Heitsch delivers a moving chronicle of her deaf, autistic son’s achingly gradual linkage to the world outside himself.
This work can be read as a guide for parents with children like Chuck, who was born with severe hearing impairment and later manifested signs of autism–lack of eye contact, compulsiveness, withdrawal–which were variously diagnosed right up to childhood aphasia â€œcombined with a behavioral overlay of quasi-autistic or schizoid behavior, possibly indicative of organic brain damage.” The author required patience, perseverance, openness to learning methods, more patience and the ability to see joy in each instance of progress. It took time to discover that the association method worked best for Chuck, though this story is not a paean to its value, per se. Heitsch learned the long way that playing to her child’s strengths showed results, and that positive reinforcement and rewards increased his motivation. The most striking quality of this story is the earnest flow of the author’s voice–her attentiveness to Chuck’s everyday needs and her deep thrum of affection. There is a dimension of reserve, as if Heitsch is being presumptuous in telling Chuck’s tale, but her narrative deliberateness is punctuated by moments of gripping beauty, as when Chuck joins her in arranging colored toothpicks: â€œI felt the stirrings of a strange new friendship, the first step in a years-long process of searching and building.” This sincerity is amplified by the inclusion of a dozen poems by Heitsch, which display remarkable emotional expansiveness. The book is infused with the author’s chary sensibility–she’s unwilling to paint a false face on the challenges Chuck posed to family life–and the highs and lows that attended his incremental steps. Chuck’s slow progress in expressing words, gestures and recognition is recalled with guarded optimism: â€œBy such small changes, year to year, we measured the communication progress.”
An autobiography filled with simple humanity.