If you are interested in learning more about other people’s experiences with difference and disability, consider the following books. I’ve confined my suggestions to narratives including memoir and fiction. I’ve not skirted away from books that may arouse strong feelings, both positive and negative, in the reader. Hopefully, whether you condone or condemn the language and perspectives contained here, you will think more critically about difference. Let us know what you think!
The Reason I Jump, Naoki Higashida (Random House, 2013). A riveting account of life from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old Japanese boy with autism. Aided by a communication system devised by his mother, Higashida, who is virtually non-verbal, is able to illuminate a hidden world as well as create an identity for himself as an artist and writer. The cross-cultural element in this book reminds us that we are often extremely similar when it comes to coping with difference.
John Elder Robison, Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s (Three Rivers Press, 2008). Robison, the older brother of Running with Scissors’s Augusten Burroughs, always knew he was different in some way, but life with a violent, alcoholic father and an unstable mother made for a late diagnosis (at age forty) and failure in life until he found his place in an environment full of different people. Robison’s distinctive narrative voice helps descriptions of a life building soundsystems for rock bands like KISS resonate particularly with pop culture fans.
Temple Grandin,Thinking in Pictures: My Life With Autism (Vintage, 2006). The engrossing story of a gifted animal behavior scientist brought Grandin to mainstream prominence by providing a window into the viewpoint of a person with autism. This is one of her many accomplished works. If you are interested in sharing her story with your family, try Sy Montgomery’s all-ages book Temple Grandin: The Girl Who Loved Cows, Embraced Autism, and Changed the World (Houghton Mifflin, 2012).
Quinn Bradlee, A Different Life: Growing Up Disabled and Other Adventures (Public Affairs, 2009). Bradlee grew up priviledged but often overshadowed by his parents, journalism titans Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee. His VCFS (velo-cardial facial syndrome) comes with a host of challenges: heart problems, migraines, seizures, and learning difficulties. Now a documentary filmmaker, Bradlee writes frankly and unflinchingly about his journey (read: not for kids).
Kim Edwards, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter (Penguin, 2006). A father who is surprised by the birth of a daughter with Down syndrome makes a drastic decision that changes his family forever. I found this novel moving and lyrical. Our Ms. Katherine found it infuriating.
Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark (Easton Press, 2002). The Hugo and Nebula Award-winning Moon was inspired by her own son (who has autism) to tell this story of Lou, a young man with autism who is pressured by his employer to participate in clinical trials for their “cure” for autism. Moon builds an attractive, likeable character with a sensitive, believable voice. The novel explores the same issues embodied in the current Autism Stands/Autism Speaks divide in ways that reflect their complexity.
Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (Summit Books, 1985). Neurologist and music theorist Sacks, who is still going strong at eighty, understands neurological difference firsthand: he has prosopagnosia, or face-blindness – the inability to make sense of or remember faces, even those of people he knows well. This book is an oldie but goodie: a series of perceptive case studies of people with extreme cognitive differences. Less well-known but equally engaging book is his first book, Migraine (Vintage, 1970, revised 1992). Migraines are not just headaches but neurological events, and not much has changed in understanding them since 1970, as little money can be gained from their cure.
Michael Berube, Life As We Know It: A Father, A Family, and an Exceptional Child (Vintage, 1998). This moving memoir about a father’s experience parenting a child with Down syndrome is also a rigorous and compelling indictment of the United States educational system and of cultural norms surrounding individuals with developmental delays. Not everyone’s cup of tea – some have criticized what they see as a rant from a self-centered dad. A similarly affecting memoir with softer edges would be Jennifer Graf Gronenberg’s A Road Map to Holland (NAL Trade, 2008).
Michele Washington, The Mother of NFL Veteran Robert Tate – Breaking All Barriers: How a Teen Mom Took Her Son from Dyslexia to the NFL (CreateSpace, 2011) and Robert Tate, Former NFL Robert Tate Reveals How He Made It from Little League to the NFL: Overcoming His Secret Battle with Dyslexia (Robert Tate, 2011). What these two companion pieces lack in narrative skill is trumped by passion and loving sentiment. After giving birth at fifteen, Washington succeeded (with the help of supportive family) in providing a stable and loving home and a solid education for her son. After a solid career in the NFL, Tate now works as a motivational speaker for teens and adults. The books underscore the importance of considering the complex interplay among race, class, and neurological difference, not to mention the lack of diversity in popular disability narratives.
Pano Rodis, et.al., Learning Disabilities and Life Stories (Pearson, 2000). Our Ms. Emily Swindall recommends this anthology, which pairs a series of personal reflections with five commentaries by various educational psychologists. This book is both personal and scholarly; the result is an intimate look at the intertwining between learning difference and culture.
Do you have any books you would add to this list?
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Cloverleaf’s involvement in the community is just one of the many things I love about Cloverleaf. For instance, we take the students hiking every Wednesday. We believe in taking our learning out and about!
In December, we reached out to an assisted living facility in our community to see if they were interested in building a relationship between our students and their residents. We started off by sending them hand-made snowflakes with accompanying poems. In March, we will visit their facility to perform our Spring Concert. Hopefully, by March, all of the glitter will finally be off the floors and out of my hair!
In Science last quarter, students learned about fossils. What better place to see real fossils and make a community connection than The Fernbank Museum? We spent a wonderful afternoon exploring the museum and extending our learning.
Where do you like to take your children or students to learn out in the community?
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