Posts Tagged ‘Asperger’s’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Martha S’s Picks

December 29, 2014

I enjoy reading realistic fiction, with some humor thrown in from time to time, and and occasional work of nonfiction.  These are my favorites books discovered this year, but published prior to 2014:

LookawLookaway, Lookawayay, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
Meet the Johnstons: Jerene and Duke are the heads of a socially prominent, highly dysfunctional Charlotte family. Duke is an ardent Civil War reenactor; Jerene is the manager of the Jarvis trust, her family’s collection of landscapes by minor American artists. They are the parents of Annie, an outspoken, brash real estate person on her third marriage, minister Bo, gay son Joshua who is not officially out of the closet, naïve daughter Jerrilyn. There is also Jerene’s outrageous, dissolute brother, Gaston Jarvis, who has squandered his literary talent on a series of Southern potboilers. This is a blisteringly funny satire of just about any contemporary Southern thing you can think of.  Read another review.

The PostmistressThe Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Three women’s lives intersect after Frankie Bard, a reporter from wartime London during the blitz, meets a doctor in an air raid shelter who asks her to deliver a letter to his wife in Massachusetts. The postmistress of the town in Massachusetts also has a mission from the same doctor to deliver a letter to his wife in the event of his death. This is a gripping story of the war in London, its effect on the three women and other people in the small town in Massachusetts.

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
After a childhood spent in foster care, Victoria has nowhere to go and has no people in her life. Through luck she finds work in a florist’s shop and is able to expand her knowledge of the language of flowers that she has been interested in since childhood. Victoria is able to help others with her skill with flowers while she struggles with her own past.


TransatlanticTransatlantic by Colum McCann
The novel uses three events that actually happened as the basis for his novel; Frederick Douglass’s visit to Ireland in 1845, the 1919 flight of British aviators Alcock and Brown, and the attempts by U.S. senator George Mitchell to broker peace in Northern Ireland. One of the fictional characters, Lilly Duggan, who is first seen in the Frederick Douglass chapter boldly leaves all behind and immigrates to America, becoming the mother of a long line of descendants in America, some of whom return to Ireland in later times. Fascinating and brilliantly written.

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a brilliant, but socially awkward professor of genetics at an Australian university. Nearing his 40th birthday, he decides to find a wife and devises a questionnaire to rule out all unsuitable candidates. Soon Rosie Jarman enters the picture and Don mistakenly believes she has submitted a questionnaire and been vetted by his coworker. Rosie and Don hit it off in spite of the fact that she fails to meet some of his requirements. Rosie does not know who her biological father is, so together they embark on the Rosie Project to attempt to learn his identity. Hilarious and heartwarming events ensue.  Read another review.


The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

March 4, 2014

If you wanted to meet the perfect mate, would you leave it to chance, or would you create a 16 page (double- sided) questionnaire that will eliminate all those who have habits you don’t like? If you were a highly logical person, like genetics Professor Don Tillman, a questionnaire would seem like the only solution. To implement his plan, Don takes his questionnaire to places he might meet single women, such as a singles party, where he passes it out at the door.

As you might expect, Don’s Wife Project does not go according to plan. He never seems to meet anyone who would pass the test and few women seem interested in filling out the questionnaire. On top of this, he finds himself spending more and more time with Rosie, someone who is the complete opposite of his ideal woman. Rosie smokes, does not exercise, and is never punctual. When she first arrived at his office, Don mistakenly thought she was there because of the Wife Project so he asked her to dinner. But Rosie just wanted help in tracking down her real father and was referred to Don because of his expertise in genetics. Despite her unsuitability, Don’s Wife Project keeps getting delayed because of the work he’s doing on Rosie’s Father Project.

