BIDDEFORD — A year and a half ago, Derek Volk, president of Biddeford-based Volk Packaging Corporation, sat down to write a business book. A friend had suggested accomplishing the feat would wow potential clients. However, the book was never written. 

“I couldn’t really figure out what I wanted to write about, and I heard this voice, almost as clear as can be, say, ”˜That’s not the book you’re supposed to be writing. You’re supposed to write a book about Dylan,’” Volk, a father of four who lives in Scarborough, said Tuesday. “I immediately put that business book idea aside and started typing.”

The finished product ”“ “Chasing the Rabbit: A Dad’s Life Raising a Son on the Spectrum” ”“ hit shelves about a month ago. It chronicles Volk’s experiences raising his, now 23-years-old, son Dylan, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at 8 years old. Asperger’s syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder that affects behavioral development.

“My immediate response was similar to most dad’s ”“ denial,” Volk said, recalling a conversation he had with his wife Amy when Dylan was just 2 years old. “(I thought), ”˜No, he’s fine. Not my boy. There’s nothing wrong with him,’ and my wife said, ”˜No, something’s not right.’”

She noticed Dylan wasn’t connecting socially with other children, said Volk. He didn’t play with them. He didn’t care if they were even in the same room as he was.

Previously, in 1993, Asperger’s syndrome wasn’t a diagnosis. The American Psychiatric Association did not recognize it as a separate disorder from autism until a year later. 

Later on, about six years after Volk’s wife first suspected something wasn’t right, his brother sent him a New York Times article about a boy with Asperger’s. 

“We started reading about it, and it just made so much sense,” said Volk. Doctors soon diagnosed Dylan with the disorder. 

Volk said the diagnosis was a step forward, but a fairly insignificant one. “That just told us what it was,” he said. “It didn’t solve any of the problems. That just led to our journey, which was chasing the rabbit.”

Volk explained that when Dylan was growing up, he often compared himself to a greyhound who, no matter how fast he ran, couldn’t catch the rabbit, that symbolized ”“ to him ”“ being normal. 

After a rocky road of schooling, bouts of depression and suicidality, and run-ins with the law ”“ all detailed in the book ”“ Dylan is now living on his own in Austin, Texas, where he is working on a career in comedy, said Volk. 

About one-third of the way through the 260-page paperback, blurbs titled “Dylan’s Take” begin to appear in every chapter, allowing Dylan to weigh in firsthand on his father’s words. At times, Dylan admits embarrassment over his past tribulations, while at others he recalls incidents fondly. 

“After the show a group of about fifteen guys from the popular jock crowd in my class came up to me and started screaming my name and high-fiving me telling me how awesome my performance had been,” Dylan writes in one chapter, remembering the aftermath of a successful stand-up comedy performance at a high school talent show. “It was the first time in my life when I saw that comedy could really bring people towards me.”

Volk said his book has been received well, and he has frequently heard people describe it as “raw” and “honest.” “I don’t try to put any rose-colored glasses on what I went through,” he said. 

“Chasing the Rabbit” is available at Nonesuch Books & Cards in the Biddeford Crossing shopping center, on Amazon.com or on ChasingTheRabbit.org. 

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]



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