"Not a Disney Story": Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption by Ralph James Savarese
Yesterday I heard a mesmorizing interview with Ralph Savarese, whose book Reasonable People is subtitled A Memoir of Autism and Adoption: On the Meaning of Family and the Politics of Neurological Difference. Although the title refects the complexity and intense debate currently surrounding the education of autistic children, Savarese's story was such a gripping one that I rearranged my plans to hear it out.
Savarese, a professor of American literature at Grinnell College, and his wife, a professional in the field of autism, had no plans to have children when she encountered D.J. at the age of two and a half years. Even though D.J. had been deserted by his parents and abused in the foster system, the couple were drawn to him by some intangible thread which finally led them to adopt, a process which took over three years. D. J. was totally non-verbal and obviously disturbed by the experiences of his short life, but the Savareses threw themselves into learning how to help him. The breakthrough for D.J. was through the controversial technique of computer-facilitated communication, in which the computer speaks the words he types. Now in early adolescence, D. J. still speaks only a few words but is an outstanding student and writes fluently, even adding his own chapter to the book.
"This is not a Disney story," Savarese honestly admits. But if the book is as riveting as the hour-long interview I heard, it is well worth reading for its insight into the role of nurture and communication in the human story and should be invaluable to parents and others working with autistic children.
Interestingly, one of this year's Newbery Honor books, Rules, reviewed here along with another Newbery winner in my post of February 18, also deals honestly with autism from the viewpoint of an older sibling.