong feelings about that, particularly right now. And I admire you. How you make your statement, the statements that are in your book, you stay on point. You've written about this, you've spoken about it on podcasts. You've got case studies that support your approach. And you constantly are using that information in this greater debate. And a lot of my writers are really afraid of putting their thoughts and opinions out there, putting their framework on how they deal with the particular problem solution pathway. And they're very nervous that other people aren't going to agree with them. And you don't. I mean, you entered into the subject for a very personal reason and you grew your expertise in response to what happened in your private life, and you've used it to help a lot of other people. So, you know, it's it's.
Mary: It's well, and I live with it every day. I have a son, Lucas, who is 26. He's here. And then Spencer's 25. They're 18 months apart. Spencer's a medical school a thousand miles away, and Lucas needs 24 seven care. So when somebody says autism is a gift, we should embrace it. We shouldn't worry about two year olds rolling around in a parking lot. That's sensory issues. And we need to accept it and embrace it and know we need to get on it. And so my message is in my mind, too important to be stopped. And so, I mean, I will debate a little bit if I have to, but if something's going to come on my social media platforms or email me or whatever and are nasty, No, thank you, you're done. And you know, because if you don't and I have a team that I pay money to go through my comments every single day, probably twice a day, three times a day, I see something. I'll quickly block it. But it's I mean, otherwise you will get shut down and you will get canceled for really I mean, people don't like the title of my book. What do you mean, turn autism around? You know, you're trying to cure it. You're trying to fix it. Well, no, I'm trying to fix the delays as much as possible. I mean, it certainly would be better for Lucas, for my family, for taxpayers, if Lucas was able to drive or be by himself while I ran to the store for 15 minutes. Or like, even as a taxpayer, if you know no one with autism, which is very unlikely, you should be concerned about the rate of autism and these delays and the fact that you can improve where they are on the spectrum. In many cases, you can change the trajectory in many cases, and the earlier you start, the better you will do.
What is the business beyond the book?
Ann: So let me pause and just switch trajectory for a moment. And I want to talk about business for a sec. So how does Turn Austim Around become your business? Meaning if people read, turn autism around. What else? Where else or what else would they come to you for? What? How? What is that book going to lead a reader to if they need more?
Mary: So if they read the book...six or seven places, it says for the book, resources for the free book resources go to turnautismaround.Com And there they people can read the first chapter, listen to the second chapter and get all the assessments, a blank assessment filled out assessment for free and they'll get into my email sequence and that the really the best place for people to land whether they're landing initially or they're landing through the book, is to my online course for toddlers and preschoolers, that is really the best thing I have. It's not that expensive. And even if somebody wanted me, like if I was my best friend or my grandchild or whatever, you need to watch the course. Because in the course I have videos, demonstrations, or step by step, what you should do. I'm creating a Train the trainer program that's launching in March. So that is what I sell on Evergreen. I sell every day. So there's a very big path forward, and that is through my online course. I do have a course for older kids as well. That is more like a secondary market. Like me, I know that people with eight years olds and 15 year olds need my work too, but it's a lot harder to turn things around for an eight or 12 or 15 year old if you're not talking, not potty trained and have severe problem behaviors. You can take all the information in this book, turn autism around. You can take my courses and you can especially if you have professional help. Because that's the other factor, is by the time they're eight or 12 or 15, now you've got school staff who are potentially reinforcing problem behaviors. You've got different opinions. Whereas if you're at home with your two year old or 18 month old or three year old, you can really do a lot yourself with just the book and the course. And people in my course don't read the book. I'm like, Get the book, which is the better book or the course? Actually, both are good. The book is a handbook, and the course will show you video, step by step instructions and provide a community of support where when you get in trouble, when they are flopping on the ground or, you know, biting their brother, you're going to be able to come to us and we're going to be able to direct you to the right resources to hopefully get that problem behavior. Zero. Near zero.
Ann: And so I look at the book as something that somebody else can hand a friend as somebody else can. It's so much easier to share. And yet the course allows people to go deeper, to get the tutorials, to get, you know, to get the visuals so they can track.
