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Living in Tandem hard to put down

Photo caption: Celebrating Keyan’s 19th birthday in Maine in October 2022, were, from left: Kunal, Keyan, Audrey and Manisha
Celebrating Keyan’s 19th birthday in Maine in October 2022, were, from left: Kunal, Keyan, Audrey and Manisha.
Montreal - Sunday, November 19, 2023

By Roanne Weisman  

One of the first – and best – rules I learned as a young writer had only four words: Keep your reader awake. Living in Tandem: A Memoir About Being More Than An Autism Mom, a new book by Audrey Burt Saha, not only kept this reader awake, it also kept me so riveted that I had to read it in one sitting.

The writing is engaging and excellent, and the story is compelling. Saha and her husband, Kunal, who live on Montreal’s South Shore, raised their son, Keyan, who is autistic and non-verbal, from babyhood to the young adult he is now. But there is so much more to this book, as the subtitle suggests. It is an excellent resource not only for autism families but also for readers (like me) who have had no personal experience with autism. Through the book, Saha gives her readers the rare privilege of looking deeply into not only her experiences as an autism mom, but also her feelings, personal history and the raw emotions those experiences evoke. We also learn about her personal growth, as well as the powerful actions she took as an advocate, community leader and spokesperson for the autism community in Quebec and around the country.

In her preface, she writes, “There were times when my writing sessions revolved sharing my deepest thoughts and inner truths...I thought I was writing a book about autism, but it evolved into something more...The result is this book that journeys through motherhood, the early days of coming to terms with my son’s autism, the birth of a charitable organization, a life spent running to and from things, and the messy parts of awakening to my own life.”

Saha is unflinching about sharing the joys of being Keyan’s mom, but also the uncertainties, frustrations and sheer exhaustion. The most important joy she describes is the love within her family: Keyan’s dimpled smile, the love in his eyes and the big hugs he still shares as a young adult. His older sister, Manisha, who is neurotypical, wrote a long poem (included in the book) about her love for Keyan, which she read to an audience of 400 during a poetry slam.

Saha’s personal journey also included becoming a marathon runner and triathlon athlete. “I decided I needed to do something for myself.”

In 2018, Saha received a Canada Volunteer Award for Community Leader, celebrating her many accomplishments, including the founding of Soutiens Autism Support (S.Au.S.) on the South Shore, the creation of an autism awareness run and a day centre for low-functioning adults with ASD over the age of 21 and the 2015 opening of Camp Oasis.

Through this book, Saha has managed to tap into a basic human need, not only for those living with autism but for all who suffer grief, loss and fear. “Whenever someone is diagnosed with cancer, or a loved one is taken from us, or we suffer alongside a family member (for whatever reason), we need connection. We not only want answers, but we need to connect with those who have a shared experience. We want to feel less alone,” she writes.