Monday, May 9, 2011

Book Review:: The Anti-Romantic Child

Priscilla Gilman's childhood was idyllic. She never wanted for anything and she and her sister spent hours lost in the world of books or creative imaginative play. For her, childhood was paradise.

As the time neared for Priscilla to have her first child, a boy she would name Benji, she had a lot of romantic notions and expectations for his childhood. But as months passed, she soon realized that Benji was different: his fine and gross motor skills were always a bit off, he seemed to have an abnormal fascination with letters and numbers and he was reading fluently by the time he was two. On the one hand, Priscilla and her husband saw all of this as just signs of Benji's brilliance since they themselves were steeped in the world of academia at Yale, but when they attempted to enroll Benji in pre-school, they soon realized how different he truly was.

Eventually, Benji not only was diagnosed as having hyperlexia-which some believe to be the neurological opposite of dyslexia-but also as having abnormalities with his sense of touch, sense of movement, and sense of position processing systems. He had a speech disorder, sensory integration dysfunction, and motor delays. He needed speech therapy, occupational therapy, sensory integration therapy, and physical therapy. The Anti-Romantic Child documents the years Priscilla and her husband spent trying to understand Benji and get him the treatments and education that he deserved.

I won this book through Goodreads (which is where I seem to be getting a lot of my books lately-yay for free books!) and I have to admit that I didn't expect to like it. Lately I've grown tired of memoirs and disappointed with what I see as the silly premises and poor writing contained in them. (Just Kids would be an exception to this.) But I loved this book. Priscilla Gilman is a phenomenal writer and the way she writes about her son is so heartfelt and honest. She intertwines her tales of tirelessly advocating for her son with snippets of poetry by Wordsworth (she's a scholar of the poet) but the writing never once gets too flowery or pretentious. She's simply writing what she feels in the best way that she knows how.

Another thing I loved about Priscilla is that although she comes from what I consider to be extreme privilege (wealthy New York lifestyle, two parents in somewhat high profile literary fields, etc.) she never comes across as seeming to have a sense of entitlement. She just wants for her son what anyone would want, and she herself puts in a great deal of legwork to get it. She takes him to numerous weekly classes, therapies, and meetings. While Benji was in speech therapy she kept speech journals of everything he said and in what context, and she'd often spend hours at night composing emails to Benji's teachers in attempts to reach agreements on the best way to teach him. All of this eventually takes its toll on Gilman's marriage, which she touches on near the end of the book, but never in any kind of accusatory way and throughout the book she really does a great job of staying focused on the topic-Benji.

I would highly recommend this book to just about anyone (it was definitely that good), but especially to someone who closely knows a child who has a personality that could be placed somewhere on the Autism spectrum.

10 comments:

~ The Jolly Bee ~ said...

I've heard of this....Did she do an interview on NPR, I wonder? Little reminders like this make me feel so fortunate and appreciative.

Tammie said...

jodi: she may have. the book was just recently published and i think shes been doing the rounds.

just me said...

have a neice that has aspbergers, sounds like might be interesting. She was one who would scream in restaraunts while covering her ears not understanding that her screaming was adding to the noise! Her parents didn't admit it was autism until her kindergarten teacher insisted she be tested. what she could probably deal with if she could have started the incredible therapy she is receiving now. another great book is called "Expecting Adam" by just completely went blank on her name! Martha Beck, just had to make this old brain work a little bit! Thanks for the suggestion going to check it out tonight after kidlets in bed.

Daphne said...

This sounds really interesting. I know a few people with kids on the autism spectrum, including my nephew-in-law (who has grown out of it somewhat)

Mandy said...

tammie, i'll definitely be reading this. hadn't heard of it so thanks for the review.

sitting on the mood swing at the playground said...

Thanks for the tip on this book. I hadn't heard of it. I recently won a book on Goodreads and was so excited when the packaged arrived--a free book, a free book!

Mom Taxi Julie said...

Sounds interesting! How did you win it on Goodreads? I put all my books in their system to keep track of what I've read.

Dani said...

I need to read this.

The Boy is not autistic, but as a parent dealing (read: struggling) with a child who has a severe learning disability, this sounds like it would hit close to home.

I've been trying to post about all the shit that's been in my head this year about this very topic. But I think I am going to have to wait until school is over. Right now I am just a little too emotional over the whole thing.

It's really fucking hard, let me tell ya. But I know, I don't need to. ;-)

Carol Jines said...

I follow Priscilla Gilman on Facebook and she asked for comments on the book (I haven't read it yet) so I shared a link to your review (hope that's ok!) If you check her out on facebook you can see her response to it, she was quite happy with the review!

Tammie said...

carol: of course thats ok! and thank you!!!