email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
12 and HoldingA Guide to Asperger SyndromeA Lethal InheritanceA Mother's Courage: Talking Back to AutismA Parent's Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning AutismA Special EducationA Toss Of The DiceA Tribe ApartA User Guide to the GF/CF Diet for Autism, Asperger Syndrome and AD/HDA Walk in the Rain With a BrainABC of Eating DisordersADD-Friendly Ways to Organize Your LifeADHD Grown UpADHD in the Schools: Assessment and Intervention StrategiesADHD NationAdolescence and Body ImageAdolescent DepressionAggression and Antisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAll Alone in the UniverseAlpha GirlsAmericaAnother PlanetAntisocial Behavior in Children and AdolescentsAsperger Syndrome and Your ChildAsperger Syndrome, Adolescence, and IdentityAsperger's and GirlsAssessment of Childhood DisordersAttention Deficit DisorderAttention-Deficit Hyperactivity DisorderAttention-Deficit/Hyperactivity DisorderAutism - The Eighth Colour of the RainbowAutism and MeAutism's False ProphetsAutistic Spectrum DisordersBad GirlBeen There, Done That? DO THIS!Before I DieBetween Two WorldsBeyond AppearanceBig Mouth & Ugly GirlBipolar ChildrenBipolar Disorder in Childhood and Early AdolescenceBipolar DisordersBipolar KidsBlackwell Handbook of Childhood Cognitive DevelopmentBody Image, Eating Disorders, and ObesityBody Image, Eating Disorders, and Obesity in YouthBoy AloneBrain-Based Therapy with Children and AdolescentsBreaking PointBreathing UnderwaterBringing Up ParentsBullying and TeasingBullying PreventionBut I Love HimCan't Eat, Won't EatCaring for a Child with AutismCatalystChild and Adolescent PsychiatryChild and Adolescent Psychological DisordersChild and Adolescent PsychopathologyChild NeuropsychologyChild Well-BeingChildren and SexualityChildren Changed by TraumaChildren with Emerald EyesChildren with Sexual Behavior ProblemsChildren, Sexuality and SexualizationChildren’s Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness City of OneCommunication Issues In Autism And Asperger SyndromeConcepts of NormalityConcise Guide to Child and Adolescent PsychiatryConquering the Beast WithinConsuming KidsContesting ChildhoodCount Us InCrackedCrossesCutCyber-Safe Kids, Cyber-Savvy TeensDamageDemystifying the Autistic ExperienceDescartes' BabyDilemmas of DesireDirtyDisconnected KidsDoing SchoolDon't Bother Me Mom--I'm Learning!Don't Pick On MeDying to Be ThinEarly Intervention Programs and PoliciesEating an ArtichokeEducating Children With AutismEight Stories UpElijah's CupEmerald City BluesEmotional and Behavioral Problems of Young ChildrenEpilepticEthical Dilemmas in PediatricsEvery Girl Tells a StoryExiting NirvanaExploiting ChildhoodEye ContactFacing BipolarFamily HistoryFast GirlsForever YoungFreaks, Geeks and Asperger SyndromeFreewillFrictionGirl CultureGirl in the MirrorGirlfightingGirlhoodGirlWiseHandbook of Evidence-Based Therapies for Children and AdolescentsHandbook of Preschool Mental HealthHealing ADDHelping Children Cope With Disasters and TerrorismHelping Hyperactive KidsHelping Parents, Youth, and Teachers Understand Medications for Behavioral and Emotional ProblemsHelping Students Overcome Depression and AnxietyHelping Teens Who CutHollow KidsHope's BoyHow Infants Know MindsHow to Keep Your Teenager Out of Trouble and What to Do If You Can'tHurry Down SunshineI Am Not Joey PigzaIdentifying Hyperactive ChildrenIf Your Adolescent Has an Eating DisorderIn the Company of CraziesIncorporating Social Goals in the ClassroomIntegrated YogaIntrusive ParentingIssues for Families, Schools and CommunitiesJake RileyJoey Pigza Loses ControlJoey Pigza Swallowed the KeyJuvenile-Onset SchizophreniaKim: Empty InsideLearning and Behavior Problems in Asperger SyndromeLearning Disorders and Disorders of the Self in Children and AdolescentsLearning Outside the Lines Let Kids Be KidsLiberation's ChildrenLife As We Know ItLisa, Bright and DarkLook Me in the EyeLoserLove and SexLove That DogMad at SchoolMaking ADD WorkMaking American BoysManicMastering Anger and AggressionMaverick MindMedicating ChildrenMind FieldsMind to MindMommy I'm Still in HereMore Than a LabelMy Flesh and BloodMyths of ChildhoodNew Hope for Children and Teens with Bipolar DisorderNew Look at ADHD: Inhibition, Time, and Self-ControlNo Child Left DifferentNo Two AlikeNon-Drug Treatments for ADHDNot Much Just Chillin'NurtureShockOdd Girl OutOdd Girl Speaks OutOne Hot SecondOne in ThirteenOphelia SpeaksOphelia's MomOur Journey Through High Functioning Autism and Asperger SyndromeOut of the WoodsOvercoming ADHDOvercoming School AnxietyParenting a Child Who Has Intense EmotionsParenting