NEWS FROM THE BORDER by Jane Taylor McDonnell


A Mother's Memoir of Her Autistic Son
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 Another heart-rending entry in the recent rush of memoirs from autistics and/or their mothers (Catherine Maurice's Let Me Hear Your Voice, p. 576, etc.). Much progress has been made recently in diagnosing and treating autism, but not nearly enough to ease the suffering of the children and family vividly described here. McDonnell's son, Paul, is a high-functioning autistic, more socially capable, less prone to rages, with some emotional responsiveness--which, in some ways, may have made his condition even more difficult for his family. Doctors and other specialists, misled by Paul's responsiveness, missed the diagnosis; most favored in Paul's early years was the catchall label of ``learning disabled.'' But McDonnell (Women's Studies/Carleton College) wasn't satisfied when she discovered that Paul's repetitive behaviors--including fascination with light- switches and numbers, as well as resistance to language--were characteristic of autism. The author writes of her side of the story with brutal honesty and some insight. Frustrated, frightened, and stressed even further by the arrival of a baby daughter with (mild) cerebral palsy, the household seemed dominated by anger: Shouting matches at the dinner table were frequent. But whether living in England, Ireland, or Minnesota, the McDonnells never stopped trying to find help for Paul--and Paul never stopped trying to fit himself into the ``normal'' world. Autism is a familiar syndrome, thanks to the movie The Rain Man (which helped Paul accept that he wasn't ``normal''); moreover, nationwide efforts have been made to educate adults and children about people with this handicap. Still, the amount of cruelty--both intentional and accidental--inflicted on Paul by peers, teachers, and even therapists is striking. In an afterword, Paul, now a college student aiming for a career in meteorology, describes some of that heartbreak. A paean to perseverance that's rich in personal detail but short on new information or helpful strategies. (Eight pages of b&w photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: Sept. 23rd, 1993
ISBN: 0-395-60574-1
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1993


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