Books: One to Throw Across the Room, Two to Shrug Over, and Two for Fun

On this Thanksgiving week, I'd like to pause from contemplations of yummy pecan and pumpkin pies and mashed potatoes and gravy and the drool that accompanies such delicious thoughts and look back at five of the books that I've spent time with in the last couple weeks and have finally finished and set aside. 

There are three books that I've been working on for awhile to review for Lisa Rudy's autism site at About.com: Something Different About Dad by Kristi Evans and illustrated by John Swogger, Neurodiversity by Thomas Armstrong, and Connecting with Your Asperger Partner by Louise Weston. Interspersed in my reading of these three are dozens more books (some fun, some not), but I've recently finished two novels that are worth sharing: Grave Sight by Charlaine Harris and You Suck by Christopher Moore.

Connecting With Your Asperger Partner: Negotiating the Maze of Intimacy

First up, in the order of the blog title, is Connecting with Your Asperger Partner by Louise Weston. If  you've read my other reviews, you already know that I can read parents who think autism is vaccine-induced and still be fair to them and talk about what I like about their books and recommend them to readers as being worth the investment of their time. It's a big deal when I can't find a way to be positive here. This book is not worth your time or your investment, and it makes me feel bad to say that when the publisher was kind enough to send me a copy to review. I'd decided not to review it over at About.com because with format demands and the need to offer a different sort of review rather than my often blunt rawness here, a lot of cursing would have been involved in the writing. And all to give it one star? I almost didn't write about it here, but I'm still seriously irked over it, and that says alot.

We have a huge problem in the autism community when it comes to the materials being published for our consumption. Okay, we've got several problems. One: there's no guarantee that the information being published is accurate or helpful (think Wakefield, Olmsted and Blaxill, Jenny McCarthy etc.), and, two, no guarantee that the authors are particularly qualified to offer advice books. Memoirs fall in a completely different category; it's sharing their story, and Stag and Peete both did a good job with that. Yes, some stuff bugged me. Aggggh, Wakefield and the lack of vaccine injury stories to back up the whole idea that vaccines are to blame, for example, but I digress. My point was that there was more good in their books than there was bad, and reading their books are journeys I'm glad I took.

My biggest beef with the Weston book is coupled in a lack of qualification to give marital advice to couples simply based on her marriage to someone on the spectrum and the fact that she uses Maxine Aston's work to do so. For those of you who haven't happened upon Aston, she's created a fictive syndrome, the Cassandra  Affective Deprivation Syndrome

Beware people who create their own disorders and then their own treatments for these made-up disorders. These two things, a lack of qualification coupled with basing her book in hooey, were, in all honesty, two strikes against Weston's book. I kept reading, though. If it were a memoir, these things wouldn't have been deal breakers; relating one's personal story to share what one has learned over the years, through time, is fine: it doesn't attempt to step beyond the narrative and purport to be an expert and qualified to give advice. This book does that: it attempts to be a handbook; indeed its subtitle is "Negotiating the Maze of Intimacy." In my opinion, it's not okay. We really need, really need, the folks offering assistance to be well qualified, well trained, and to back their information up on sound research, not some made-up disorder.

Even looking through this book now to write this post is enough to irritate the crap out of me and make me want to throw the book across the room, and again, that bothers me. Weston surely means well; she thinks she's found the way to deal with her marriage and make it more successful, and she wants to share those tools. However, if they're crap tools based on crap theory, you can see the problem.

It's the second book I've read in the last two weeks to outright equate Asperger's with verbally abusive behavior. And it's bullshit. It flat out is. If your partner with Asperger's is being verbally abusive to you, that is not Asperger's; it's abuse (see Bjørkly, 2009, for a study which found no evidence of a link between Asperger's and violence). And to then couple that conflation with the recommendation that you be the one to change, as Weston's book does, is frustrating at best. Yes, if you're in a relationship where you are being verbally abused, you'll need to make some changes to make that abuse stop. Oh, like getting counseling, or getting the frak out of the relationship, but to actually make as a step of advice that the NT partner have "no expectations" of the partner with Asperger's is complete bunk.  I can think of nothing more likely to cause problems than to explain away abusive behavior, insist that the abused person change, and to give the abuser a pass. We've got more than Asperger's going on here in this book. 

And that's why  I really have to stress that I can't recommend you buy this book. Weston and her spouse may have indeed found a way to make their marriage work (who really knows?), but it is not enough for you to hand over nearly twenty bucks and think a fix for your relationship is to be found. And before you do invest your money in a book to get advice on how to handle a relationship, do yourselves a favor and go see a licensed marriage and family counselor. It'll be money better spent. 

