Tag Archives: autism

Colin Fischer, by Ashley Edward Miller & Zack Stentz

Colin FischerLast weekend, David and I traveled to South Carolina to see our two moms on Mother’s Day weekend. We were also happy to see other family members, including my sister and her crew. My fourteen-year-old nephew has Asperger’s Syndrome, and although he is fascinated by meteorology and amazingly gifted in music, reading has never held much interest for him. This visit, though, John was eager to share a book with me, and my sister told me that it was the first full-length book he had ever read all the way through. Go, Dog, Go! he had done, but never a complete novel. Could there possibly be a greater commendation for a book than that? I had to read it immediately.

Colin is a teenaged boy with Asperger’s leading a fairly stereotypical Aspie life: socially isolated, good at math, keeping his food separated on his plate. He is sometimes bullied, but since he doesn’t give the bullies the satisfaction of fear and panic, he doesn’t get hurt badly. In the beginning of freshman year, a bully named Wayne dunks Colin’s head in the toilet, but later in the novel, Colin overreacts to being touched and breaks another bully’s nose. So he is not helpless, just clueless. He carries around a cheat sheet of various facial expressions, labeled with the appropriate emotion being expressed, and he writes down all of his observations in his well-worn notebook, which goes with him everywhere. His friend, Melissa, has— shall we say— matured over the summer, the evidence of which Colin points out to her in graphic terms that would earn most boys a slap. Melissa understands him, though, and leaves poor Colin to figure out why his feelings toward her have taken a very confusing turn.

One ordinary lunchtime, while one of the popular girls is passing out birthday cake in the school cafeteria, a shot rings out, and after all of the screaming and scrambling for cover settles down, Colin sees a gun covered with frosting lying on the floor. Wayne, the school bully, is immediately suspended, but Colin is convinced that Wayne is not the shooter. Emulating his hero, Sherlock Holmes, Colin uses his powers of observation and deduction to try to find the real villain before it is too late for Wayne.

Written in a combination of third-person narrative, journal entries, and footnotes, this novel reveals the inner workings of an Aspie mind with compassion and straight-up realism. There is some strong language, and an understanding of sex, though nothing happens on the page. Colin has great parents, and he loves them, but he sees them with the clarity with which one adult would see another, unrelated adult. His brother, however, is probably the biggest bully in Colin’s life, despite his parents’ efforts, and it is difficult to imagine the pain of living with someone so aggressively hateful every day. Colin deals with all of this rationally, and is sincere in trying to follow all of the rules he has learned and to adjust his communication style in order to interact with the neurotypical humans around him. His desire for justice and truth allow Colin to defend even the individuals who have given him nothing but cruelty, and that purity of purpose leads to a happier outcome than most of us would expect.

Obviously, this is a terrific book for any tween or teen who needs a hero on the spectrum, but many other kids are also facing each day as another encounter with a bully. Colin Fischer will give them courage. On the other hand, aggressive kids could learn compassion in these pages, and everybody loves a good mystery. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I read the first 125 pages of this book in my nephew’s copy, and then read the remainder in a library copy. Opinions expressed are solely my own, perhaps influenced by my John’s enthusiasm, but do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Family

The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, by Temple Grandin

ImageNo one is a more iconic spokesperson for autism research than Temple Grandin, the woman who has contributed a great deal to our understanding of the two seemingly disparate fields of autism and animal welfare. Temple was born in 1947, in a time when most autism was blamed on a mother’s neglect and the children were institutionalized. Partly because of her courageous mother, Temple eventually obtained her Ph.D. in animal science and is a university professor, along with many other activities that would exhaust most of us.

Even at the age of sixty-six, Dr. Grandin is still expanding her knowledge and understanding of autism, and as an autism activist, she is always finding ways to bring this understanding to the larger public, particularly to those of us who are neurotypical. In her latest book, The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum, Grandin presents new ideas for scientific research and even revisits some of her own opinions. I had planned to merely skim this volume, but her insights drew me in, and I ended up reading all but the most technical medical details. My review is based on my limited understanding of scientific discussions, but should encourage other laypeople to delve into new fields of discovery.

Dr. Grandin would like to see symptom-specific research, rather than just comparing autistic brains to neurotypical brains. She explains that there is much more diversity among the autistic community—hence the term “spectrum”—than has been acknowledged in the past, and opines that performing brain scans on two people who have OCD, for example, one autistic, one neurotypical, may render much more information than just comparing brain scans of random groups. If two people are math geniuses, and one is autistic and the other is not, what part of the brain makes them different from people who are not good at math, and how is that part of their brains different from or similar to one another? How about two artists? And so on. The results of such concentrated research could be groundbreaking.

Another fascinating section of the book concerns Dr. Grandin’s revision of her earlier statements that neurotypical humans think in words, while autistic people think in pictures. This is her own personal experience, and she extrapolated universally. Her thinking on this topic began to change, amazingly, when she read the comments on her earlier work, Thinking in Pictures, on Amazon! A small number of readers wrote that they thought in patterns, not in words or pictures, and this idea set Grandin off in a new direction. She began researching pattern thinking in both autistic and neurotypical people and immediately agreed that this made so much more sense of phenomena she had observed in the past. Math geniuses often think in patterns, both word thinkers (algebra) and visual thinkers (geometry), and artists may also think in patterns. One of the great differences between neurotypical and autistic thinkers in any category is the emotional element. Dr. Grandin herself said that although she could “see” like an artist, she didn’t “feel” like an artist. The chapters on pattern thinking will bring the reader exciting new insights into her own or her children’s modes of learning and expression.

Toward the end of the book, Dr. Grandin considers how autistic children and young adults can choose educational and career options that will maximize their strengths, not just compensate for their challenges. Taking into account the variety of personalities and capabilities across the spectrum, she offers resources and no-nonsense advice for mainstreaming students and steering young adults into appropriate fields. She ends with lists of careers for the various types of thinkers.

This book is highly recommended for any adult with autism, parents of autistic children, or any neurotypical person who, like me, is interested in the continuing and hopeful research into the brain disorder that affects an ever-larger segment of our communities.

Disclaimer: I read an advance reader copy of this book. My opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews