Sunday, March 02, 2014

Book Review -- Speechless: Finding God's Grace in my Son's Autism

Speechless: Finding God's Grace in my Son's Autism by Sandra Peoples

To glance at the reviews, I'm in the minority, but I would probably only give it 1 or 2 stars.

The first premise you must accept when you read this book is that there are two very distinct kinds of autism. I'm not saying I don't, in fact it makes a lot of sense. Well, frankly, there's actually a wide range and that's why it's called a spectrum, so please forgive me if I simplify slightly to begin.

The first kind: exhibited as developmental delays from the start. Often diagnosed first as PDD-NOS and later Autism or a similar diagnosis. This is what Ben has.

The second kind: the child begins life seemingly typical and then at a certain point, takes a turn for the worse. You see a regression in development or mental ability. There's some argument about whether these are truly cases of Autism or some other condition altogether, such as Landau-Kleffner Syndrome, a disease often misdiagnosed as Autism. Children who suffer in this way (regardless of what you call it) often lose the ability to communicate verbally but respond well to medication and treatment and many regain lost skills. This type of scenario often leads parents to blame vaccinations for their child's autism. In cases like these, a change in diet can greatly improve if not "cure autism." This is where those "Defeat Autism Now (DAN)" doctors come in. (This is where crazy Jenny McCarthy lives, if her child even has autism.)

So the child in the book has this second kind. He has trouble with bowel movements, and a change in diet makes all the difference. And within a year, the child has rebounded. So this book is short - both in the time covered and in its size.

In it, the mom fights with doctor after doctor until she finds one that will believe her child is indeed suffering. She works on their family's diet and the family goes through the adjustments to living with a child with autism. But after one short year, it's almost as if the book has a happy ending. But families with children who have a lifelong disability (some children, diet or no, do "catch up" and lead fairly typical lives) don't have a "happily ever after" to look forward to.

The book does talk about some good things people face: the different pace at which family members come to grips (if they ever do) with what you're going through, the alienation and disappointment when you're left out of things, the strain it puts on the family and how other siblings are often short-changed. And there's also validity to making changes - we know for certain that Red 40 has a big impact on both of our children and we've cut out nearly all dyes from our children's diets (and we're being more conscious ourselves).

And an absolutely salient point: the biggest fear in the life of a special-needs parent is their own mortality. If this life, little as it is now, is going to need care for the rest of their life, what will happen to them when they die? They were looking at their son's brother, age 6, and thinking about how their little boy would someday be his responsibility.

So while the author does explore a number of topics, I felt it was too brief, too neat, and in some ways, offers the wrong kind of hope to others who might find themselves in similar situations.

Not that we shouldn't provide hope, but that we should also be real: for whatever reason, God has chosen to place a child in our lives who does not see or experience the world in the same way that most of us do. And that means, in our case, they can't comprehend threats to their own safety, they don't engage with others in the same way, and unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who will judge, exclude, ridicule and just generally not bother to become informed or stay in our lives because it's too much work. Because it is work. But our child is still a blessing.

But it's a challenge day in and day out. We've had valleys in our life and we've learned to trust in God because we've seen the other side, we've seen the mountain tops. But here's a case where it's like a valley with what feels like a much lower likelihood that a mountain (as we've experienced them before) is the natural destination.


Speechless: Finding God's Grace in My Son's Autism (Amazon.com)
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