I am halfway through “Boy Alone” by Karl Taro Greenfeld. This is a fascinating memoir of a boy growing up with an autistic brother. The book provides much insight into the daily struggles that a family with an autistic child must face.
Not too long ago, in the sixties and seventies, not much was known about autism.
One side, the Freudians, placed the blame of the condition on the parents. How terrible must it have been to be blamed for your child’s autism? I cannot even imagine how painful it was for parents to hear such news from “professionals” of the field, during that time.
Another perspective focused on behaviorism. This side shaped behaviors of autistic children by reinforcing good behaviors (i.e. with treats like cookies) and punishing bad behaviors (verbally or physically). This side was controversial due to the nature of its use of punishments, such as mild electric shocks.
The parents of this family were struggling with finding help. Doctors at the time were not particularly helpful when it came to how to help their son. The family moved across the country in the hopes of finding a program to aid them.
The family is constantly haunted by the future. What will they do once they can no longer handle their son? Where will he go? What will the conditions of such a place be like? Will he ever improve? What kind of life will he live?
The challenges that the brother faces are also highlighted. There is a constant losing battle for the parents’ attention and love. The brother’s condition leaves the parents exhausted. The child must be constantly monitored. The mother runs a day care center to take care of children with disabilities like her son. The family as a whole lacks sleep. As the child grows, the challenges of handling the brother’s tantrums and other daily challenges grows as well.
I wonder how much community resources for the autistic have improved since then…