It’s a Wednesday night. The setting sun and light breeze provide a comfortable warmth, and besides the pesky mosquitoes, it is a perfect evening. Julie Hornok sits at a table in the backyard of Sip & Savor, a neighborhood restaurant in Plano, concentrating deeply on the note she is writing on the inside of a hardback cover. She is smiling. Today is the big day: the signing event for her very first book.
Julie Hornok is a mother of three. When she is not picking her kids up from school, teaching yoga or planning events, she spends her time writing books and advocating for autism. Her daughter, Lizzie, was diagnosed with moderate autism when she was 3 years old. Having gone through some of the happiest and hardest moments of her life while raising Lizzie, Hornok knew that she wanted to find a way to help other families and get involved in the autism community.
“I remembered how it was when I was in the worst of it. I was thinking of how exhausted I was when I was in the trenches of it. I couldn’t do anything, I was suffocating,” Hornok said. “All of your friends are gone, and it’s not that they mean to be gone, but you just pull back. You get the feeling like they just don’t get it.”
Shortly after becoming the vice president of the National Autism Association of North Texas (NAA-NT,) Hornok began planning a variety of events, including a spa day in which moms of children with autism can relax and leave their anxieties behind, if only for just a couple of hours. Hornok continued to plan events like this because she noticed how impactful they were on the women attending. At the same time, though, she worried about some women going home and becoming depressed in the absence of their community of friends.
“I knew they went home and then they felt depressed. So I wanted a book of autism stories of parents that were making it, of parents that were doing okay, and I couldn’t find it,” Hornok said. “And that’s when I thought, ‘well, I can do that.’”
Hornok has no proper training in writing, but she found she had a knack for it. Her mentor Jackie Waldman, who had already written a book of her own, helped her in the formatting and structure of the book. After months of sweat and tears, Hornok released United in Autism: Finding Strength Inside the Spectrum. It is a collection of 30 unique stories where parents share their own experiences in raising children with autism. Hornok wanted the book to act as a window into the lives of these parents so that others parents going through something similar can find comfort.
Hornok reflects on some of the harder times she experienced when Lizzie was younger.
“People don’t get how tough the life is. When Lizzie was young, we were just trying to keep her safe. She was very much a danger to herself. We’ve had to pull her out of some dangerous situations,” Hornok said. “I met the neighbors behind me because she had escaped our house and was just standing in the middle of the road. In the middle of a busy street, just standing there.”
Incidents like this are not uncommon in the life of autism, which is why life can easily become overwhelming and stressful for parents who are still learning how to cope. This was one of the driving factors that inspired Hornok to write her book. She wanted parents to read these stories and know they are not alone.
“It’s a really hard life, and that’s the thing about the book. Each of these stories shares a really private part of difficulty within the life, so it’s a fantastic read for anybody who wants to understand the life of autism,” Hornok said.
Nagla Moussa is an executive member of the NAA-NT as well, and also has a child with autism. She and Hornok met because of their involvement in the autism community, and they remain good friends. Her story is the first to appear in Hornok’s book.
“The book is so important, because it’s a powerhouse of knowing you’re not alone, and that by itself is really powerful,” Moussa said. “[Julie] is outstanding. She’s tenacious, intelligent and extremely kind. When she walks into a room, she just glows.”
When things were at their toughest, Hornok did not know how her life would unfold. At times, the negative thoughts and anxiety seemed uncontrollable. Now, as she celebrates the launch of her debut book, everything seems to have fallen into place. She will continue to advocate for autism and hopes that her story, and the stories of the parents included in the book, will touch the lives of people both inside and outside of the autism community.
“The book shows how people have been able to find joy in the journey, and recognized how they are a part of a bigger story,” Hornok said. “There is purpose in the pain.”