Children With ADHDParenting Your Out-Of-Control TeenagerPediatric PsychopharmacologyPediatric PsychopharmacologyPediatric PsychopharmacologyPeople with HyperactivityPhobic and Anxiety Disorders in Children and AdolescentsPINSPlease Don't Label My ChildPraising Boys WellPraising Girls WellProblem Child or Quirky Kid?Problem GirlsPsychotherapy for Children and AdolescentsPsychotherapy with Children and AdolescentsPurgeRaising a Moody ChildRaising BlazeRaising Generation RxRaising Resilient ChildrenReady or Not, Here Life ComesReclaiming Our ChildrenRedressing the EmperorReducing Adolescent RiskRemembering Our ChildhoodResilience in ChildrenRethinking ADHDReweaving the Autistic TapestryRitalin is Not the Answer Action GuideRitalin NationRunning on RitalinRunning with ScissorsRutter's Child and Adolescent PsychiatrySeeing EzraSex and the American TeenagerSex, Therapy, and KidsSexting and Young PeopleSexual Teens, Sexual MediaShort Term 12Should I Medicate My Child?SmashedSnapshots of AutismSongs Without WordsSophie Spikey Has a Very Big ProblemSpeakStaying Connected to Your TeenagerStick FigureStraight Talk about Psychiatric Medications for KidsStraight Talk about Psychological Testing for KidsStraight Talk about Your Child's Mental HealthStrange SonStudent DepressionSuicidal Behavior in Children and AdolescentsSurvival Strategies for Parenting Children with Bipolar DisorderSurviving OpheliaTaking Charge of ADHD, Revised EditionTaming the Troublesome ChildTemple GrandinThe American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook Of Child And Adolescent PsychiatryThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Bipolar ChildThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Boy Who Was Raised as a DogThe Buffalo TreeThe Bully Action GuideThe Bully, the Bullied, and the BystanderThe Burn JournalsThe Color of AbsenceThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Depressed ChildThe Developing MindThe Dragons of AutismThe Einstein SyndromeThe EpidemicThe Evolution of ChildhoodThe Explosive ChildThe Eyes of van GoghThe Fasting GirlThe Field of the DogsThe Flight of a DoveThe Hidden Gifts of the Introverted ChildThe Horse BoyThe Identity TrapThe Inner World of a Suicidal YouthThe Inside Story on Teen GirlsThe Kindness of StrangersThe Last Normal ChildThe Little MonsterThe Medicated ChildThe Myth of LazinessThe New Gay TeenagerThe Nurture AssumptionThe OASIS Guide to Asperger SyndromeThe Other ParentThe Perversion of YouthThe Philosophy of AutismThe Psychoanalytic Study of the ChildThe Real Truth About Teens and SexThe Ride TogetherThe Rise and Fall of the American TeenagerThe Science of ADHDThe Sex Lives of TeenagersThe Survival Guide for Kids With LD*The Unhappy ChildThen Again, Maybe I Won'tTherapy with ChildrenThings I Have to Tell YouThings Tom LikesThrough the Glass WallThumbsuckerTotally WiredTouching Spirit BearTrauma in the Lives of ChildrenTreating ADHD and Comorbid DisordersTreatment of Childhood DisordersTwistedUnder the Wolf, Under the DogUnhappy TeenagersUnstrange MindsWastedWe've Got IssuesWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWhat about the KidsWhat in the World Are Your Kids Doing Online?What Works for Whom?What Would Joey Do?What's Happening to My Body? Book for BoysWhat's Happening to My Body? Book for GirlsWhat's Happening to Tom?When Nothing Matters AnymoreWhen Your Child Has an Eating DisorderWhose America?Why Don't Students Like SchoolWill's ChoiceWinnicott On the ChildWorried All the TimeYou Hear MeYoung Minds in Social WorldsYoung People and Mental HealthYour Child, Bully or Victim?
When her two-year-old son Dov was first diagnosed with autism in 1994, a doctor tells Emmy Award-winning art director Portia Iversen and her husband (Hollywood producer Jonathan Shestack) to "Just hold on to each other and cry. Get on with your lives." (p. 11). This is exactly what the couple did not do. Instead, they hire a battery of therapists, try bunches of therapeutic toys and devices, and Portia Iversen learns everything she can about Autism. Finally, -- realizing that there is a need for much more research to be done on Autism -- they founded the CAN (short for Cure Autism Now) Foundation in 1995, today one of the largest nongovernmental funding resources for autism research.
In this book, Portia Iversen takes the reader through these intense years of her life: She is taking Dov from test to test, driving to therapies and special schools, she is establishing a big funding organization, talking to and visiting scientists all over the United States, she is having fights with her husband, and entertaining worries of the couple's three other children.