Mary: And community support and unstuck calls with my team because, you know, it's all you know, if you just have the book, hopefully it'll go well. But, you know, you may have, you know, autism plus a proxy or a plus Down syndrome or you may be a single mom and have to send your child to a daycare that's not really doing the right things. I think there are lots of factors. Right. And so without having that community and those coaches to help you get unstuck, you could still say suck.
Ann: So here's what I want to do. I kind of want to wrap up and I want to point out three takeaways for writers. Okay? Number one, what a synopsis is and why you need it. So we've covered that. One of the things that you covered as well is how to enter into a polarizing field and deal with criticism and deal with a lot of other stuff. The other thing that I didn't mention is you are. And also, you know how to use your book to bring people deeper into your world, how it can help the greater population. But there are a certain percentage of people who are going to benefit from going deeper, and they can do that by taking your course. So you got the very clear picture that can show up in a synopsis and you're super clear on that. You've got the ability to deal with criticism and to deal with a polarizing subject, and you've got the business acumen, you've got the strategy, all of those things in place. The other thing that people don't recognize, because we haven't really spoken about it, is that when you get an idea, you act on it. You heard the idea that it's time to write another book. And within I would say two weeks you were on it. And very few people do that. So those are four things for writers to take away from you. Now, a lot of the people in the audience are either going to be wondering themselves if their child might have delays that are associated with autism or if there's somebody close to them whose child is potentially autistic. Mm hmm. And I want to point to you, because you are probably one of the most compassionate, scientific, no nonsense, helpful, generous human beings. I know. And I can't think of a better resource for any of these parents or any of these people who are concerned that there might be developmental delays associated with autism or just developmental delays in general. I want to point to you, Mary, if you could spell your name and you can give us your website, I'm going to include this in the show notes. But I would love it if you could give that to me.
Mary: Yeah. So if you're out running now or you're not you don't have something to spell out my name. That's it. You can easily find me anywhere at Mary Autism Plus whatever specific title you are or topic you're struggling with, But it's most of my all of my stuff is at MaryBarbera.com B A R B E R A and then the book resources and everything get redirected to Marybarbera.com/new-book I believe but also turnautismaround.com will be easy to remember hopefully and as a writer you may want to read the first chapter, listen to the second chapter. Those are the journeys of other kids. What is the big deal? I think the first chapter is called If Autism is an Emergency, Why are we all waiting? Because the wait list for evaluation and treatment are so bad. And then the second chapter is all about the signs of possible autism, possible early ADHD, or just a speech delay, quote unquote. So that would give you a good sense of what the book's about. And then you could recommend it to somebody who you're concerned about. And if they say, oh, it's not definitely not autism, you know, my doctor doesn't think it's autism, The speech therapist said it's not autism. It doesn't matter. This helps with kids with early signs of anything. And it works great with typically developing kids as well. So that will get people to me. Now if you want to know about my synopsis. The doctor I use, the agent I use like no, I don't discuss all that because I'm too busy in the autism field, but my good friend knows who I used and she can direct you with all the writer stuff.
Ann: Yeah, absolutely. I appreciate your time and spending. Spending. You're giving us your wisdom and giving your whole approach. And. Yeah, so thank you. Thank you. Thank you, thank you.
Mary: Yeah. And I would say if you feel like you have a book in you and you want to really proceed. Just make a goal. Set your goal and start setting the steps of your goal. Okay. I want to write a book. Okay, let's, let's work on a synopsis first. Let's work on what the back cover would actually say. Let's work on a chapter outline. There are a lot of things you can do today to get you closer to that goal. And Ann is really one of the best writers and book editors. And, you know, she's just a wealth of information. So I hope that this is helpful. And again, if you have anybody with autism or delays turnautismaround.com or marybarbera.com. So thanks again.
Ann: Thank you, ma'am.
Mary: If you're a parent or an autism professional and enjoy listening to this podcast, you have to come check out my online course and community where we take all of this material and we apply it. You'll learn life changing strategies to get your child or clients to reach their fullest potential. Join me for a free online workshop at MaryBarbera.com/workshop where you can learn how to avoid common mistakes. You can see videos of me working with kids with and without autism and you can learn more about joining my online course and community at a very special discount. Once again go to MaryBarbera.com/workshop for all the details. I hope to see you there.
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