The power of memoir

We are a family of readers. Joyous, zealous, happy readers. One of the early indicators of Ryan’s AS was his ability to read at a shockingly early age. We now know he was reading at a highly advanced level by the time he was three years old and he continues to amaze us with his vocabulary and his ability to decode language.

I never get tired of telling funny stories about his eccentricities and one of my favourites happened when he started preschool. The first week he asked his teacher: “Ms. Pat, what’s a breathing diff?” “Pardon me, Ryan?” “A breathing diff?” he repeated pointing to a first aid sign tacked up on the wall for parents. “Oh, that stands for breathing difficulty!” The teacher looked at me apologetically and said “I’ve never had to worry about anyone reading that before!”

Look Me in the Eye was the first memoir we read about AS

But I digress. Because I’m such an avid reader, I’ve spent a lot of time in and out of books since Ryan’s diagnosis almost two years ago. The behavioural stuff has been good and so have some of the guides, but my favourite to date is memoir.

It is in memoir where I meet potential versions of my son later in life. Iwatch him try to learn to drive. Meet a partner. Break up with said partner. Get and lose jobs. In short, I watch him find his own way in the world.

Of course, I have no idea what Ryan’s life will be like when he gets older, but I take such comfort in listening to and watching these other souls growing up. They whisper: “Don’t worry. It all works out in one way or another.” And that eases my anxiety just a little bit and reminds me we’re all trying to find our way.

The first memoir I read was Look My In the Eye, by John Elder Robison, a skillfully written story by a man who wasn’t diagnosed with Asperger’s until much later in life. His younger brother, Augusten Burroughs, is also an accomplished author.

I found a few sections in this book extremely dark and disturbing – around that teenaged time in life where it seems as though things could ‘work out okay’ or come crashing down around us. But as John grows up, the tale evens out and we learn about how the author’s AS traits land him in a fascinating career and fulfilling life. He has a second book coming out in March 2011 called Be Different that I’m definitely adding to my reading list.

My second memoir excursion was Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammett. Tammett was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at 25, but is also an autistic savant with miraculous numeric abilities. Tammett’s story is an extraordinary journey: he moves to Lithuania as a young man, he sets a world record for reciting the number Pi to 22,000 decimal places, he learns Icelandic in a week as part of a documentary series. But through it all he shares an intimate look at the non-neurotypical world and it’s riveting.

I’ve read a lot more memoir, but it’s getting late and I’ll save them for other posts at another time.

What are your favourite memoirists and have you seen the HBO Temple Grandin flick? It’s worth it!


Filed under Books & articles, Non-fiction

4 responses to “The power of memoir

  1. I’m glad you liked my story, and I hope you enjoy Be Different as well. Did you know I have an active blog community here, and I’m on Facebook too? Lots of parents like you talk back and forth through my FB page, JohnElderRobison

    Best wishes

    • Wow. This is a pretty exciting first comment for my new little blog! I haven’t even told anyone about it yet.

      Thanks so much for getting in touch. As I mentioned, your book was one of the first we read after my son was diagnosed and it was a real touchstone for us. You gave us a window into how he might be experiencing the world and how the things he is passionate about in life may help him find his way – just like the rest of us.

      Can’t wait to read the next book…the title alone is very affirming. That’s the best thing that Ryan has taught me…that we need to make more room in our world for ‘being different.’ Keep writing.

  2. I found “Look me in the eye” fascinating.
    I’m so excited to see your blog up and know it will be a tremendous support to other families out there. Love you, Louise

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