Tag Archives: autism

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Miracle in Slow Motion by Sally Wagter #Brainfluffbookblog #MiracleinSlowMotionbookrecommendation

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Today is the day when Miracle in Slow Motion by my dear friend Sally Wagter is being released. And that sentence tells you why this isn’t and cannot be a normal book review. Not only did I edit this book – I know this story from the beginning.

Sally and I went to teaching college together way back in the early 1990s, though our friendship was cemented when we found ourselves teaching in the same school – and then in the same yeargroup. She’s a talented teacher with an instinctive feel for the children in her care and not only is she a firm friend, she is also a respected colleague. Himself and I went to her wedding to Erik, and I was thrilled when she told me she was pregnant.

Tim was a beautiful baby – he’s inherited his parents’ good looks. But he cried a lot, suffering badly with colic. And my life changed one night when he was about eight weeks old, Sally turned up on the doorstep, grey-faced with exhaustion. Tim wouldn’t stop crying. So I invited her in and once she handed Tim to me, I was swept with such a deep wave of love for him, it knocked the breath from my lungs. It’s happened a handful of times in my life – when I held my own children, my grandchildren, my nephews and niece. And Tim… I paced up and down our kitchen, crooning nonsense and singing to him, gently jigging him my arms and it wasn’t long before he fell asleep.

I looked after him two days a week from the time he was four months old when Sally had to return to work, until he was three and a half when I had to stop – a decision that broke my heart. So I was right alongside during the terrible time of his autism diagnosis. And what flummoxed me was how little hope was offered for Tim’s future or any possibility that he would be able to lead an independent life. I recall sitting at our kitchen table reading a book I’d got out from the library about what we could expect. I got halfway through, put my head on my arms on the table and howled. How could this be happening? The bonny baby with the sunshine smile and infectious giggle, who loved going out and being sung to – was at two years old increasingly in the throes of screaming panic. Unreachable, he’d run around, howling and afraid – while more and more everyday incidents were triggering this response. And the book I’d turned to, written by experts, offered NOTHING in the way of hope. Worse, the professionals who came in to offer advice and work with Tim, while clearly committed and well-meaning, didn’t treat him with the gentleness a neuro-typical child of his age could expect. He needed firm ground rules, apparently – because ‘these children’ are highly controlling and manipulative…

Sally and Erik didn’t accept the situation and this book charts how they managed to help Tim, so that he is now a charming, empathetic, articulate, and musically talented young man. The fact they are remarkable people, whose love and faith in their son’s potential prevailed against the odds, is a given. Depressingly, though Tim is now eighteen, the situation for parents with children on the autistic spectrum hasn’t improved or progressed all that much since Tim’s initial diagnosis.

Books are often touted as being life-changing, however this one really has the potential to help other despairing parents desperate to help their children, but don’t know where to start. Sally decided to write this book years ago, but it’s taken a long time – because, understandably – she’s been a tad busy running Tim’s education, as well as raising his younger brother. I was honoured to be part of this project as editor and I’m delighted that it is now available here.

BLURB: Miracle in Slow Motion is an inspirational story from despair to miracles, charting a mother’s deeply emotional journey on being confronted with her son’s autism. Refusing to believe the bleak outlook forecast for him, she determined to go all-out in helping him to connect and discover his real self and potential.

Part I charts the journey up to the age of eleven, where his mother started to see hope for his future. By the age of two, he was having daily meltdowns, screaming, running away, and unable to communicate his needs; by four he was diagnosed with a severe speech, language and communication disorder; at eight his school said they could not teach him and his parents should prepare for a future of assisted working. However, at the age of eleven he was talking easily, thinking of others and becoming flexible. He was also building friendships and some of his talents were starting to emerge.

Part II charts the years from eleven to seventeen, where Tim’s social skills, academic achievements and dreams were all brought to fruition. You can find out how we did this by reading the book…

Chapter One – The Beginning

‘I feel a bit bored and in need of an adventure,’ Tim said as he sauntered into the kitchen yesterday morning.

‘Why don’t you get the bus to Worthing and wander around. Are you OK with the bus to get there?’

‘Yeah, sure.’

‘Oh, and can you try to be back by five so you can eat before the party tonight?’

‘Of course!’

As he left the house I called out, ‘Love you.’

He called back, ‘Love you forever Mum, see you later!’ and he was gone.

But it wasn’t always this way. Tim’s freedom and independence had been a long time coming…

I will begin at the beginning. Erik, my gorgeous Dutch husband, and I met in Holland and after a year and a half of dating, back and forth between countries, he came to live in England and on the day he arrived, I agreed to marry him. We would sit and talk for hours. Going to cafes and putting the world to rights felt like such a special treat with him. He was so easy to talk to and very switched on emotionally, and he seemed to get me just by looking at me. He was an amazing songwriter and a real people person. He fitted straight into my lovely circle of friends and we ended up spending many evenings discussing ‘life, the universe and everything’ around dinner party tables.

