A wrenching account of growing up with a profoundly autistic younger brother.
Journalist Greenfeld (China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st-Century’s First Great Epidemic, 2006, etc.) is the brother of Noah, for a time the best-known autistic child in the country. In a trilogy of books about Noah by their father Josh—beginning in 1972 with A Child Called Noah—the author is “a bit player who provides interesting contrast to his autistic brother but little more than that.” Here, Greenfeld begins with his early memories as a toddler in the mid ’60s. In 1971 the family moved from New York to California in a desperate search for help for Noah. The author then jumps ahead to his adolescent years in Pacific Palisades, where he, with his Japanese mother, Jewish father and a bizarrely behaving, disabled kid brother, was a social misfit. While the author got involved in petty crime, drugs and imaginary war games, family life revolved around Noah, whom he both resented and loved. Eventually Greenfeld and his parents moved to a new house, leaving Noah in their old one with a caretaker. With the new arrangement, Noah began to recede from his life, and Greenfeld began his own rocky climb to maturity. Memoir turns smoothly to fictional imagining in the later sections as the author thinks about Noah transforming into a brother who can talk to him and share experiences. But in the final pages he abruptly shifts back to harsh reality. Woven into this moving personal story is an account of the changing scientific approaches to autism, from Bruno Bettelheim’s claim that cold mothers were the cause and the key to treatment, to the adherents of B.F. Skinner, who saw operant conditioning as the answer. With inadequate resources and conflicting research, parents of autistic children grasp at misleading claims. As Greenfeld makes clear, while early intervention may help the very young, for autistic adults, like his brother, the situation is exceedingly bleak.
Greenfeld spares neither himself nor his brother in this painfully honest, revealing memoir.