Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Book Nook: NOKI

 It’s a struggle that parents of children with special needs face every day and well into that child’s adulthood: how much decision-making latitude is safe?

NOKI is an empowering story from Douglas Farrago, MD, about a young man with autism who wants to become a professional boxer. Life’s circumstances have dictated the reason for him choosing this path. The lawless world of boxing has its reasons for embracing Noki and his abilities. And they are not good ones. So, the debate wages on: Should Noki be allowed to make the life-altering decision to enter the ring and put his life on the line?


Meanwhile, what few know is that Noki is actually a savant and can imitate and transform himself into any legendary boxer he wants — a plot twist that allows NOKI to pay homage to some of the greatest boxers of all time.


Dr. Farrago draws upon his experiences as an All-American collegiate boxer, a sports medicine trainer for professional boxers in Houston and his decades-long career in medicine during which he worked with autism patients to lend authenticity to his characters and narrative.


“Noki becomes somewhat of a hero to those with special needs in this story, which I think is pretty cool,” he said. “I felt it would be nice if a story showed that those with autism don’t need to be anything but themselves, and maybe it is the rest of us who need to change.”


Ultimately, NOKI is a heartwarming story that will spark real conversations about the limits that society places on people with special needs. Knowingly or not. 

I had a chance to interview Dr. Farrago to learn more.

1. Why did you write this book?

The story of Noki was stuck in my head for over ten years. I couldn’t shake it. I just fell in love with the character and felt I needed to share him with the world. I believe the book does a great job showing the limitations we, as a society, place on people, knowingly or not. Even more importantly, it shows the surprising potential humans have. This is something I saw in my thirty-year experience as a doctor treating autistic patients.  People with autism, like Noki, may have some social and communication difficulties, but it doesn’t mean they are without aspirations, goals, love, thoughts, or purpose. I hope this book shows the reader this. 


2. How can exploring a fictional world help improve the real one?

Fiction enables the author to expose the reader to all sorts of real-world scenarios, but in a way that may be more entertaining than a nonfiction story.  For example, in NokiI use a lot of my involvement in the dark side of the boxing world as a vehicle to get these points across.  I combined this with my experiences with patients with autism and was able to bring it to together in ways a reader may not have thought about before. And the questions I bring up in the book are now coming to fruition.Could a person with autism be allowed to be a professional fighter and put his life at risk? Does it depend on other factors? Just know, there are currently two MMA professional fighters with autism, so fiction has already become reality. 


3. Why is it important for people to be aware of the differences between different people on the autism spectrum?

We all need to be aware that when you meet one person with autism you meet one person with autism.Everyone is different. Everyone deserves the basic respect and nonjudgment from others, autism or not. That being said, autism is a spectrum and this has to be acknowledged. There is a pivotal point in Noki where there is a hearing to decide whether he understands the consequences and risks of boxing. Understanding the differences between each autistic person provides a learning opportunity for characters in the book and should do the same for those who read it. 


4. How can parents and caregivers help young people with autism learn to advocate for themselves in a world that may not understand them? (this one is especially important to me as I have a daughter with atypical autism presentation)

The greatest lesson for any parent is knowing that unconditionally loving your child has the most lasting effects of anything you can do. This goes for those with autistic children and those without. We are all the same. I am not a parent of an autistic child but had a large following of autistic patients in my thirty-year career as a family doctor. I don’t think there is one way to help these young people to learn how to advocate for themselves. You can only do the best you can in supporting them, teaching them, and allowing them the freedom to be themselves. The rest is up to person who has autism. I bet that your audience is helping their children much more than they realize or will give themselves credit for. In Noki, you will find him much more in control of scenarios than you would have originally believed. So, it really came down to the love that Noki’s parents gave him and the self-love that Noki has for himself. When you read Noki, you will find the end of the story will open up a whole other world for you as a reader as well. 


Author Douglas Farrago, MD, is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. Recently retired, he had a large following of autistic and special needs patients in his career. Dr. Farrago is the inventor of the Knee Saver, which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He also invented the CryoHelmet, used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers.


Dr. Farrago received his Bachelor of Science from the University of Virginia in 1987, his Master of Education degree in Exercise Science from the University of Houston in 1990 and his Medical Degree from the University of Texas at Houston in 1994. His residency training occurred way up north at the Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor. Dr. Farrago still blogs every day on his website Authenticmedicine.com and lectures worldwide about the present crisis in our healthcare system and the effect it has on the doctor-patient relationship. Dr. Farrago has written six books to date, his latest one being NOKI.


For more information about NOKI and the author, please visit http://letnokibox.com/.

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