He was also funny. His spoken English was amazing but also became a source of amusement between us. On one of his first visits to England, before we were going out, a friend asked where he was staying and Erik called out to them across the pub, ‘I’m sleeping with Steve tonight!’ We all fell about laughing.

At the time, I was teaching full-time in a local school and spent many hours sitting on the floor after a long day, marking work and preparing lessons. My life was full of school concerts, shows, fairs, projects and report-writing. Erik was a social worker and had found a job in a residential school nearby. He worked with children with varying challenges and spent his time playing sport with the children and putting on talent shows in order to raise their self-esteem. We both shared a love of music. I had a music degree and he had spent years in a band and as a worship leader in his church. I was a pianist, while he was a guitar player and singer. Music, for both of us, was our emotional outlet and a huge part of our identity. Little did we know how precious this was and how soon these opportunities would be taken from us.


Friday Faceoff – When darkness falls, beauty is lit from within… #Brainfluffbookblog #FridayFaceoffFREEBIEcover

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This meme was started by Books by Proxy, whose fabulous idea was to compare UK and US book covers and decide which is we prefer. This meme is now being nurtured by Lynn’s Book Blog and this week we have been given the chance to feature whatever we like. I’ve gone for a wonderful science fiction read about an autistic young man set in the future called The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon…

 

This edition was produced by Del Rey in June 2005 and is a real contender. I love the image of the haunted-looking young man – the blurring effect of the light and the quirky positioning of the title. My main grizzle is the chatter in the bottom left of the cover which I think compromises the design, though at least it has been positioned with some thought.

 

Published in May 2004 by Ballantine Books, this Tenth Anniversary edition is another effective cover. The interlocking pieces making up the whole image, which is still off-centre creates an eye-catching, arresting effect. However, the title font is underpowered and boring, while that ugly textbox is completely out of place, especially given the strong colour draws the eye away from the otherwise muted design palette.

 

This offering, published by Ballentine Books in March 2004, is the least successful effort. The child’s windmill is evidently supposed to look as if it’s spinning at speed, but ends up looking like a poorly executed blur. This effect is emphasised in thumbnail, where the binary sequencing manages to make the whole cover look out of focus. I don’t like the limp title and author fonts, or the chatter cluttering up the design, either. A book this awesome deserves a far better cover.

 

This next cover was released in December 2010 by Hachette. I love the drama of the splinters of light flying off across the cover, while the dark purple corona against the black background looks beautiful. This cover certainly stands out from the others with the sheer visual drama. For once, both the title and author fonts are substantial enough to stand out from the design to be easily read, which surely ought to be their purpose, anyhow. This is my favourite.

 

This Polish hardback edition, released in May 2005 by ISA, is also a contender. I love the purple image of the young man with the silvered eyes, while the play of light in the background is beautiful and eye-catching. This one was so very nearly my favourite – which is yours?

 

Review of The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, translated by K.A. Yoshida and David Mitchell

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I heard this book narrated on Radio 4 and was transfixed. Normally the radio is the background for the necessary loathed household chores I have to perform – but during that week, I sat down and listened. So it was a no-brainer to get hold of the book and read it for myself. Most books – for me – provide a really enjoyable way to escape the everyday. But there are a hatful of books that are inspirational, thought-provoking and genuinely life changing. I’m a tad allergic to books which trumpet this aspect – mostly because they’re not. However, The Reason I Jump is the real article.

reason I jumpI have to declare an interest – several years ago I looked after the son of my closest friend when she had to return to work while he was still very tiny, after he became extremely distressed when left with the childminder. He settled into my arms and we bonded… I love babies. I’m good with babies. And he was a sweetheart, so cuddly and affectionate. So bright-eyed and bubbly. Initially he hit all his milestones, but then around a year old, his progress seemed to falter and he started withdrawing. And sliding backwards… Anyone who knows about autism firsthand will, doubtless, recognise the whole wretched sequence. It was devastating when he was finally diagnosed. His parents have worked tirelessly on a range of therapies and he has made marvellous progress. His mother is currently writing a book about their experiences together.

What is it like to have autism? How can we know what a person – especially a child – with autism is thinking and feeling, so that we can help them?

This remarkable book, written by Naoki Higashida when he was only thirteen, provides some answers. Severely autistic, Naoki learnt to communicate via pointing to letters on a ‘cardboard keyboard’ – and what he has to say gives an exceptional insight into an autistically-wired mind. He explains the often baffling behaviour of people with autism, invites us to share his perception of time, life, beauty and nature, and offers an unforgettable short story. Proving beyond doubt that people with autism do not lack imagination, humour or empathy. Naoki makes a heartfelt plea for our patience and compassion.

