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Review: The Uncharted Path

  • Posted on November 25, 2011 at 12:00 PM

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg’s book, The Uncharted Path: My Journey with Late-Diagnosed Autism, is a memoir detailing Rachel’s journey of self-discovery as per her diagnosis of autism at age fifty. This is a self-published book available in soft cover and e-book formats. The majority of the book is text written in the same style as Rachel’s blog, Journeys with Autism, but there are also illustrations.

Rachel’s experience of self-discovery and self-acceptance makes for a poignant tale. In this book, readers will travel with her through an abusive childhood into adulthood and parenthood, and finally to her discovery of autism, her discovery of self and her discovery of acceptance. Rachel paints herself as a determined achiever in early adulthood, taking on the tasks of career, marriage and parenthood with a serious energy while still struggling with experiences only clarified by her new-found understanding of autism. As she reaches her limits, she depicts her burn-out in vivid detail, wrenching herself and her readers away from the life she had to a life of drastic limits. Then, slowly, painfully, she comes to terms with those limits while also pushing herself forward—not to do more than she can, but to be accepted in a society that does not yet understand. As a memoir, her story is simply told, but beautifully written—it is approachable, understandable and organized, with a hint of elegance showing through her love for words.

More than simply detailing these experiences, Rachel reflects on them, she expounds on their significance to her and she encapsulates her discoveries in a way easily shared with and translated for others. In the course of telling her story and trying to share the meaning she found, Rachel has created a memoir that’s also an act of advocacy. In retrospect, Rachel describes how her life was an autistic life all along, even when she knew nothing about autism. She shows the struggles she’s faced, knowing that others face similar struggles. From bullies in childhood to the confusion of the adult social environment, from the societal conviction of her brokenness to the discovery of her deficits as strengths, she counters the general awareness surrounding autism and challenges many preconceived notions held by the general population. For those active in the autistic adult communities available online, these portions of the text will seem straightforward and well-written. For others, these portions of the text will be revelatory. Rachel’s journey through her uncharted path won’t convince everyone that autism isn’t a tragedy—that autism itself does not have to be—but it is a successful work of advocacy, because Rachel makes her point honestly and effectively, sure to reach those who are truly willing to listen.

Rachel’s writing is beautiful and vivid, capturing telling moments and showing them to readers in the sense of that moment, but also expounding on them in a big-picture context. This combination of showing and telling makes for a moving memoir that is also a work of activism and advocacy.

Readers who want to understand the autistic experience will get a very detailed understanding of Rachel’s experience, which is only one experience but also provides insights into the experiences of those who are less able to communicate for themselves. Readers who are interested in understanding the self-advocacy movement and the need for advocates and allies will also benefit from Rachel’s cogent arguments in favor of acceptance, accommodation and understanding. Finally, readers who enjoy the memoir genre will find Rachel’s soothing and articulate voice, her commitment to organization and her skill with words a welcome relief from some of the poorly executed works available on autism. Her story is a captivating tale that will widen readers’ understanding and experience, even if it does not change their minds. That said, no book is perfect and while Rachel’s book ends where it does for good reasons, this book definitely needs a sequel. Luckily, it has one.