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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Kelly Harland, A will of his Own

‘Reflections on parenting a child with autism.’


Firstly I must declare my bias. In recent years I have come to love the genre of the short story. "Kelly’s" delightful book is a series of vinettes. Perfect bite sized pieces of autism. Easily digestible in small doses for those of us who are short on time. My copy is the "revised" edition. I imagine that many of them could be read independently and out of sequence as each one stands in it’s own right. I’m guessing of course but I can see how these pieces could easily be read aloud. In ‘A will of his own’ the author’s melodic tones capture snapshots of her son from his early days and onwards as he grows and develops into a young man. It’s no accident that Kelly is a "musician" as her voice as a writer comes over as a warm and affectionate melody. To be frank I find it difficult to be dispassionate and impartial about the subject of autism because of my own personal experiences. However, I believe Kelly’s writing style clearly exposes a picture of her son that is accessible to everyone. I have a keen eye for jargon and technical language as it can be off-putting to those not in the know, but her words and use of language merely flowed to tell a story in context. It is a slim volume full of delicate, poignant insights but with the strength of powerfully honed reality.

It is available from "Jessica Kingsley Publishers" and "Amazon" just to name just a couple.

A Regular Guy by Laura Shumaker, a book review



This is not a book where everyone lives happily ever after.

If you write and publish a book about your personal life you automatically expose yourself to criticism. If you write an accurate and honest account of your personal life, warts and all, you expose yourself to even greater criticism. So I shall be the first to launch the attack.

But let’s back up a bit. Let’s be frank here. There are so many books on the subject of autism, a deluge, that it’s sometimes hard to spot the good ones. These days I positively avoid reading anything about autism as I am heartily sick to death of all the tales of woe and misery. I also dislike warped distortions of autism where everything is fun and games. I’m looking for balance and realism.

But I digress. Back to Laura and her book “A Regular Guy,” growing up with autism, a family’s story of love and acceptance.

It’s a promising start.

The book starts at the beginning and the story gradually develops chronologically but before too long, it becomes all too obvious:-

Laura is a big ol’ cry baby!


It seems that every few pages she bursts into tears. She doesn’t know the meaning of ‘emotionally repressed,’ or if she does, she certainly doesn’t put it into practice. But that’s because Laura is a good sharer and a truth teller, a fairly heady combination. Bear in mind that every few pages represents a skip in time which considerably reduces her ‘year per weeping ratio,’ especially if you compare it to her ‘laughter per day ratio.’ She has cartloads of that too. More importantly, her ready wit, private asides and singular voice must surely touch even the most callous of readers, such as myself.

I suspect I know the reason why Laura is apt to blub so often. I’d posit an idea that doesn’t receive much air time. It goes like this:- you become a parent of a child and have great expectations. Sometime after that you become a parent with different expectations. Sometimes that transition merely warrants a one liner for some parents.

Good luck to them.

Others share their journey of a life time, in many chapters. As often as not, this is captured in the term ‘emotional rollercoaster.’ Thus far all is well and good, within our range of comprehension. The bit that’s left out, is the everything else. Everything else isn’t just family, friends and community, it is just that, the everything else. The autism experience does not exist in a vacuum, the roller coaster is in full swing, but the world keeps turning. There are jobs and careers, commitments, finance, paperwork, all the daily detritus of life either piling up or dealt with. Either way the pressure is on and doesn’t let up. The cliché of the human existence is that at the end of the day we dwell upon the things we did not do, or the things we could have done better or that we did badly, before it all begins again the next day. These days go on forever because we cannot escape life to focus on autism exclusively. Autism has to fit in with everything else and often it doesn’t.

It is the ability to live in these two worlds at the same time, to help them fit together better that takes determination, strength and stamina. This is what parental responsibility is all about, we have to be grown ups. As grown ups we juggle all these different things, we manage, and some people excel. In the midst of the permanent juggling act, something additional falls into the mix, something tiny, something huge, something unexpected and you have a choice, burst into tears or laugh your head off. The ability to do either or sometimes both, is the path to survival and Laura demonstrates this with perfection. It’s hard to encapsulate life with autism, but this may be as close a picture as possible.

Spoiler :-
This is a book were everyone continues to live their lives to the fullest.

Available from "Amazon" with more details "here." Here's a less biased "review."

This Lovely Life by Vicki Forman


A memoir of premature motherhood

I have done my very best since day one to consistently complain and grumble about autism. Indeed I would go so far as to suggest that I have reached a certain degree of expertise on the subject, on moaning that is, rather than autism.

I remember quite clearly the moment that my world fell apart. It happened on quite an ordinarily autistic day in the park, when all of a sudden my son fell out of the play structure onto his head. As he vomited in the Emergency Room and they wheeled him away for an MRI the nurse told me to ‘brace myself.’ Instead of having an autistic child I was threatened with a replacement, a seriously physically and mentally ill child. Without question it was the most sobering moment of my life.

When the nurse returned, much, much later, she told me she had never seen anything like it, outstanding, remarkable. In all her twenty years as a nurse. He was back from the brink. I had aged a hundred years in those blank, bleak moments. I should never wish to experience anything remotely like it again, ever. After that shocking episode we went on to enjoy robust health and live happily ever after. I cannot conceive of enduring that amount of mental energy for years as Vicki Forman and her family did, when their twins Ellie and Evan were born prematurely. Not only did she experience this pain but she also wrote about it in her book “This Lovely Life.”

I found this a harrowing account of tumultuous chaos but thoroughly absorbing as a reader. It is a tribute to her outstanding and formidable writing style that her book, however ironically, is a true page turner. As a reader, we are safe in the knowledge that the experience of pain is vicarious, not real for us, surreal for her and yet we are drawn further and further in to catch a glimpse of suffering that no-one should ever have to live through. It would be tempting to describe this book as an unrelenting tale of misery but that would be both untrue and a distortion. Every time you think that things cannot get any worse, they do but that is very far from the whole picture. Somehow, by some mercurial quality, Vickie relates their triumphs with pin pricks of startling light that keep us ever hopeful.

My one criticism is a personal one. The book is sprinkled with extracts from the journal she kept during this period of her life. I do not understand why journal entries should be any more poignant than any other writings that create a book but to read those entries was somehow even more excruciating. Maybe it is because reading someone’s memoir appears to grant the reader the permission, provides justification however spurious, to be a fly on the wall, but to read lines from a diary confirms that the reader is an interloper, peeking at someone else’s privacy, a true voyeur.

That said, I should like everyone to read this book, everyone like me and everyone who is different from me, but how to make that happen?

I decided to canvas opinion, male opinion. I asked my husband, a non reader if ever there was one, what drew him to read his annual book? The last book he read was ‘Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft’ by Thor Heyerdahl. Six men on a small raft sail four thousand miles across the Pacific Ocean, from Peru to the Polynesian Islands. I’m inclined to ask ‘why?’ Why set sail in a raft, a small one at that? Why write a book about it? Why would anyone want to read about it? So I ask him my ‘why’s?’
“Because it was a real life and true challenge, because the story was enthralling, absorbing, thought provoking.”
“What if they hadn’t been successful? What if they’d failed? What if the raft had sunk or someone was lost at sea? If tragedy had befallen them, would you still have read and enjoyed the book?”
“And I know why, because it’s the journey my friend, the journey and that journey will haunt me for a very long time.”

You may wish to read some more about this "book" which you may do so here at "Fully Caffeinated" where "Carrie" asks "Vicki" a few interesting, previously unasked "questions. There is also another independent interview on "Hopeful Parents" by "Christina Shaver."

p.s. There is also a brief interview of Vicki on "ABC."

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