Something Different About Dad: How to Live With Your Asperger's Parent

The second such book to make the conflation between verbally abusive behavior and Asperger's is Kristi Evan's Something Different About Dad. This is a better book than Weston's, one at least authored by someone with qualifications, and one I was able to review for Rudy's site. It is, obviously, not without its share of problems, one of which is equating meltdowns with verbal abuse.

One of the more interesting things about parenting three on the spectrum is trying to determine when a behavior is predicated on an autistic way of thinking or arises from a disability and when one of my kids is just being a kid. Not every behavior is related to autism. And certainly not every bad or inappropriate behavior. If it's autism-related, time is taken to explain why an action was inappropriate and what a better way to handle a situation is and no punishment is given. There's a difference in abusive behavior. My kids get rules, revel in rules, follow them to the letter and make sure others do as well. You think abusive behavior arises out of that mentality?  No. An insistence that the rule needs to be followed does along with a tendency to perseverate on that, but screaming, cussing, berating another individual? Sometimes bad behavior is just bad behavior. 

I wrote last week about free passes and how none of us get them. Well, that goes for my kids on the spectrum. It goes for my husband and me, too. We screw up, we own it. There are no free passes. People are accountable for their actions: there are consequences. Saying someone is verbally abusive because he is on the spectrum is an attempt at a free pass. And it's not okay. We want our children to take their rightful places in mainstream society as fully integrated members with all the rights and privileges. We ask that people be empathetic to their challenges and to help them navigate. Meltdowns from too much stimulation are understandable and sometimes unavoidable, but screaming, hitting, and lashing out at others because they don't like something? No, not okay. So, when I see a grown man (who isn't diagnosed until adulthood) doing that in a book, with the explanation given to the child that he has Asperger's and he can't help it, I'm inclined to think that's less than helpful and license for the behavior to continue.

Okay, so that's my biggest beef with Evan and Swoggin's graphic work, and it's a small part of the overall work. There's some good stuff in there about trying to understand where someone with Asperger's is coming from, but it's surrounded by unfortunate stereotyping and really troubling text like the daughter saying she "still" loves her dad. What the? Really? No. There should be no "still" in there, as if he is less worthy of love because he has a diagnosis. It's very unfortunate and sends the wrong message. There should be no qualifier: my dad has Asperger's and I love him. Period.

 The other problem is that the power balance in the fictional family is weighted so that it's everyone against the dad, talking down to the dad. Perhaps it's time, when we're trying to explain what autism is like, to get the perspective of a person on the spectrum, rather than someone on the outside providing it. It's certainly time to quit talking about people on the spectrum like they are less than our equal partners.

The book, though, is an attempt, to help kids understand, and that's important, if they are NT children. I found myself reading it and thinking, well, hmm, one parent on the spectrum, but neither kid is? Okay, sure. Bound to happen, but just as likely that the children would have traits as well and have some measure of understanding once their parent's behaviors are connected to their own so that ah-hah moment can happen. Maybe that's just me, though, as I can relate a great deal to my kids and their traits as we have many in common.

I can recommend this book to families dealing with this situation providing it's read with an adult (hey, like the parent on the spectrum) so that some of these issues are addressed. It could be, with this supplementation, a good teaching tool.

The third book I've read in this latest batch to review is Neurodiversity. I've actually been reading this for months. I've certainly read harder things, but this was not the easiest book to read, and I'm still not quite sure why. It's not a bad book, and stylistically it is easy to read. Fortunately, Lisa's already gotten a review up of her own, so I won't reinvent the wheel.  

If you are interested in thinking about things, how different mental disorders might have evolutionarily advantageous traits, then this is the book for you. Personally, though, it's pretty darn hard to hold onto the thought that my anxiety issues are a bonus when I'm having a three in the morning panic attack, but that's just me.  

This isn't a book that will help parents looking for advice on how to deal with their children's issues and more effectively parent and help them. It's an intellectual exercise, so if you're interested in that, this is a good book for that. 

Shew, so that's three down: one I'd throw, two that overall I shrug over, and now to the fluff! You can't spend all your time dwelling in angry places; you can't spend all your time on the hard stuff. Do you want to end up like Jack in The Shining?

