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Raising a Son with Autism — With Help From Siri

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For author Judith Newman, conceiving her twin sons at the age of 40 was difficult—but not nearly as hard as discovering that one of the twins, Gus, had autism. In her new book To Siri With Love, Newman reflects on her family’s journey with Gus, now 15, and on the remarkable comfort he receives from talking with Siri (the Apple personal assistant).

Newman tried for seven years, suffered multiple miscarriages, and spent $70,000 on infertility treatments before conceiving her fraternal twins with husband John Snowdon — a former opera singer who is now 85 (studies have linked older parental age with higher rates of autism). 

“They were each about 4 lbs. and looked like roast chickens,” the 56 year old says about the birth of Henry and Gus in 2001. “But I had utter faith that everything would be okay.”

Chris Buck

While Henry is whip-smart and neurotypical (not on the autism spectrum), Gus was different from the start, though his mother tried not to face it.

“He was speaking!” she says. “His words were garbled and he was speaking to my feet, but he was speaking! I would ask people, ‘He’s not autistic, right?’ ”

Newman, a nonconformist by nature (she and her husband live in separate New York City apartments, for example)stayed in denial about Gus’ condition until he was kicked out of school. “He’d sit in the corner and spin stuff,” she recalls.

But she quickly embraced his differences and is glad he’s found a connection in Siri. Siri’s knowledge and unending patience comfort Gus, who finds flesh-and-blood relationships trickier, says Newman. He once asked Siri to marry him and seemed unfazed when she replied, “I’m not the marrying kind.”

While Newman is busy raising her two teenage sons, she does look to the future. She hopes Gus, who adores the New York City subway system, will one day get a job through the MTA.

Her main concern about Gus as an adult is that people will take advantage of his caring personality.

“Will he give his credit card number to everyone?” she wonders. “Will people cheat him?”

But Gus’ loving nature is also the trait his mother loves most.

“Every morning before he leaves the house, he tells me, ‘Remember, I’m your sweetheart.'” she says. “How many other mothers of 15-year-olds can say that?'” 

For the full story, check out the newest issue of PEOPLE, on stands now.