It started, of course, with my son, who was diagnosed with autism when he was three.

I remember crying only once. But for a while, I lived in a sort of a daze. A colleague invited me to share my autism experience in a parents’ support group. I declined, telling her that I had loaded all my sentiments onto an article and sent it to a magazine. I had nothing more to say. I suppose I was still trying to make sense of it all.

When the mist started clearing, I found myself reading up on autism. Books by professionals I soon gave up because of the overdose of advice that I knew I could never keep up with. I devoured, however, all the personal stories of autism. So hungry was I to know how other parents cope with their autistic child. I wanted to find a line that describes exactly how I felt. I wanted to read about the treatments they tried. I wanted to know what become of their child.

There were not many books on autism experiences. Of the few, my favourite was a compilation entitled Voices from the Spectrum, published in UK and USA. This one book captured 60 accounts of autism sent in by contributors. It occurred to me that Singapore needs such a compilation too. What comfort it would give to families with autistic children. It would also be a reader-friendly means for the public to understand autism better.

I tucked the idea under my pillow and slept on it for a year. The idea grew. One day, I decided to do something about it.

I approached a publisher with the book idea – a compilation of 20 to 30 stories of autism in Singapore. The editor encouraged me to go ahead. However, because the book would include articles written by others, the quality of which would not be known until they were ready, we decided not to discuss the book contract until the manuscript was ready.

Over the next nine months, I was on a quest to collect autism stories. I publicised the quest on Shoulders, the popular online parents’ group which has since closed down. I put up leaflets at autism centres. I submitted an article on my autism experience to a magazine, tagging along an invitation for readers to contribute to this book. Most of the contacts, however, were passed to me via contributors I interviewed.

It was a very meaningful adventure meeting up with contributors to hear their story. And exciting to receive contributions via email. Sometimes, I interviewed two contributors in a week, more often, one. I tried not to schedule too many in one week because I needed time to write a story before hearing the next. Time also to edit articles that were emailed to me. This was a period when I would sleep at 3am in the mornings and wake at 7am to tend to my two young children.

Even before the book was completed, I knew the effort was all worthwhile. I had learned so much from the honest contributors. It was like living their lives, their pain and their joy, in two hours of interview. I often told myself that even if this book was never published, I would have no regrets for the life-changing experience it was just knowing how these contributors coped and hung on and in several cases, triumphed. The stories were a precious collection of gems.

In October, I put down my pen. I had collected all the stories I needed for this book. Time to send them to the publisher. I couldn’t wait to publish this book. What a lovely Christmas present it would make. Then I realised the mistake I had made as a greenhorn to the publishing business – I assumed that publishers would just take over the baton and continue running the race when in fact they have a whole list of projects to work on, according to schedules set months or even a year ago. The publisher told me that it was not possible to publish this book by Christmas.

My husband and I contemplated the possibility of self-publishing. We had put so much effort into this book that a little more seemed natural. Well, perhaps not “a little more” since we were new to publishing. Self-publishing means more work after writing. We have to find ways to publicise this book, perhaps sending them to magazines and the press for reviews, contacting the media for coverage. We have to figure out how to pass these books to interested buyers - sell online or at certain pick-up points.

So yes, we are self-publishing this book. The project seems very huge but there is excitement involved as we go about it one step at a time. I have contacted autism schools about selling this book at their counters. The next step is to ask magazines if they want a copy of the book for review. Perhaps design a poster to place on notice boards. Write a few articles to submit to the press to raise awareness? I am also organising a gathering for contributors to meet (cause for celebration!) and to collect their free copy of the book.

At this point of writing, the book has just been sent to print. If all goes well, tangible copies should be ready in a week’s time. I sigh with satisfaction just thinking of it. This is a present to my son, Calder, whose birthday we celebrated two days ago. I hope this book can make an impact such that society would become kinder to one such as him.

I want to give my son the gift of a better world.

Brenda Tan, 9 Nov 2010