Review of Autism

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Autism: From Tragedy to Triumph is Julia Crowder’s story of her son Drew. Drew, at 3 years old, was a little boy held captive in a world of private dreams, shadows and fantasies. To him, our alien world of reality must have seemed as illusionary as a wisp of smoke or perhaps the shimmering mirages of a summer’s day. Carol Johnson, a writer from Tulsa, Oklahona, whose short stories and non-fiction articles have appeared in regional and national publications, presents this true story in a sensitive and inspiring voice.

Julia Crowder, who was born in Oklahoma and was a teacher of learning disabled children, long dreamed of sharing her son’s triumph. Crowder says,

There is hope for your child because of the parents who have gone before you. There is hope for your child because of Dr. Ivar Lovaas (of UCLA Psychology Department’s Autism Clinic) and others like him who saw that within the autistic child, there may be another child who can be coaxed out by persistence and, ultimately, the right treatment program. When it seems that there is nothing to hold on to in your search for your child’s wholeness, hold on to this: There is hope.”

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Julia began to suspect something was wrong with Drew by the time he was 9 months old.

At first she thought he was hearing impaired. Her husband aggressively denied that anything was wrong with their child. This denial widened the growing chasm between husband and wife. Julia knew that if Drew were to be helped, if help were possible, it was up to her to find it.

Lovaas, in his foreword, says,

Julia Crowder began her search for an effective treatment with many disadvantages. She was poor, she was on the verge of divorce, she had responsibility for two other children, and she lived in Los Angeles, where she had no family and was essentially alone.”

Clinical explanations of autism abound and vary. Crowder’s introspection as she asks herself, “Is this what’s wrong? Is it autism?”–gives one of the clearest definitions I’ve seen.

I looked at him, and pieces of his short life ran through my mind in jerky sequence, like faulty film on a movie screen: Drew as he stared through and around people, never meeting their gaze; his aversion to being cuddled, first as an infant, and now as a toddler; his lack of response to most stimuli outside the walls of ritual that surrounded him; his frantic insistence on adherence to that ritual; his failure to develop any significant language skills.”

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These symptoms, plus Drew’s inability to cry when hurt, convinced his mother he did indeed suffer from autism. How this dedicated and persistent woman found the right treatment for her child, as well as the nerve-shredding two years of therapy, is finely detailed. Many informative resource materials are given, along with a glossary of medical terms and a helpful index.

Johnson’s use of the intimate first person voice puts readers into Drew’s world as well as his mother’s. She also employs a style and tone all readers can understand. Consequently, each small advance that Drew makes builds to his ultimate breakthrough. I don’t mind confessing, before the last hurrah, a few tears fell. Today, Drew is 22 years old and a “normal” and successful college student here in Oklahoma. There are an estimated 350,000 autistic individuals in the United States. Not every one of them will be as fortunate as Drew in finding help. For those who persist, and for whom recovery is possible, what begins in tragedy will, like Drew, end in triumph.

- Patricia Ann Jones, Tulsa World

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