By: Regina McMenamin Lloyd
Her teen aged son, J* has an autism spectrum disorder and is blind. It is no secret I think about this boy and the things he loves. J* loves construction sounds. He loves all things with a motor. Wanna make this kid's day? Let him sit on and turn on a tractor! When he sees me he asks what I did on the weekend of October 3rd. I have no idea but he remembers that he started a tractor with me that day.
It was late one evening and I was visiting one of my dearest friends. Her family is the kind that is always ready for a pop-over visitor. It was my first night-without-kids in quite a while. So what do I do? Go spend time with my friend and her kids!
I bring out my phone and say "J* do you listen to books on audible." He tells me he has but he doesn't do it often. He wants to know if I know books for people like him. "For the Blind?" I ask. He tells me he wants to read books about kids who like things the way he loves tractors. And it hit me, the specificity of the object of adoration matters less than the way in which the child loves it. It makes sense, musicians, writers, artists we all feel with such intensity in a way that the norm is afraid of tapping into.
Do they ever actually say Autism?
Immediately, I think of the latest book I've read with an Autistic character. In Gennifer Choldenko's Al Capone Does My Shirts, Moose Flanigan's sister Natalie has what appears to be an Autism Spectrum Disorder. She is attached to her buttons, is amazing with numbers. In the back matter material to the story, Choldenko does say it was the intent that Natalie have Autism, but that it wouldn't have been diagnosed as such in 1935.
Is this a story for J*, I don't think so. While this would be a great story for the sibling dealing with Autism, it can not fill this particular niche of the autistic child.
- How high or low on the spectrum is the child? That would determine their acceptance of the characters. In J*'s case, Natalie is much lower on the spectrum and I'm not sure he'd relate
- If the autistic child reads this book is it placing the spelled out unfair burden Natalie is to her family onto that child?
Then I remember one of my favorite characters, T.S. in The Selected Works of T.S.Spivet, by Reif Larsen. I love the idea of this story on so many levels. It is a 12 year old boy on an intellectual quest. He is intellectual, yet stunted by his inability to comprehend human emotions. He feels emotions, he just can't translate them.
The story is loaded with autistic tendencies. T.S. is a mapper like his scientist mother but does not have a relationship with most people. He is a man of science, and cartography.
The format is brilliant, because it shows the rigidity with which this character thinks as if T.S. mannerisms are very much like the scientific style diagram laden pages. I don't know why it isn't marketed as a Young Adult novel but rather and adult. It is about a 12 year old, in active 12 year old voice, rather than a reminiscent flashback on childhood. It is a clear Hero's Journey with the missing element of the Goddess, because there is no romantic element within the story.
T.S. is spelled out as intellectually remarkable rather than just "Different."
The Big Questions
- Am I supporting a writer who would not be otherwise heard?
- Is there a child who needs their writing?