BOBBY: Breakthrough of a Special Child by Rachel Pinney
Kirkus Star

BOBBY: Breakthrough of a Special Child

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In 1977 Bobby was four years old, hyperactive, unhousebroken, highly intelligent yet seemingly without normal emotions (treating all people as ""things""), speaking only in an idiosyncratic shorthand, ever intent on escaping from his hirise Manhattan home; his problem (roughly labeled ""autism"") was warping his imitative three-year-old brother and testing the limits of his parents' sanity. Then, enter 67-year-old Englishwoman Pinney--a therapist with decades of experience in treating emotionally disturbed children, temporarily in America to demonstrate her method: ""Children's Hours,"" in which a therapist (or helper) gives the child maximum freedom, undivided attention, and 'unjudgmental observation"" (simply narrating whatever the child is doing). Though she knew ""almost nothing"" about autism, Pinney agreed to treat Bobby, with daily sessions at her apartment and help from various babysitter-assistants. The central rule: ""listen to the child, let him choose, let him grow""--since Bobby, according to Pinney, had stopped his emotional development at nine months, and needed to recapture his childhood from that point onward. The resulting ""Hours"" were fraught with scary slapstick and messy embarrassment--chasing after incontinent Bobby as he manically explored the apartment building, the subways, Gimbel's. (Pinney's impromptu ""PR"" devices--apologies, leaflets--offer some of the considerable comedy here, as well as touching encounters with helpful strangers.) But within a few months Bobby ""had started to enjoy being alive"": cuddling, showing affection, using the toilet, accepting rules--amid some brave expeditions (a cross-country bus trip!) and some healthy, necessary regressions to womb-seeking infancy. And, though Pinney went home to England after less than a year, Bobby continued to improve--with gradually growing possibilities for a near-normal life. Pinney steers clear of theory or technical diagnosis: it's left unclear how Bobby's case might relate to the findings of Carl H. Delecato's The Ultimate Stranger (1974)--or to the limited success described by Barry Neal Kaufman (Son-Rise) and Josh Greenfeld (A Place for Noah), parents of more severely closed-off, prototypically autistic children. But, despite an off-putting introduction and some repetitious detail (Pinney also includes testimony from the parents and the chief helper), this is an intriguing, persuasive account--energized by Pinney's flinty narration, which combines no-nonsense earthiness, dry humor, and endearing bits of dated US slang.

Pub Date: Jan. 7th, 1984
Publisher: St. Martin's