Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Siege: A Family's Journey Into the World of an Autistic Child

I chose this book because it was mentioned in Love Anthony by Lisa Genova. As an elementary teacher I have seen many children on the autism spectrum, but never truly had a child with autism in my classs. This intrigued me; as did Love Anthony. I ordered the book last night from Amazon, but sadly they didn't have the e-book...I'll have to make do!!
In 1957 when Jessy Park was born (called "Elly" in this book, but later identified by her mother in the sequel "Exiting Nirvana"), very little was known about autism. Elly/Jessy presented behavior that Kanner described more than a decade earlier (1943) when he first coined the term "autism."

Elly/Jessy was largely nonverbal for much of her childhood and had difficulty connecting names to people. She loved mathematics and could do complex equations and recognized many polygons. She developed a fascination for counting that has since stayed with her. In 1961, Elly/Jessy then nearly 4 was formally diagnosed with autism. She was enrolled in special needs programs and made progress. She also as is noted in "Exiting Nirvana" proved to be a very talented artist.

This is an excellent book that chronicles in minute detail autistic behavior and a family's love and acceptance. Elly/Jessy's three older siblings love her unconditionally as do their parents. Theirs is an intellectual family whose literary pursuits are quite evident throughout this account. It is one of the best early personal accounts of autism in a family.

What makes this book unique is that when it was published, it rightfully challenged the parent blaming routine that was the order of the day. Elly/Jessy had three neurotypical (NT) siblings which automatically flies in the face of the disproven and completely asinine parent blaming. At no time was she neglected. She was loved, nurtured, encouraged and accepted.

Her special interests in counting and polygons are recognized as an asset, an ability. Fortunately, she is not charged with "perseverating," a harmful and damning word that has caused more harm than it ever helped. It is an extremely judgmental, negative and destructive word in any tense that is best avoided. At no time is that harmful word ever applied to the NT population and the behavior is not limited to the autistic population either. That word is best replaced with "special interests," "repetitive verbalizations / behaviors" which are more accurate and also speak to tolerance whereas "perseverate" simply does not.

The book closes with Elly/Jessy at age 8, making progress in her way and at her speed. She and her mother have blazed new trails that continue to weave throughtout autism awareness and acceptance today.
Clara Claiborne Park is the author of several books. She has recently retired from the English Department of Williams College, and is a prominent speaker about autism. Her account of her daughter's life with autism continues with EXITING NIRVANA.
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