A Child’s Journey out of Autism, by Leeann Whiffen
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Inc.
Publication Date: March 1, 2009
Format: Trade Paperback ARC, 320 pages
When Leeann and Sean Whiffen bring home their baby boy, Clay, they think that they have it made. Clay is a quiet and happy baby, in contrast to his older brother Drew who was often colicky and cried often. Leeann is thrilled to have two boys who will bond and grow up closely together. All that changes after a month when Clay is beset with a host of illnesses and recurring infections requiring frequent rounds of various antibiotics. By the time Clay is two years old, his mother has finally come to accept a diagnosis on the autism spectrum even though she will not be able to say it out loud for over a year. She and her family begin a costly fight against time to save Clay from slipping permanently into the grips of autism.
Once I started this book, it was hard for me to put it down, and I finished it in just a few short sittings. As much as Leeann was committed to helping her son get the best possible treatment for his condition, she now also seems to be committed to sharing her experience so that no other family in this position has to think that they are without hope, or that they are alone. She tells the truth of her story and it is much richer for her expressing her frustrations, doubts, hopes and insecurities in a straightforward manner. I was totally drawn in by the details that she used in explaining the way that Clay’s symptoms manifested. She describes the bowel and digestive troubles, the incessant crying, the way that Clay regressed in his communication skills and began avoiding eye contact with adults. She even explains her less than charitable behavior toward people who tried to offer her help or suggested a diagnosis that she was not ready to hear.
While there was no identifiable definitive cause that could be pinpointed as the reason fr Clay developing autism, Leeann did exhaustive research and read countless studies, many of which she mentions and explains how they might be helpful in treating Clay. I learned along with her as she read the studies and figured out which treatments she wanted to pursue. The relationship that she has with her husband is very touching and I was pleasantly surprised at the way that they were able to work together and sustain their marriage when the pressure was so great.
Autism has been such a mysterious disease, so it was interesting for me to be able to understand it and the challenges that it can present to families in terms of the severe emotional and financial burden. I had no idea that the odd were so high (affecting 1 in 150 children). One of the areas where I most appreciated Leeann’s honest was when she talks about the relationship that she has with Clay’s first pediatrician and the way he dismissed her concerns and treated her like a child, and she accepted his information as correct without questioning it. She learns to question the information that she receives, and that is great to see because so many people struggle with the doctor/patient relationship.
This was a touching memoir that worked for me on a lot of levels. Whether or not you have someone with autism in your family, know someone who has it or are just curious there is a lot of information that is presented in a way that is compelling and readily absorbed.
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