By Karl Taro Greenfeld Harper Perennial, 2009 Review by Leo Uzych, J.D., M.P.H. on Sep 14th 2010
Boy Alone is a book about the author's life growing up in a family with an autistic brother (named "Noah"). The author, Karl Taro Greenfeld, is a quite skilled, and inveterate, writer, based in New York City. The book is replete with sobering biographical details, with a substantive emphasis on how Noah's autism, in real life terms, has affected the lives of Noah, the author, and their parents. Greenfeld's writing spots details with an eagle's sharp eye, exudes emotions and feelings palpably, and sears readers with the flames of fiery candor. His detailed, emotion laden, and frankly written memoir will likely fascinate readers.
Biographical details drawn selectively from the lives of the author, Noah, and their parents substantively embody the book.
Numerous snippets of recounted conversation, grafted into the book's body, further enliven its substance.
But there may be critical concern as to whether the selected biographical details and fragmented quotes forming the book's substantive essence have been recollected accurately by Greenfeld.
The cloth of the book's substance is interwoven further with many strands of pensively critical musings.
Curious readers may wonder whether the cloth's composition would have been the same if it had been composed relatively more contemporaneously with the events later giving vent to the musing of Greenfeld.
Noah's autistic life, from the time of infancy, is fleshed out by Greenfeld in biographically detailed, and critical, fashion.For instance, the care and treatment of Noah is detailed critically; the reader is informed about behaviors exhibited characteristically by Noah (such as: spitting, hair grabbing. and tantrums); and the issue of Noah's institutionalization garners Greenfeld's detailed attention.
In the critically sobering judgment of Greenfeld, Noah has been subjected to dubious therapies, and abused by supposed caregivers. He has been in one institution after another; and along the way, according to Greenfeld, Noah has been damaged, hurt, and almost certainly raped.
Throughout the book, Greenfeld is likewise very frank in describing his emotions and feelings regarding Noah, as they have evolved over time. Indeed, the book is a reservoir filled deeply with Greenfeld's conflicted emotions and feelings, including: love, jealousy, worry, denial, hope, despair, compassion, guilt, shame, happiness, sorrow, resentment, frustration, and anger.
Joined to the book's far end is a "Bibliography" of materials germane to autism.
The information and insights presented by Greenfeld, directly or indirectly, raise myriad questions. The book's question raising nature, in fact, is a powerful pillar of didactic strength.
Some of the issues pertain to the care and treatment of autistic persons. What, for instance, is optimal therapy for autistic: young children? Adolescents? Adults? Is it humane, legal, ethical, or medically proper for an autistic person to be subjected to aversive, behavior modification "therapy" in the forms of being: physically beaten? Refused water? Refused food?
Other issues appertain to institutionalization. For example, if the parents of an autistic person are unable or unwilling to care for the autistic family member at home, how affordable is institutionalization? How might family psychodynamics be impacted by the institutionalization of an autistic family member? What, realistically, can institutionalization do for an autistic person? What types of "treatment procedures" are used at institutions housing autistic persons? How adequate is staffing at such facilities? Are institutionalized autistic persons protected adequately against abusive, and criminal, behavior, including rape?
Each autistic person has a unique life experience. And likewise, every family member of an autistic person has a uniquely personal life.
Also, the states of medical research, clinical medicine, and the law, pertinent to autism, are changeable.
But Greenfeld's riveting personal account of growing up in a family with an autistic sibling will very likely grip readers' attention tenaciously with the power of gut wrenching, anecdotal details, heartfelt emotions, and unapologetically blunt candor.
Professionals who may be gripped firmly, by the tentacles of the book's absorbing (of readers' attention) contents, include: autism specialists, developmental disability specialists, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists, behavioral therapists, speech therapists, cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, geneticists, neurobiologists, primary care physicians, pediatricians, special education teachers, social workers, health policy makers, and legislators.
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.