Don’s lack of social skills makes for some very funny incidents, sometimes predictable, but most often not. I have read reviews that compared the character of Don to Sheldon from the TV show, “The Big Bang Theory.” I do see similarities, but Simsion‘s Don seems much more real to me and the situations in the book seem more natural than a sitcom could ever be. In fact, none of the characters in the book are stereotypical or perfect. More importantly, Don is an adult who continues to learn and grow. He frequently stops to analyze his behavior and see how he can better himself.

The Rosie Project is more than a comedy or a love story, it is about how we make connections with other people and how we overcome our preconceived notions of everyone, including ourselves. I found it to be utterly charming. It could possibly be the feel good book of the year.

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House Rules by Jodi Picoult

February 4, 2014

In House Rules by Jodi Picoult, Jacob Hunt is an eighteen year old with Asperger’s syndrome.  He is obsessed with forensic science, and can solve practically any crime, much to the chagrin of the local police who are not interested in Jacob’s assistance.  His mother Emma has built her entire life around helping Jacob, often leaving his younger teen brother Theo in the dust and resentful of the chaos that often surrounds life with his brother. Jacob has difficulty with any type of social skills, so his mom hired a tutor;  a pretty graduate student Jess who is helping  Jacob learn appropriate social cues and to look people in the eye.

Jess disappears and is later  found dead. Picoult weaves one of her typical courtroom dramas that seem to be made for television. I found the legal and courtroom parts of the narrative to be the weakest part of the novel. Her brilliance  is in describing the family and especially in making the reader understand Jacob from the inside out. I came away  from this novel feeling like  I had stepped into the head of a young man with Aspergers, as well as gaining a better understanding of the challenges it creates in a family dynamic. Jacob’s fascination with forensics does seem a bit convenient, but Picoult makes it work somehow so it didn’t seem too trite. I found her adult characters rich, and the medical aspects very well researched without being jargon or dry termininology.

This novel has it all; romance, forensics, courtroom drama, and a compelling medical issue.  Critics have called this one of Picoult’s lesser triumphs, but I was engrossed in the very solid story line. I recommend this novel for anyone who enjoys Picoult and other authors in her domestic  fiction genre.

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Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Sharon S’s Picks

December 23, 2013

One of the reasons why I like to read is for inspiration and instruction on how to live a better life. Here are the “new to me” books that inspired me most this year.

Healing Through Exercise by Jorg Blech
We all know that exercise can help prevent illness, but Jorg Blech provides well-documented evidence that exercise also promotes healing from existing illness. That means it is never too late to start. Even moderate exercise can have profound effects. The body atrophies more and more the longer we sit or lie in bed, so Blech urges us to get moving in whatever way we can to improve our health and extend our range of motion. Read my full review.

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
First-time novelist Mayhew has crafted a wonderful tale of growing up in the South in the 1950s. The story is told by 14-year-old Jubie, whose unjaded point of view enables her to understand many things the grown-ups around her fail to notice. In the face of tragedy, Jubie finds the courage to act on what she knows to be true, even though it goes against the grain of her society. Read my full review.

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard
Is America still a place where you can make a life for yourself with very little besides hard work and gumption? Shepard decided to find out by starting a new life as a homeless man in an unfamiliar city. What he was able to achieve and how is a fascinating and thought-provoking tale. Read my full review.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho’s characters are afraid of happiness; after all, it might be better to keep on dreaming than to realize your dreams and be disappointed in them. This story of a young shepherd who dared to pursue his dream in the face of many obstacles has inspired countless readers. It is a good place to start if you want to read the works of this internationally acclaimed author.

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett
Jake Barnett is a 14-year-old genius who is working on a new theory of relativity which is expected to put him in line for the Nobel Prize. However, this biography is his mother’s story of how she brought out the best in a child who was diagnosed as profoundly autistic and unable to learn. It is a story of courage and creativity which is my favorite true story of the year. Read my full review.

