Book Review - A Father’s Memoir about raising a Gifted Child with Autism
When Daniel got a teaching position at Cornell they moved to upstate New York with Nannette taking over the daily duties pertaining to Alex. They noticed that Alex did not take any interest in other children when at the playground and had difficulty at the store. Since this was their first child when Simon was born a few years later they realized with regret how much slower Alex was with milestones and the lack of social skills.
Daniel shares the relief once the diagnosis was made and the steps taken to get there, including the time a preschool teacher accused them of being abusive parents. There are a few choice words at this point in the book when Daniel incites the rage he was feeling from this attack and how he and Nannette focused on getting some assistance with Alex instead of getting on the defensive. For most families that have a child on the Autism Spectrum this is a predicament that happens often, and due to the lack of awareness for those who work with small children. Many of his colleagues and family members thought they were spoiling Alex, but later they learned how additional measures need to be put in place to help the autistic child fit in with society and how things work.
For many years Alex had to be the one who opened the door and this led to many rages and meltdowns. Daniel offers insight into how they prepared for trips to the store, as well as the exhausting hours they both kept in making sure Alex was entertained and stimulated. Since math was a major for Daniel he started teaching Alex before he entered school. This was the key to their relationship because it enabled Daniel to carry on conversations with his son and learn more about how literal his thinking was.
The light turned on when Simon surpassed Alex socially and Daniel realized how long it took for him to seek outside help with Alex. The book explores the sibling relationship and how the parents tried to engage them in play activities. At times it seemed that Simon was jealous of the attention that Alex received due to his excellence in math, but they seemed to be treated equally. There was a front-page story published in The Washington Post, thanks to a colleague who told a friend about Alex after listening to many stories about Alex and his math achievements.
Daniel wrote about growing up with a sister who had a disability, but never received a formal diagnosis for her handicap. When Alex was diagnosed Daniel was able to reach out to his mother and learn from her experience. Alex received speech therapy early on with the therapist assisting him in social situations, guiding him in the art of the conversation and how to relate to others.
There is no mention about vaccinations or questioning why Alex is the way he is. Time is spent trying to get inside the world of Alex and how he thinks. The book is written in a style that is easy to comprehend for anyone who lacks information on autism. Daniel mentions a few books that helped him early on and how he joined some internet groups and the guidance he received from adults with autism. The family accepted autism and made adjustments to accommodate Alex so that he could thrive being himself. Daniel and his family grew up in New Jersey, which is where I was raised as well and have a sibling with a disability.
The speech therapy was the extent of therapy discussed in A Different Kind of Boy: A Father’s Memoir About Raising a Gifted Child with Autism. Alex is considered high functioning on the spectrum and possibly savant in math skills. It was refreshing to read a book where the family was not trying to find a cure or change their child with various forms of therapies. Instead they enabled Alex to get along and pursued groups for children who were adept at math and tried to match him with children who had the same interests.
Most of the teachers understood Alex, the first few years he had an aide, but he only needed one on occasion, like when the teacher would not know the answer to his question or the class was too loud or the test was confusing. These incidents would cause Alex to have a meltdown, confusing him because he could not keep up with all the rules on how to behave in class and when to raise your hand. Alex usually had his hand raised when the teacher would state to do so when you have the answer to her question, but when the teacher would call on someone who did not have a hand raised this made no sense to Alex.
Although Alex was in the same elementary school for several years with the same kids in many classes he could not distinguish them and remember their names. After three years he finally referred to a classmate with his name and this made the kid very happy to have Alex use his name.
A Different Kind of Boy: A Father’s Memoir About Raising a Gifted Child with Autism covers the time from when Alex was born to fifth grade. At this point in time Daniel is picturing life when his sons have moved on to college and their own lives. This was something he was not sure would happen, but now he believes that Alex will have success in life. Family relationships are mentioned and how they handled the loss of Daniel’s mother.
I felt the second half of A Different Kind of Boy: A Father’s Memoir About Raising a Gifted Child with Autism flowed smoother than the first. The beginning chapters I had to go back and see what age Alex was at the time since I was confused with the timeframe, due to chapters being out of sequence. Every so often when reading a chapter the author would refer back to his childhood or a few years back with either Alex or Simon.
The author does not gloss over any issues and gives honest feedback on how he felt at pivotal times in his life and the anxiety about school, plus finding friends for Alex. He finished this book after his mother passed on and pursued his acting career further.
There are many mathematical examples within the pages of A Different Kind of Boy: A Father’s Memoir About Raising a Gifted Child with Autism that were over my head and of no real interest to me. The family took a vacation to Europe after attending a Bat Mitzvah for his niece, but did not go into much detail on how this affected Alex and what the preparations were like.
Since I plan on writing a book on my experience as a single parent of two autistic kids I am reading all the books on this topic. I liked the writing style of A Different Kind of Boy: A Father’s Memoir About Raising a Gifted Child with Autism. This helped me reflect back on the time before the diagnosis and reminded me of things I had overlooked. I gained some perspective on where to go with my book.
This book is perfectly suited for anyone who wants to know more about living with a child who is autistic and would be beneficial to family members who have someone on the Autism Spectrum and may live out of town or in another state. This will help parents know what struggles other families have gone through and give guidance on how to navigate the system to enable your child to thrive in their surroundings.
Previously published on Epinions
It is nice to read a book from the Father's Perspective - another one I am currently perusing and worth noting is Running With Walker - A Memoir by Robert Hughes. I recommend giving these books to the Father's of children with autism as a holiday gift. It will help them deal with the diagnosis and gain insight from one of their own.
The difference between both books is that A Different Kind of Boy: A Father’s Memoir About Raising a Gifted Child with Autism does not have any photographs. I would have liked to see some photographs span the years. Running with Walker - A Memoir does have photographs.
A Different Kind of Boy: A Father’s Memoir About Raising a Gifted Child with Autism is available at Amazon.
Running With Walker - A Memoir is available at Amazon
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