This personal point of view, described vividly and enabling the reader to participate in the author's private life, is a touching feature of the book. From a more scientific viewpoint, the thoughts Iversen develops on reasons and possible cures for Autism are most interesting and creative. She recounts her discussions with many leading scientists in this field (including Eric Courchesne, Michael Merzenich, and Vilayanur S. Ramachandran), developing different ideas on how the brain of a person in the autistic spectrum might differ.
But this book is not only on Portia and Dov, it is also about a very different autistic boy named Tito, and his mother Soma. Thirteen-year-old Tito Mukhopadhyay from India is able to communicate by pointing at letters on an alphabet board. As an eleven-year old, Tito had already published two books. He has been educated exclusively by his mother, Soma Mukhopadhyay, with whom he lives in rather simple circumstances in Bangalore, India. The unsettling thing about Tito could be described as the Janus-face of his life: on the one hand, he can be seen as severely autistic, even "low-functioning": He flaps and stims (self-stimulates) and rocks his body, can hardly talk, does not hold eye-contact, is extremely fascinated by repetitive movements, like the ceiling fan. On the other hand, he writes thoughtful poems, reflects on the difference between him and other people, he knows his Shakespeare, and engages in discussions about the conflict in the Middle East. He shows empathy and obviously has what cognitive science calls the "Theory of Mind": he knows that other people are minded creatures like himself.
Portia Iversen is convinced he might be "the Rosetta Stone" to understanding Autism, because he can explain how autism feels from the inside. Iversen wants to learn how Soma connected with him. The question is: If it worked with Tito, could it work with somebody else?
By invitation from CAN, Soa and Tito can come to the United States to be examined by a bunch of scientists. Iversen herselfs interviews Tito about how he feels, how he thinks, and what he remembers about his learning process -- all the while hoping to learn something about her own son who grew into a stranger to her.
In the long run, Soma succeeds in teaching Iversen's son Dov to point. Iversen, her husband, but also the reader is thrilled when learning that the almost given-up boy, unable to communicate at all, proves to be intelligent, thoughtful, even witty. He who never has spoken, about whom everybody doubts whether he understands anything at all -- he all of a sudden is able to do math, he knows the Hebraic alphabet, he can express wishes, feelings and thoughts. This indeed is a very moving part of the book, and it is understandable that Iversen feels obliged to make public the tools that lead to this success.
But this is not the happy ending of this book, in fact, there is no happy ending (until now). Despite Iversen's determination, she finds no way of unveiling the secret of Soma's approach. So the book awakes strong hopes in parents of non-verbal children, but it cannot teach the method it promotes. Soma's behavior is described over and over -- how she waves with the alphabet board, how she prompts the child, how she always sits to the child's right side -- but Strange Son is nothing less than a manual for learning this technique. Surely any parent of a non-verbal child who reads this book will desperately want to know if his or her child might be like Tito or Dov, hidden behind the covers of autism, but still intelligent and thoughtful and wanting to connect with the world. This would be a wonderful and comforting insight, but this is exactly where the book stops.
Soma's technique is difficult to generalize and to test scientifically. She herself has success in working with lots of different children (at Dov's school), but other teachers and parents experience difficulties in applying the technique. Even Tito cannot do much if his mother is not in the room. This calls for criticism and disbelief, and seems to be why the scientific community has not (yet?) engaged in understanding Soma's method. The book does not provide the layman with the means to judge it, neither.
Iversen and Soma Mukhopadhyay now have parted ways, a fact that is only hinted on in the book itself (but gets more clear when researching on the internet), exactly because the disagree on how to train and spread the technique. Soma now has her own institute in Texas. She has trademarked her method, now called the "Rapid Prompting Method", and even her name. She holds a claim to exclusive authority on this method, with which Iversen strongly disagrees. Iversen, on her side, has recently set up a "Strange-Son-Community" on the Internet as a kind of self-help-group for parents. Her goal is to promote the new form of communication as widely as possible.
In fact, both Soma and Iversen claim to be preparing a manual for the method. Soma's website disassociates her from Iverson's book, and Tito himself writes harsh comments on Iversen in different places on the internet, accusing the book Strange Son of disrespecting people from the autistic spectrum, even of name-calling, and of falsely reducing Soma's method to mere pointing. This is not quite true of the book in my view. It is emotional, also on the author's reaction to Titos behavior, but it is full of admiration for both Tito and Soma.
Where Strange Son is a compelling account of Iversen's quest to understand autism, containing a wealth of knowledge of brain research and autism, it is still unsatisfactory in my view. Parents of non-verbal children will surely be interested in this book, though it is sometimes rather lengthy. It does not use much technical language and is easily understandable. The unsatisfactory thing about it is that is not as persuasive as it is emotionally touching. It is a very personal and autobiographic account, and I think it should be very clear to the prospective reader that this book does not provide much help. What it provides are in-depth accounts of autism -- and hope.
© 2007 Miriam Gabriel
Miriam Gabriel earned a Master's degree in philosophy in Berlin, Germany. She is preparing a PhD thesis on Embodied Intersubjectivity.