The Autistic Brain: Thinking Across the Spectrum by Temple Grandin

November 7, 2013

No one is a more iconic spokesperson for autism research than Temple Grandin. 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.
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 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 understanding came from her personal experience and early research. Her thinking on this topic began to change, amazingly, when she read the comments on her earlier work, Thinking in Pictures, on Amazon! Some 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 studied 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 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 anyone interested in the continuing and hopeful research into a brain disorder that affects an ever-larger segment of our communities.
Note: This review is excerpted from a previous article on

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The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett

June 4, 2013

At age fourteen, Jake Barnett is one of the world’s leading astrophysicists.  He is a graduate student and published researcher at Indiana University, where he is working on an original theory in relativity which is expected to put him in line for the Nobel Prize.

At age three, Jake was diagnosed with autism.  Although he had been an early talker, he stopped making eye contact and did not speak a single word for eighteen months.  He spent many hours of the day staring at a blank wall.  Therapists and special education teachers told his mother, Kristine, that he would never learn to read, that the most she could hope for was that he would learn to tie his shoes by age sixteen.

Although Kristine recognized the importance of therapy sessions for an autistic child, she noticed that the sessions were always focused on things that Jake couldn’t or wouldn’t do.  She decided to give him opportunities and encouragement to do the things he enjoyed doing.

When Jake made webs of colored string so huge and complex that Kristine could not get past them to go into her kitchen, she never complained, but noticed how beautifully patterned they were.  When Jake dumped out all the boxes of cereal in the house and refilled them with styrofoam balls, she let him.  How could she know at the time that he was calculating volume?

Eventually, she came to see that in school and therapy sessions, Jake literally had been too bored to pay attention.  When he seemed to be staring at the blank wall behind the therapist, he was actually observing the play of light and shadows.  He became so adept at noticing these patterns that he put himself to bed every night at precisely the same time (even after his parents hid every clock in the house) using his own “shadow clock.”  Indeed, the interplay of light and time later became the basis for his groundbreaking theory in physics.  He was completely uninterested in things like social niceties and the wooden block puzzles the therapists tried to get him to do.

Once he had time to do what he loved, Jake became more able and willing to do things that were less interesting, but that other people believed were important—things like sleeping, eating, and interacting cooperatively with others.  Now he has many friends, plays basketball, chats easily with his younger brothers, tutors his fellow college students, navigates a downtown university campus alone, and gives lectures on his theory.

Nurturing our “spark” can help us become well-rounded, happy, and fulfilled individuals like Jake.  However, it takes another kind of genius—like his mom, Kristine—to help bring out the best in us.

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The Journal of Best Practices: a Memoir of Marriage, and Asperger Syndrome, and One Man’s Quest to be a Better Husband by David Finch

April 30, 2012

I first heard of this book while listening to All Things Considered on NPR, as they interviewed author David Finch and his wife, Kristen. The conversation was so captivating that I requested a copy of the book as soon as we purchased it.

The Finch’s marriage had been tanking and their communication was abysmal, until one day Kristen, a speech therapist and autism expert, sat her husband down and asked him to honestly answer a series of seemingly strange questions. His score and its meaning surprised him, so Kristen offered to answer the same quiz and scored 8 out of a possible 200 points. Finch had earned 155 points, suggesting that he had Asperger Syndrome, a condition on the Autism spectrum.

While most people might feel set back by such a diagnosis, it was freeing for Finch. The problems that he was having in both his work and personal life had a name, and that emboldened him to make a conscientious effort to fix those problems.

Finch took notes on everything he needed to change about himself, notes that eventually became his Journal of Best Practices. Each best practice became a chapter in the book, and prompted him to remember things such as:

• laundry: better to fold and put away than to take only what you need from the dryer,
• give Kristen time to shower without crowding her, and
• parties are supposed to be fun.

A lifestyle change is never easy, and this one was no exception. Some best practices were larger than others, and all took continued work on the part of Finch, and exceptional patience on the part of Kristen.

Finch tells his story with humor and grace, pointing out his flaws and showing how he worked through them. This is a really interesting (and fairly quick) read, and one that definitely helped me better understand Asperger Syndrome.

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