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conventional books and unusual books. This one definitely comes in the second
category. There has also been a rash of books about what it is like living with
someone in the family who has autism. This one stands out for its imaginative
The authors, brother and sister, have joined forces to describe nearly
fifty years of living with an older autistic brother -- David. A fourth
sibling, Michael, also appears in the story. The authors have chosen an
episodic approach, homing in on various incidents in the family's life
especially turning points in David's care. These episodes are either written up
by Judy or they are illustrated by chapters consisting entirely of cartoon
strips drawn by Paul. Along the way, not only do they chart the major changes
in David's life but they also paint a vivid picture of the life of a very
caring family over the span of three generations. There is the maternal
grandfather, one of the top surgeons of his day, facing old age and increasing
ill health with great dignity; there is the aunt, profoundly retarded and
physically handicapped from birth; later in the book the father too suffers from
failing health. At the end of the book only the mother, a saintly character,
and the four children are left alive although a new generation has been born
about whom we learn a little. We also learn about some of their friends and
neighbors who seem to be as caring as the Karasiks. As a contrast we also have
a cameo of a very uncaring night nurse.
Autism comes in a spectrum of forms. David is capable of being more
sociable than some autistic people but he shares the trait of living vividly in
a world of his own. Some people would label him as being low in intelligence
but in his own way he is very clever with a prodigious memory and a capacity
for re-enacting films and television programs. His emotional development has
been affected by his condition: he can be quite affable but when he gets
frustrated he can also become violent and is difficult to restrain. The most
informative parts of the book, at least informative concerning David's care,
are the sections about his placement in various schemes. Some of these were day
programs while others were long-term residential placements such as his
nine-month stay at a fairy tale place in the countryside called Camphill. David
finally failed to fit into this almost idyllic establishment because his own
rigid pattern of behavior, driven by his internal world, would not allow him to
align his routine with Camphill's routine. This led to monthly violent
confrontations and eventually his enforced departure. The saddest episode,
however, is his stay at a place called Brook Farm that at first also seemed
idyllic until the injuries started. Eventually Brook Farm was closed down after
a spate of physical and sexual abuse cases hit the headlines, five staff were
arrested and it was discovered that the owners had been papering over the
cracks and doing nothing about the problem for a long time. Happily, the book
ends with David in a successful placement within a programmed designed only for
people with autism.
This biography of a family and especially the autistic brother is a moving
and imaginative piece of writing covering almost half a century and drawing the
reader into their innermost feelings. The combination of written and cartoon
chapters works well in quite an unexpected way. This book gives a poignant
insight into a very ordinary problem as experienced by an extraordinary family
and their friends. This book should be on the reading list of anyone wanting to
understand how a family can cope with having an autistic sufferer in its midst.
© 2005 Kevin M. Purday
Kevin M. Purday is Head of the Cambridge International High School in Jordan and recently completed the Philosophy & Ethics of Mental Health course in the Philosophy Dept. at the University of Warwick.
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