Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: The Anti-Romantic Child

There are a lot of books written by mothers about raising their special needs children, some excellent, some not so great, most somewhere in the middle. The Anti-Romantic Child, A Story of Unexpected Joy , by Priscilla Gilman is both beautifully written, inspiring and dramatic, and also a bit different than the other books in this genre. That’s due to the author, who is not only a mother, but also a former professor of English literature. Gilman weaves together her interest in Wordworth’s poetry with her experiences in raising her special needs son in a way that brings deeper meaning to both.

The Anti-Romantic Child is about Gilman’s son Benj, a boy exhibiting hyperlexia, as well as autistic characteristics, such as rigid behaviors and deficits in social skills. Hyperlexia is characterized by interest in words and exceptional reading skills along with difficulty with reading comprehension. Hyperlexic individuals frequently have social problems and other developmental delays. Gilman carefully discusses the unusual issues her son has, such as sensory sensitivities, and a tendency toward OCD and rigid behavior, without ever putting him into a labelled box.

What makes Gilman’s book so fascinating is how she uses the abstract and ambiguous natures of poetry to further her own understanding of her son’s development. Because Gilman was a literature professor, she has a skill in presenting the poetry in a way that enhances the understanding of both the developmental issues and the poetry. Since I was trained as an engineer, with MIT’s minimal literature requirements, I’ve rarely had that experience.

Like all the mother/authors I’ve read, Gilman has great dreams for her son, and fights to help him attain them. The difference in this book is the eloquence of how she expresses these dreams for Benj:

“That he be seen as whole against the sky. That he not suffer beyond his and my capacity to bear it. That he be allowed to enjoy the pleasures of 'his own private nook' and come out of that nook for joyful engagement with others. That he always hold on to his visionary gleam, his bright radiance.”

This book has a bright radiance all its own.

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