By James C. Wilson McFarland, 2008 Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Jun 23rd 2009
Weather Reports from the Autism Front is a father's riveting memoir of his autistic son ("Sam"). The father, James C. Wilson, is a Professor of English and Journalism, at the University of Cincinnati. The book, as penned by Wilson, has a hybridized form: part incomprehensive, biographical account; and part insightful, critical commentary. The book's biographical component focuses readers' attention selectively on particular incidents, behaviors, and interests, pertinent to Sam. Joined adeptly to the biographical narrative is Wilson's game intellectual grappling with a multitude of contentious issues associated with autism. The writing of Wilson is stylistically informal, bluntly opinionated, and tinged with humor. Wilson's animating, if sobering, account of his autistic son's life, together with his very determined efforts to wrestle gamely with formidable concerns raised by autism, will likely engage readers' interest enthrallingly.
At the core of the book's substantive composition are anecdotal data relating to Sam's life. These data importantly include quoted information. With enlivening effect, Wilson injects a quite substantial dose of conversational fragments into the book's body. Many of the quoted snippets are attributed to Sam.
Using the paint of anecdotal data skillfully, Wilson paints a revealing picture of Sam's life. The picture is not biographically complete. Rather than exhaustively fleshing out details of Sam's life, Wilson instead anecdotally recounts particular incidents. By this means, Wilson interestingly sheds illumining light on some of Sam's distinctive, behavioral nuances. Also by anecdotal means, the reader is informed further of some of Sam's notable mundane interests (including notably Sam's obsession with the weather, and with "rap" music).
Throughout the book, the views of various autistic bloggers are referred to by Wilson with respect to specific issues tied to autism. The considerable mass of information drawn from blogs characteristically is scrutinized by Wilson in an insightful and informative manner.
The anecdotally recounted biographical data, in tandem with the information emanating from autistic bloggers, raise a bevy of interesting, and unresolved, questions regarding autism. Some of the questions raised relate to behavior. For example, can an autistic person be "different", behaviorally, compared to a non-autistic person, albeit not be "abnormal"? Are autistic persons at relatively high risk of being disadvantaged by society, because of "different" behaviors they may exhibit? Is societal intolerance of persons perceived as being "different", behaviorally, importantly relevant to explaining why autistic persons may have considerable difficulties with regard to forming friendships? What may cause an autistic person to engage in self injuring behavior? Is self injuring behavior possibly a form of "communication" for an autistic person?
The contention ridden issues coursing through the pages of this thought provoking book are weighty in importance, and far ranging in scope. There is, for instance, the thorny question of whether autism should properly be accepted as a member of the family of naturally occurring neurodiversity, or whether autism should, instead, more suitably be viewed as a "defect" (in sore need of a cure)?
Other nettlesome issues abound, including some involving the linkage of autism to genetics and reproduction. Wilson toils, also, with unraveling some of the entwined strands of the knotty question of: under what circumstances, if any, should an autistic person be institutionalized? Additional concerns broached by Wilson pertain to the medical care of autistic persons. Wilson also draws readers' attention to sensitive concerns regarding autism and family relations.
The considerable multiplicity of questions raised by Wilson direct readers' attention to some of the plethora of real life difficulties that may heavily impact autistic persons. Certainly for the curious reader, the myriad concerns identified by Wilson are tantamount to a challenge to cast aside broadly sweeping societal attitudes and stereotypes concerning autism; and instead, to think long and hard (in an intellectually honest manner) about real life problems that may importantly affect autistic persons.
Attached to the book's far end are a listing of "sources" (for particular chapters), and an alphabetized (by author's last name) "bibliography" of research materials relevant to autism. These structural appendages are a bridge to further study of autism.
From a critical perspective, critics may caution that every autistic person has a unique life experience; and the particular life experience of Wilson's autistic son, as described anecdotally in this book, may differ in significant ways from the life experiences of other autistic persons.
But it cannot sensibly be gainsaid that Wilson has expertly crafted a book which very interestingly and informatively describes bits and pieces of the life experience of his son; and which also raises numerous challenging questions with regard to autism.
Lay persons with curiosity about autism will likely be enriched greatly by the very abundant wealth of information and insights embedded in the book. The diligent efforts of Wilson may, as well, considerably pique the professional curiosity of, among others: psychologists, psychiatrists, child psychiatrists, neurologists, psychiatric nurses, family medicine doctors, pediatricians, genetic counselors, social workers, and special education teachers.
Leo Uzych (based in Wallingford, PA) earned a law degree, from Temple University; and a master of public health degree, from Columbia University. His area of special professional interest is healthcare.