When Muskogee native Diane Bucci started writing her book more than 20 years ago, it was supposed to be a humorous memoir of her family's journey raising Mikey, her autistic son.
That story took a sudden, tragic turn in 2008, when Mikey, then 25, shot and killed himself at the Walmart in Checotah.
But after Mikey's death, Bucci said, her Mikey started making his presence known on a regular basis, clucking like a chicken through houseplants, changing radio and television channels and knocking over shelves full of family photos.
That's when the story took a turn for the spiritual.
Now, Bucci has finished “The Return of Mikey,” the bittersweet story about the boy she raised who taught her unconditional love and that “Heaven is real.”
“I was trying to give people hope, some inspiration,” said Bucci, who now lives in Parker, Colo. “Because Mikey had really been a success story. He really was.”
In an endorsement for the book, Sally J. Rogers, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The MIND Institute, University of California Davis Medical Center, writes about how autism can result in an ability to laugh at the irony, humor and wildly irrational moments the disease can create.
“Here is a book about autism written by a family who knows autism: the pain, the embarrassment, the laughter, and the humanity that is part and parcel of the everyday life of a family loving and raising a child with autism,” Rogers wrote.
It was Rogers who administered behavioral tests, observing Mikey and diagnosing him with “a textbook case of mild autism.”
A success story
Mikey had been an exceptional child — intelligent and curious with some unusual personality traits that would lend themselves to the autism diagnosis at age 3. The family lived in Denver and Diane Bucci would soon become deeply involved in the autism community, even being elected president of the Colorado Association for Autistic Persons.
As most any parent of a child with autism knows, living with the disease involves tremendous hurdles for all involved. But along with the trials come moments of pure joy, lightness and humor.
“We cannot find humorous parenting books on the shelves that relate to our children,” she writes in the book's synopsis.
Today, autism affects as many as one in 88 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.com). In the '80s, when Mikey was diagnosed, even less was known about the disease than is today, and less support was available.
So Bucci started chronicling the unusual things her precious little boy did as a way of remembering them and sharing them with other parents of autistic children.
In “The Return of Mikey,” Bucci writes about raising Mikey — the good and the bad. She writes about her concerns for his older sister, Susie Lynn.
“We were always each others' advocates but I always felt like I had to protect him,” Lynn said. “Not just because he was my little brother but because I felt like he already had a strike against him having autism and having to deal with kids making fun of him at school and things like that.”
Bucci writes of Mikey's childhood obsessions such as spitting and drains — he could watch water swirl down the toilet for hours and had to be convinced over and over that he was too big to go down the drain himself.
“Mikey is a wonder: a curious, intelligent boy who communicates in words and feelings the confusion, the contradictions, the crises, and the pleasures of his moment by moment experiences,” Rogers said.
Bucci writes of Mikey's funny names for things: “The bowl got holes” is a colander, Mrs. Hair was his blanket, and “No, Moggy, no” was what he thought was his own name as a little child.
She recalls some heart-wrenching moments such as admitting Mikey into a psychiatric hospital when he went through dangerous behavioral cycles as an adolescent.
Bucci also writes of the triumphs Mikey experienced as he grew into a young man, got a job, graduated from gunsmith school (he was an avid hunter with his father) and found a career and an independent life.
And she writes candidly of the horrific day her son took his life.
Dreams of farming
Mikey had been doing well in life, Bucci said. As a child living in Colorado, he'd spent much time in Checotah at his grandparent's farm, and one day he dreamed of living on and running the farm.
Shortly after Mikey graduated from a trade school, he and his mother moved to Oklahoma. Mikey got a gunsmithing job at H&H Gun Range and spent half his time in Oklahoma City and half at the farm in Checotah.
“He had been so happy and really at the top of his game,” Bucci said.
But, shortly before Mikey's death, Bucci noticed certain things that, in retrospect, likely were signs of an eminent psychotic breakdown, she said.
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Here is a book about autism written by a family who knows autism: the pain, the embarrassment, the laughter, and the humanity that is part and parcel of the everyday life of a family loving and raising a child with autism.”
Sally J. Rogers,
Professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at The MIND Institute, University of California Davis Medical Center