EXITING NIRVANA by Clara Claiborne Park


A Daughter’s Life with Autism
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In this sequel to The Siege, her 1967 account of autistic daughter Jessy’s first eight years, Park deftly, humorously, and sympathetically chronicles Jessy’s emergence from the static Nirvana of autism to face the challenges of the ever-changing outside world.

Park kept voluminous records of Jessy’s 40-year journey. In envelopes bearing labels such as Hypersensitivities, Obsessions, Compulsions, Strangeness/Secret Life, and Correlations/Numbers, she compiled telling anecdotes about the girl’s development in language, thinking, and social behavior. The oddities of Jessy’s mind, her obsession with mathematical calculations, and her construction of elaborate systems correlating numbers, flavors, and colors are fascinating, as are her strangely beautiful, richly colored paintings. The author’s close observations provide researchers with valuable information about autism. For parents or teachers of autistic children, the story of how a wrist golf counter became the basis for a family program of behavior modification will be of special interest. Jessy was aided in her struggle to cope with autism by the good fortune of being born into a totally supportive and intellectually gifted family: Park is now retired from the English Department at Williams College, her husband is a theoretical physicist, and it’s clear throughout that they deeply loved their daughter and made every effort to enrich her life. Yet, to her credit, Park does not gloss over the continuing frustrations and limitations of Jessy’s participation in the larger world. Support materials include samples of Jessy’s written descriptions of her paintings and sources of additional information on autism, both in print and online. Oliver Sacks, who featured Jessy in the segment on autism in his television documentary, The Mind Traveler, wrote the foreword.

Wry, revealing, and thoughtful. (8 pages b&w and color photos, not seen)

Pub Date: March 8th, 2001
ISBN: 0-316-69117-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2001


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