Father Shares Life With ‘Unbreakable Boy’

Scott LeRette is like many parents, constantly second-guessing himself, feeling like he’s failing, blaming himself for his children’s poor behavior, illnesses and accidents.

As the father of a child with autism, brittle-bone disease and heart defects, however, LeRette has had more than his share of opportunities to fall into this pattern of self doubt. There was the time he was trying to work and his toddler son, Austin, was climbing on his office chair. LeRette jiggled the chair to shake the boy off, and Austin ended up with a broken leg; the time he took his eye of his son for a second and wound up falling on him and breaking his back.

And there was the night he drank too much at a country club party and almost killed himself and both of his sons while driving home.

In his book, “The Unbreakable Boy,” due out in November, LeRette painfully recounts these and dozens of other difficult times that led to his hitting rock-bottom, and then he shows how his wife, his sons and his newfound faith have helped him rebuild his life. The book is named for Austin, but it is more about what raising and loving and accepting Austin has taught LeRette and his wife, Teresa.

“Although ‘The Unbreakable Boy’ will appeal to people in the special needs community , it is not a book about autism, a defective heart or broken bones,” LeRette said in promotional materials for the book. “It’s about the unbreakable spirit inside us all.”

Throughout the book, readers will get to know Austin, now 19, who introduces himself in a brief essay at the beginning. “Loud music makes me feel good. Eating does too. Especially when I dip things in ranch dressing. Cooking calms me down, and I want to be a chef someday. … I love everybody. By the way, want to be my Facebook friend? And then how about a sleepover at my house? We can watch ‘Back to the Future.’ I love you. Do you know that? Please, thank you, you’re welcome, I love you.”

Austin is unique. There is a saying in the autism community, “If you’ve met a child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism”; in other words, it affects every person differently. LeRette learns to embrace Austin’s different-ness, and it teaches him to embrace life more fully. He tells of a day when he and Austin were eating at a burger joint, and Austin declared the strawberry milkshake to be the best he’d ever drunk and then shouted to the whole restaurant that it was the best day of his life.

Afterward, LeRette writes, “I sat in the driver’s seat, quiet. I took my hand off the key and watched Austin as he buckled in. How can a boy be so happy over such simple things as a hamburger and a strawberry shake? … How can this be the best day of his life? … Then I thought about how I’d acted with my wife and boys for many years – selfish and self-absorbed – so many words that started with the word self. A new thought nudged me. Even though I was well into my forties, maybe this boy next to me as helping me grow up. It didn’t make sense, but it seemed true.”

In a question-and-answer interview provided with a review copy of the book, LeRette says: “I wrote ‘The Unbreakable Boy’ to raise awareness of special needs, but our story goes much deeper than that. We are all broken, flawed and imperfect, and I want to encourage people that embracing ‘different’ is right and sound and good. I want to challenge readers to shed fear and ignorance and know that, even if faced with enormous obstacles, decisions and setbacks, you can come out stronger.”

In another interview, he adds: “People want and need good, real and meaningful stories. Our story, I hope, is a story for the masses… one that will make you think, cry, laugh, hurt and love all at the same time.”

LeRette co-wrote the book with Susy Flory, the New York Times bestselling author of “Thunder Dog.” Published by Thomas Nelson, the book will be available Nov. 11.