Wyllie (Bertram Goodhue, 2007, etc.) moves away from architectural histories to document the life of her son, Andrew, who persevered and thrived despite Down syndrome.
When the hospital staff delayed bringing Wyllie her firstborn child after his birth in 1959, she was immediately uneasy, and rightfully so: Andrew was diagnosed as a mongoloid, or what is now known as having Down syndrome. Troubled by the doctor’s explanation that “sometimes the best policy is to inform the mother, before she even sees her baby, that the child has died and then place him immediately in an institution,” she and her husband decide to keep their son at home and raise him as normally as possible. Wyllie details the early struggles with Andrew, from difficulties nursing to apprehension over what their family, friends and neighbors might think. She recounts their lengthy search for a school program to fit Andrew’s capabilities and their great fortune in finding Lambs Farm, a still-operating facility where Andrew lived happily for most of his adult life. Wyllie’s writing is lucid and remarkably forthright. She doesn’t shy away from the negatives, such as her frustrations and mistakes as the parent of a special needs child, or her concerns that her other, “normal” children were somehow being slighted. She also conveys the grief she faced in the tragic cancer death of her 14-month-old second child. The book features Andrew’s writing and drawings, letters from his teachers and co-workers, and interviews with many of the people in his life, which provide an intimate look at his intellectual, emotional and physical development. As a comparison, Wyllie also chronicles the experiences of two younger children, one born in 1980 and one in 1994, who also suffer from Down syndrome. Her account of the history and science behind the disorder is thoroughly researched yet highly readable, and she evenhandedly discusses the possible impacts of modern prenatal genetic testing. Of her ongoing struggle for better resources, Wyllie remembers that “the most difficult task was to capture the interest of the average person who does not have a special needs child.” Transcending this aim, her book is as richly absorbing for casual readers as for caregivers and loved ones of Down syndrome children and adults.
This clear-eyed, intelligent memoir is an invaluable resource for anyone whose life is affected by a developmental disability.