A psychiatrist details the nightmarish but ultimately rewarding experiences with her autistic family.
In Slaff’s debut book, a psychiatric chronicle that straddles the genres of memoir, case study, and position paper, readers learn the story of one woman’s struggle to care for family members with autism. They also discover what that effort has taught her about medicine, politics, education, risk, and the necessity “to seek my own answers and not blindly follow others.” Born in a time and place that understood autism even less than this era in America does now, Slaff’s twin brothers suffered from both the condition and some of its therapies. Antipsychotics, anticholinergics, benzodiazepines, and beta blockers were loaded into them, stunting their growth and zoning them out. But it wasn’t until Matthew was provided with aversive shocks that he grew better able to avoid injury to himself and others and to be led toward a more pleasant life. The author’s other brother, Stuart, denied admission to the controversial Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Massachusetts by misguided policies in New York state, fared less well. Slaff became a psychiatrist, and her dealings with her two autistic brothers—and a father on the spectrum—later served as helpful case studies when her daughter Talia was diagnosed as severely autistic and “life became a series of doctors’ appointments, therapies, hopes for progress, disappointments.” After this affecting opening, in which the doctor and sister whom readers have come to admire sees her “nightmares of having a child with autism” come true, the book becomes a detailed support manual for people undergoing the same trials and a thoroughly researched testimonial to the effectiveness of aversive therapy. The lucid work also delivers a short, useful history of the ways that therapy has been misused (as a treatment for homosexuality) and mischaracterized (in reports by Geraldo Rivera and Connie Chung). “People do not choose to have autism or any other disability, but we can choose to love and take care of them,” the author reminds readers. She proves herself a fine exemplar of this care and love in this engrossing and persuasive work.
A highly informed and convincing personal defense of aversive therapy.