I received an unexpected package a while back. One day I went into class and a box was waiting for me, care of my graduate school advisor. Inside were two books and a card. Apparently, my advisor had talked with a former student and I came up in the conversation. The former student, who is also the mother of a child with autism, sent me two collections in which her writing on her experiences raising a child with autism had appeared.
A Cup of Comfort for Parents of Children with Autism, edited by Colleen Sell, and published in 2007, was one of the two books. Mostly, the writer was trying to make a connection—and she succeeded. I’m reviewing the book because it’s just part of what I do.
First, though, I must caution my readers. I don’t review a whole lot of memoirs and have yet to review an essay collection on this site, mostly because I avoid them. Early on in this beautiful mess, I received (and purchased) many memoirs. Most of the stories were dark, degrading, desperate attempts to find a cure for their child’s autism—some even claiming to have succeeded. I got jaded on memoirs like that pretty fast.
So, when making any kind of recommendation, especially when a book promises “Stories of Hope and Everyday Success,” part of what I’m looking for is a break from this effort to capitalize on the darkest possible view of autism. I strongly prefer books that challenge the preconceived notion that autism is some horrible thing that is done to unwitting families—a malignant force. In my experience, prejudice and stigma is the much stronger, much more pervasive malignant force.
I started with the writer’s story, of course, and responded to her. (You can find Leaving Literalville on page 176, and it’s a very good essay, highly recommended.) I have since gone back and read the whole thing.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well the promise of this book was fulfilled. Most of the stories were written by parents who had come to see the value and worth of their children, and had either always cherished them just as they were or had come to do so. Of course, there were a painful few who boldly claimed they still needed to cure their children—and that seems to rather discredit their claims of acceptance and value, but, then again, it’s impossible to know whether these parents have thought about what that cure might cost their child.
What should a reader get from such a book? Tears, smiles, laughter, joy, a sense of renewed hope and a feeling that accomplishments are possible. Yup—it’s all there. Most of the stories were fresh and compelling. A few dragged. A few seemed like the writers’ were trying to force what they really wanted to write about within the confines of the anthology’s objective. But, mostly, I would say the book was a success. A few stories surprised me. Others made me wonder. Overall, I found most of them familiar and uplifting—or at least not depressing.
One of the things I really and truly love about this piece, however, is the wide selection of points of view represented. It seems most of us gravitate towards those we agree with, and there are some pretty compelling reasons for that, but in order to grow we need to be challenged. We need to look at things through different eyes, at least for a while. That, of course, doesn’t mean we don’t have to like what we see. We don’t have to get comfortable in that point of view. But the people we disagree with deserve to be heard, too, and maybe if we all did more listening (or, in this case, reading) we’d be able to work together much, much better. Imagine what we could accomplish then!