AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWhicker: Clemson demonstrates that it’s tough to knock out the champ160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Dr. Barbara Firestone figured the more faces people saw and the more stories they heard, the less alone they would feel. That’s how the founder and CEO of the Sherman Oaks-based nonprofit organization the Help Group came to write “Autism Heroes: Portraits of Families Meeting the Challenge.” Told primarily through the parents’ voices, “Autism Heroes” recounts the experiences of 38 families. People of all classes, races and age ranges are represented, including actors Joe Mantegna, Gary Cole and John Schneider and former Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Jim Gott. The photography is by Joe Buissink, who also has a child with an autism spectrum disorder. Q: How did you come up with the book’s title? A: I have throughout the years met many parents with children who are confronting the challenges of autism, and I’ve always been so struck by the commitment, the caring and their ability to persevere through all the challenges. So when I thought about the title, the fact that this was a book about families and celebrating the commitment of families, I thought, “They’re heroes.” And there it is. Q: Are most of these families people you’ve worked with through the group? A: Most of the parents are families whose children attend the Help Group schools, but not all of them. I really wanted to be able to reach out. The whole point of the book was to provide a lifeline or message of support and help to other parents who are beginning the journey or are at different points; so I wanted to include parents who have children with all forms of autism. The children have all forms and degrees, they’re different ages, and the parents come from all walks of life. I wanted to have a cross section. While each parent’s journey is unique, there are very many universal chords. Another reason I decided to do this book is that we are living in a new age of autism. Times are changing, and there is a tremendous message of hope that wouldn’t have been the same in years gone by. Q: How much time did you spend with the families? A: The interviews were an hour to an hour and a half long. I took them through the whole series: What was it like when you first had that intuition? What was your journey like at the beginning? What were the feelings you went through? How did you deal with those feelings? And how did you come to a place of hope and transcendence? I could have written about the families myself, but I thought it was much more powerful to have the families speak in their own voices since they’re the ones living the experience. Q: Did you ever consider including the children’s perspective along with that of their parents? A: I really made a decision that this was going to be in the parents’ voices. Maybe the next book will be in the children’s voices for those who are able to speak about the experience, which would be very interesting and insightful. Q: Did your celebrity parents have any reluctance about participating? A: Not at all. Gary and Teddi Cole have been very open, and all the parents who are celebrities in the book have a history of being very open and candid about the fact that their children have autism spectrum disorders. Like any movement, when people of note or who are in public eye are willing to talk about it, it makes it less taboo. Q: Jenny McCarthy received a lot of press recently for her account of being the parent of an autistic child. A: That’s a good thing. It builds the awareness and increases the dialogue and the debate. Q: McCarthy’s book talks of healing autism. Are you leery of such a claim? A: Those are not terms we use. Right now we see it as a lifelong disability. We see children can make significant progress, but recovery is not the term that’s important to us. What’s important to us is children reaching their fullest potential, whatever that potential is.