Part sentimental diary, part how-to study guide, Ziegler’s memoir traces a mother’s personal and political struggle in raising an autistic child.
After a brief summary of the Ziegler family tree and the author’s foray into motherhood, Ziegler gives the straightforward chronology of her daughter Mary Ann’s life before and after the young girl’s diagnosis with autism. Ziegler forgoes substantive discourse on the tribulations of raising an autistic child within the confines of the uninformed public sphere and instead focuses on Mary Ann’s emotional coming-of-age narrative. This heartfelt storytelling would be more effective without constant allusion to a greater goal—systemic change at the local and national levels of autistic care. Following Mary Ann through the public education system of ’70s America, Ziegler paints a portrait of an institution replete with troubled students yet entirely without the funding and understanding necessary to meet their needs. Mary Ann eventually moves from Ziegler’s house to a group home for disabled adults, enters the workforce and earns the title “Employee of the Year.” She also suffers abuse from an aide and then successfully testifies against him in court. Often, Ziegler likens her daughter’s interpretation of the world around her to that of poets and philosophers, but this renders Mary Ann an abstraction and removes her from the larger conversation regarding autism in America. Though the text discusses a handful of national conferences, the overturning of antiquated statutes and a guide to the autistic spectrum, crucial information is both sporadic and delayed. Ziegler evokes a warm response in readers toward Mary Ann, but not toward the overall cause. By the time the author explains—through bullet points—how and why we should take action in the battle to understand and help those in the autistic spectrum, we are lost in a haze of anecdotes and acronyms.
Emotional storytelling and an inadequate overview of America’s response to autism now and then makes for a quick, linear read without a significant payoff.