This insightful memoir by the mother of a boy with a high-functioning form of autism includes a history of the disorder, a look at present-day activists, and psychological profiles of well-known people the author believes were autistic.
Paradiz (German Studies/Bard Coll.) views autism not as a mental illness but as a way of life with its own deep culture. While eloquently chronicling day-to-day experiences from her son Elijah’s birth to age 12, she also records her struggle to understand the nature of autism and the unique way in which autistic people experience the world. By chance, she hires as caretaker for her son a woman with Asperger’s Syndrome who recognizes that Elijah has the same condition and helps Paradiz cope with it. Her research leads her to the revelatory writings of two articulate, high-functioning autistic women, Donna Williams and Temple Grandin. When Paradiz learns that autism has a genetic component, she scrutinizes her family tree and concludes that her grandmother, her father, and she herself possess shadow traits that constitute what geneticists call “broader autism phenotype”: intense preoccupations, a preference for solitary activities, a need for sameness in certain aspects of life. Searching for historical role models for her son, who develops a consuming interest in television, especially comedy and animated cartoons, she finds autistic traits in Einstein, whose language development was delayed and whose visual thinking was extraordinary, and in Andy Warhol, another visual thinker whose social interactions were often bizarre; similarly, while perusing a biography of Andy Kaufman, she sees signs of autism in the comedian’s childhood obsession with television performances. Not everyone will accept Paradiz’s view that these individuals’ talents and idiosyncrasies can be explained by autism, but her descriptions of her son’s world and of the autism activists she comes to know are perceptive and enlightening.
A valuable addition to the growing literature on this neurological condition.