On Wednesday night, I stayed up an hour later than I should have so that I could finish reading Love Anthony by Lisa Genova. Lisa Genova is the author behind Still Alice (one of my absolute favorites) and Left Neglected as well. She is a Harvard-trained neuroscientist turned fiction author and I have thoroughly enjoyed all her books. As a psychologist whose undergrad research, graduate training, and career revolve around cognitive processing, the conditions she focuses on in her books are extremely interesting to me and her knowledge of science enriches her descriptions and character development. Still Alice focuses on Alzheimer’s; Left Neglected focused on the very fascinating, rare condition of hemispatial neglect and throws in some ADHD (albeit I think she calls it ADD in the book, which is not actually a current diagnostic term, but I digress); and Love Anthony introduces the reader to a more personal understanding of Autistic Disorder.
Autistic Disorder is one disorder on the Autism Spectrum and even within Autistic Disorder, there is such variety in the behavioral presentation. Lisa Genova sums this up at the end in her comments, saying something she has heard time and time again from those most familiar with Autism: “If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism” (emphasis is mine). I really appreciated how Lisa Genova portrayed this character’s experience of autism. I’m in no way an expert on autism, but in my career as a school psychologist, I have worked with clients who have autism and I have made provisional diagnoses along the autism spectrum. I have approached the disorder from a very clinical, rather than personal, stand point. Lisa Genova’s portrayal of autism got me thinking more about the reasons behind some of the behaviors, such as stimming, and how logical such behaviors might be to the person with autism. I guess she had me reevaluating or deepening my conceptualization of autism. This book also had me thinking about Carly Fleischmann. She is nonverbal and was believed to have mental retardation/cognitive disability/intellectual disability (mental retardation is the proper diagnostic term, but many people like to use cognitive or intellectual disability instead because of less stigma) until one day she began communicating through typing and her family realized how aware she was of everything and how many undiscovered capabilities she has. She now has a website and popular following on twitter. Both the depiction of Anthony in the book and Carly’s story have inspired me to think about what is hidden behind the minds of those with autism and how they can sometimes be trapped in their bodies in a way that does not allow them to express the depths of their emotions or understanding. From my training and in my career, I’m very focused on test results, but they don’t hold the full picture.