Sunday, June 6, 2010

Speechy Sunday - Book Review

A few weeks ago, I found Jenny McCarthy's book, Louder than Words, on sale for 75% off at Barnes & Noble. Several parents of my little early intervention clients had recommended the book to me, so I thought it would be worth the $4 sale price. I bought it, took it home, and, after my daughter went to bed, I started reading it. Four hours later, I was still sitting in the same spot, finishing up the book. It was really an interesting read.

The book has many good points. First of all, it's a personal story of triumph over tragedy. And a compelling story at that. Jenny's son's path to an autism diagnosis was a scary and medically complicated one, and much more dramatic than the (equally hard and frustrating, just less life-threatening) path that most families traverse. Second, Jenny sparks empathy immediately and speaks openly and candidly about how hard the experience was on her marriage and friendships. She is just a very readable and friendly author, and reading her book is almost like chatting with another mom who's just telling you her story. The final thing I appreciated about the book is that Jenny, despite what I had thought before reading the book, was actually very open-minded about a variety of treatments for autism. I had expected the book to be all about biomedical treatments, but, actually, Jenny pointed out the importance of ABA, speech therapy, parental involvement in carryover, and mentioned looking into RDI, as well. Overall, I thought that she did a nice job of describing what worked for her son without insisting that her way was the only right way for "recovering" children with autism.

On the other hand, there were a few things in the book that I didn't like. It really upset me that Jenny so frequently painted all dads of children with autism as being distant, unhelpful, uninvolved, non-partners in the treatment experience. In my experience as an SLP working with families with young children with autism, I have had a very different experience. I have worked with many fathers who have worked through the grief alongside their wives, and who have become strong advocates for their children. Also, I didn't like the way Jenny described her son as being "cured," or "recovered," at the end of the story, when in interviews since then, you can see that they are still working on social skills and higher level concept learning. I understand that her son has made dramatic and wonderful progress, but I think it's a little irresponsible to make parents think that everything will be fine and dandy for their child with autism after one year of treatment.

Overall, I recommend this book as a personal story of one family's experience with the diagnosis and intensive treatment phase for autism. As a story of one mom's transition from grief to empowerment, this book is moving and sweet. However, I caution families to remember that Jenny is not an autism expert, and to treat this book as a starting point for conversations with your own team of doctors and therapists, rather than as a guide in and of itself.

By the way, here are my all-time favorite books about treatment for autism, if you're interested.

What books are you reading right now?

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