For David Mitchell, The Reason I Jump provided an invaluable insight into his own autistic son’s mind. He and his wife ,K.A. Yoshida, have translated the book in the hope that it will benefit others in the same way, and dispel some of the widely held myths about autism. For all readers, Naoki Higashida offers a rare opportunity to view the world from a fresh and fascinating perspective.

The book is structured by posing questions that Naoki answers – questions that any of us who have cared for someone with autism have yearned to ask. While David Mitchell’s foreword gives the best description of this mysterious disorder that I have ever read. Naoki’s answers are direct and passionate – that’s what reverberates through the whole book for me… The intensity of his emotion. And yet, looking at his blank face, his avoidance of eye contact, his silence – Naoki finds speech very difficult – we would assume that his emotions are all locked down and he simply doesn’t care all that much about the rest of us… That is the heartbreaking aspect of this disorder – and why this book is so vitally important.

For carers struggling to cope, the sense that an autistic sufferer is indifferent to their efforts in trying to break through is exhausting and discouraging. Exhausted and discouraged carers don’t do a good job – with the best will in the world, your bleakness imparts itself to everyone around you. Especially to the person trapped inside themselves, with no way out to show how much he needs patience and optimism. Which is why words like inspirational and life-changing really do make sense when discussing The Reason I Jump.

Though he isn’t the first person to do it, I’m still awestruck when I consider that this book was written letter by painful letter, with thirteen-year-old Naoki pointing to each one, while someone copied it all down. If autism has touched your life, you owe it to yourself to read this book. Or maybe you feel fed up with the daily doses of ugliness on the news and need evidence of just how enduring the human spirit can be when faced with immense difficulties.  Do yourself a favour, get hold of The Reason I Jump – and perhaps you will also want to jump high to reach the sky in the knowledge that you share DNA with Naoki Higashida.
10/10

Review of Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

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‘Absolutely compelling’ is Greg Bear’s verdict on the front cover. Generally I take those credits with a pinch of salt – but this time around, he is spot on. This unusual, thought-provoking near-future science fiction novel is the best thing Moon has written to date – and the lady is no slouch.

speedofdarkLou is different to ‘normal’ people. He interacts with the world in a way they do not understand. He might not see the things they see, but he also sees many things they do not. Lou is autistic.

One of his skills is an ability to find patterns in data: extraordinary, complex, beautiful patterns that not even the most powerful computers can comprehend. The company he works for has made considerable sums of money from Lou’s work. But now they want Lou to change – to become ‘normal’ like themselves. And he must face the greatest challenge of his life. To understand the speed of dark.

Moon has achieved a very difficult feat – she has managed to get right inside Lou’s head and give us an insight into someone who processes information in quite a different way, while continuing to capture our sympathy and understanding. Lou’s characterisation is masterful. The way we perceive the near future through his eyes and begin to appreciate the difficulties that he constantly has to overcome – his acute sense of smell and sensitivity to sound; his constant uncertainty as to whether he has accurately decoded the subliminal signals people give off; the way he cycles and recycles through ideas that concern him… I used to care for a little boy with autism and I found Lou completely convincing.

However as with the very best science fiction, this book is so much more than an entertaining, escapist read. This novel raises issues that are starting to smack society across the chops – issues that we should all be discussing and debating both at a personal and political level.  Of course, being the limited creatures we are, instead we obsess about the daily habits of a handful of celebrities and it falls to books like this one to raise this far more important matters. If a cure for autism does turn up, should high functioning autistic adults who are wholly capable of leading productive, independent lives consider undergoing such treatments? Especially as we’re talking about tampering with the brain…

And while Moon has selected autism as her example having raised an autistic son, this argument is already raging amongst the deaf community about cochlea implants. Many deaf people feel very threatened at the prospect of a cure that will remove them from the community in which they have grown up and with which they identify themselves – to the extent that they refuse to allow their deaf children have an implant. Others feel that deliberately preventing their children from taking advantage of a cure is being irresponsible, if not outright abusive.

I’m conscious that I’ve made this novel sound rather worthy and dull – and it’s not. Because Lou has several other issues to overcome, in addition to coping with this overarching challenge, and, besides, Moon isn’t a writer that does boring or pedestrian plots. So the result is a gripping, intelligent read that leaves you thinking about the issues it addresses long after you’ve finished it. Try it. It’s certainly one of my outstanding reads of the year – and one I’m going to continue recommending to anyone who’ll listen…
10/10