Posts Tagged ‘Autism’

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.

Find and reserve this book in our online catalog.

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

May 25, 2011

Disappearances happen every day. People go missing all the time. But they don’t often go missing while on a sealed compartment hundreds of feet in the air.  Yet this is exactly what happens to Ted and Kat’s cousin, Salim, when he takes a ride on the London Eye.

Visiting his cousins before he and his mother move to New York, Salim just wants to take a ride on the London Eye, the Ferris Wheel-like ride on London’s Southbank.  Ted and Kat watched Salim board the ride.  After thirty minutes, the ride stops and everyone gets off except Salim. Did they miss him?  Is he lost in London?  Has he been abducted by Terrorists?  Did he run away?  Did he spontaneously combust?

As time passes and there is no sign of Salim, Ted and Kat decide to take matters into their own hands.  Ted’s mind works a bit differently or “runs on a different operating system” as he puts it.  He can understand and remember detailed facts about weather systems, yet has difficulties understanding social situations. Ted’s unusual skills might be just what is needed to solve this exacting mystery.

This book has been praised for its tight-knit mystery that is fun for both adults and kids.  For me, the really interesting parts of this books were those focused on Ted’s thoughts.  Ted, who seems to have Asperger’s syndrome, sees things in a quirky light and Dowd does a wonderful job of allowing the reader a glimpse of this.  Dowd brings you along through Ted’s thoughts and gives you just enough clues to try to figure out what happens.  I highly doubt, though, that you will get it before he does!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear by Seth Mnookin

April 22, 2011

If you’ve been paying attention to the news over the past ten years, you’ve read about a possible connection between autism and vaccines. In 1998, a paper by Andrew Wakefield was published in the journal The Lancet claiming a relationship between autism, intestinal disorders, and the MMR vaccine. The world panicked and soon news reporters and concerned parents were raising hell. Lawsuits were filed against drug makers. Many parents stopped vaccinating their children, causing a rise in long thought dead diseases such as whooping cough and measles. Autism organizations banded together to promote safer vaccine regimens.
Flash-forward to 2011, and Andrew Wakefield has been discredited. News reports revealed that he had been funded by lawyers out to sue drug companies. His scientific studies were shown to be poorly managed. Numerous scientific studies were run to show that there’s no evidence to prove that vaccines cause autism. In engaging and humorous language, The Panic Virus describes the process by which fear of vaccines overwhelmed the medical community. Mnookin examines the history of vaccines and the history of autism, and shows how they became linked in the minds of parents around the world. Mnookin asks – how did such an idea take hold without clear scientific evidence? Why are people so willing to panic about an idea without becoming fully informed about it? Mnookin’s book is extremely well researched. At 429 total pages, 98 pages of the book contain a bibliography and notes, showing that Mnookin clearly researched and knows his stuff.
If you’re interested in reading a well-written and engaging science book that won’t bore you to tears, I recommend picking this one up.

Find a copy in our library catalog.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

March 4, 2011

Seven minutes after midnight, Christopher John Francis Boone found a dead dog outside of Mrs. Shears’ house.  Someone had stabbed the animal with a garden fork.  Since Christopher’s teacher had encouraged him to write a story, he decides to write a murder mystery about the death of the dog.  Christopher’s book documents his own investigations into the dog’s death; he could never write about something that didn’t actually happen.  Despite his father’s command that he “stay out of other people’s business,” he sets out to detect who killed the dog—and ends up uncovering a host of family secrets in the process.

Christopher has autism.  The entire novel is told in his voice in a stream-of-consciousness style which gradually reveals the details of his life to the reader.  The book examines the challenges that Christopher faces because of his disability, the tensions in his family and relationships, and also the beauty of his world and his unique and brilliant perspective on life.  This is all captured in the framework of Christopher’s murder mystery.

Mark Haddon, who has worked with children on the autism spectrum, crafts the story masterfully, drawing the reader in immediately and keeping him or her captivated for every page.  Although stream of consciousness can often be a challenge for authors to write well, Haddon articulates the style perfectly.  Christopher’s voice is believable and clear, and his experiences range from humorous to heartbreaking.  The book is not long, which is good, because once you start reading, you will not be able to put it down!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon

July 7, 2010

Lou Arrandale is a high functioning autistic man living in the near future who has a job, his own apartment, car, hobbies and friends. Lou, like most autists, likes doing things according to routines and patterns.  He always goes to the same grocery store on the same day, he always has fencing club practice on Wednesdays, and he always does his laundry on Friday nights and enjoys counting the tiles on the floor and finding patterns in them.  Patterns are also an important part of Lou’s job, as he and his department (made up of all autists with similar talents) are responsible for finding patterns in software that the company manufactures.  Lou’s comfortable routine is shattered one day when his boss’s new boss decides that they should eliminate all the “unnecessary special treatment and perks” that the autists receive (which he himself also receives as an executive) and also force them to undergo an experimental procedure – which has never been tested on humans – designed to “cure” autism.  But, that would also change how Lou perceives the world around him and who he really is.

One of the book clubs I moderate recently read & discussed this book, and the comment that many people made was “this should be required reading for everyone.”  It’s one of those rare books that transcends genre and category and is simply a very good book that provides the reader with lots to think about.  Yes, it is in our Science Fiction area, but, aside from being set in the future, the fact that science is able to cure most diseases with treatment at birth, and that space exploration is much further along than now, readers will hardly be able to tell that this is a “Sci-Fi” book at all.  It’s really about Lou, his friends, his world, and what it means to be normal.  The book is told almost entirely from Lou’s perspective, so that the reader really gets inside Lou’s head and gets to know him quite well.

The author’s son is autistic and she’s done lots of research, so she brings a very realistic perspective to the book.  She says there’s not much similarity between her son and Lou, other than them both being autists.  But, the title, and Lou repeatedly asking the question “What do you think the speed of dark is?” did come from Moon’s son, who asked the same question when he was younger.  This book is also a bit of a departure from Moon’s other novels, which are Military Science Fiction, and it won the 2003 Nebula Award for best novel.  But again, even if you’re not a “Sci-Fi” reader, you’ll likely enjoy this book and may even find yourself identifying with Lou and wondering how “normal” each of us really is, anyway.

You may enjoy this book if you enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time or Flowers for Algernon.

Find and reserve The Speed of Dark in our catalog.

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