Grave Sight By Harris- Charlaine

I picked up Grave Sight Friday while doing my shopping with my bright boy, and   enjoyed it so much that I finished it yesterday. I've been working on a Kathy Reich's novel for six months now, so that should tell you something. Grave Sight is short, which is always nice, and it follows the mystery formula quite well, so there's not a lot of mental effort expended. It's fluff and it's good fluff. Like her Sookie books, Harris has a heroine with issues and extras. Harper, the heroine, feels a buzz when she's near a dead body. Hmm, not with dead critters, though, so... Okay, there's still stuff for me to analyze and nitpick, so it's a good romp for me. Enough so that I'm eyeing the second in the series and considering starting it today.

You Suck by Christopher Moore.jpg

Several months ago, the bright boy and I happened on Christopher Moore's works and picked them up. I don't do stuff half-arsed, that's for damn true, so I've got all but one of Moore's books waiting on me. And yeah, it's driving me crazy to realize that this is the second in a trilogy, so we all know what book I'm fixing to take off the shelf and start: the first one in the trilogy. 

I don't know what it is about vampires, werewolves, and lycans (oh my) that captivate our attention, but they're all the rage. Ah well, so are dwarves and elves and dragons. 

You Suck was a fun read and an interesting spin on vamp lore. The main characters manage to figure out that they can eat and drink regular food if they add blood to it. There you go, because you know the worst part of being undead is the loss of coffee. I had some slight issues; there's a young Goth character who uses variations on "r*t*rd" far too often for my comfort. Still, it was a good book and one I really enjoyed. 

In the midst of all the reading I do, from textbooks, journal articles, and the latest books in psychology and neuroscience, coupled with all things autism and all things related to teaching English, it's important to take fluff breaks, to read for pure pleasure and no real edification, to simply veg. Harris and Moore let you do that and for that, I am grateful.

Bjørkly, S. (2009). Risk and dynamics of violence in Asperger's syndrome: A systematic review of the literature. Aggression and Violent Behavior14(5), 306-312. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2009.04.003.

Disclosure: Review copies of Something Different About Dad by Kristi Evans and illustrated by John Swogger, Neurodiversity by Thomas Armstrong, and Connecting with Your Asperger Partner by Louise Weston were provided by the publishers. I appreciate the opportunity to read and comment on works for the autism community. I was not paid for these reviews. 

I bought my own copies of Harris and Moore's works. :-)


K Bjornstad said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you for reviewing the books that deal with autistic people and relationships. I'm always happy to see not everyone buys into this Cassandra syndrome thing. It's bad enough that there are people citing incorrect statistics like, "Most marriages fail when the couple has an autistic child," even though that's been proven to be false and autistic children should not be held accountable for their parents' failed relationship. That sucks but at least I could clearly see it was BS. There was even an awesome article on The Onion called "Autistic Child Ruins Marriage He Was Born to Save" or something to that effect. I don't know if the author had read the statistics and also thought it was BS, but satire does an excellent job of showing how ridiculous it is to blame autism for the failings of a third party's marriage.

I read about Cassandra syndrome when I was just starting out my relationship with the man who is now my fiance. I thought it was BS and so did he, but then I got paranoid. Every time I had a meltdown I became convinced I was hurting him and I was bad for him, and I'd been correct before when I thought my autism made me completely unsuitable for a relationship. But it's just another attempt to demonize autistic people--we don't have emotions, we are needy but refuse to give affection, and we are horrible people and ruin the lives of our friends, families, and lovers.

There's no denying that it is sort of hard being in a relationship with an autistic person. It takes a lot of work, and a lot of compromise. But there's this idea that the relationship failing is our fault, not the non-autistic partner's fault, ever. Because you're a saint if you actually want to be friends with an autistic person, and you're more of a saint if you stay with someone after finding out they have autism. I feel like we will get blamed even if the other partner is the one who is unreasonable, abusive, manipulative, or cruel. Every time an autistic child is murdered by a parent, the media spins the story to be about how horrible autism is and how difficult it was for the parent, thus justifying the murder. It really stings to know that this idea that we are a burden to our families will stay with us into adulthood, until we're seen as burdens also on our spouses and children.

I won't go into the whole thing where the "person with Asperger's" = "person who physically and verbally abuses people." You did that quite nicely.

kathleen said...

Hee I just read "Grave secret" love that series..and the Christopher Moore is in my pile to be read...how surprising..:) I generally stay away from autism type books..They usually either infuriate me-or disappoint me..

KWombles said...

Thanks, Kathryn. It really irritates me when myths and stereotypes about autistic individuals are passed around as if they were the truth, and when whole books are created around these stereotypes and myths, I'm beyond irritated and moved to disgusted.

Kathleen, not surprised! :-) And I'm with you on autism-related books. It's nice when you run across the occasional gem or at least a book you feel was worth your investment in it.