Book Review: Not Stupid. Autism Leads to School for Special Needs by Debbie Marsh from DISABOOM
Anna Kennedy has written an autobiography that doesn't hide the pain of being the mother of two autistic children, but the bulk of the book is about triumph. In 1999, she and her husband opened a special-needs school in order to ensure that the needs of her children would be met.
The author felt overwhelmed when her first son was diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a form of autism. That was before she discovered that her second son had autism and would need a lifetime of care.
Although Kennedy resides in Great Britain, American readers will relate to her struggle to raise and educate her children. The book covers her courtship with husband Sean, through the birth of their sons and the boys' teenage years.
Parents of autistic children will relate to the multiple doctor visits for testing and evaluation, the tantrums, the lack of physical affection. Kennedy tells her story in a down-to-earth style that makes her seem like an old and cherished friend. She doesn't hide her frustration and sorrow.
"He was obsessed with shapes and patterns and worst of all, he'd scream if I touched him," she writes of her first son, Patrick. "His refusal to show his love was heartbreaking."
When her second son, Angelo, was diagnosed with autism, she says, "I was devastated and cried for weeks." Her honesty makes her more relatable to readers.
By the time the boys were eight and five, they had been turned away from 26 schools for children with special needs. All of them had waiting lists. So she decided to start her own.
"It all started from sheer desperation," she writes. "There were times when I rang my mum and just cried and cried over the phone."
Although Kennedy discusses the process of getting the school up and running, this isn't a how-to manual on starting your own educational institution. The emphasis is on her children, their development and how she and her husband were able to cope with problems they encountered.
Sometimes, it was exhausting just to physically care for Angelo, who sleeps about three or four hours a night and routinely wets the bed, even when he's awake.
"Do I ever think, `Why me?'" she writes. "Only for a second. The thing I crave most is a little peace and quiet - and some sleep!"
But the book also exposes a rich array of friendships that Kennedy gained through her networking with parents and educators. A favorite teacher is highlighted for his work, and the growth of the school is outlined in terms of new needs and changing staff. The author doesn't avoid discussing growing pains with the school, or her own sadness over a miscarried baby in 2004.
In all, "Not Stupid" is a frank, hopeful account that is recommended reading for adults and teens.
Not Stupid. Anna Kennedy, John Blake Publishing Ltd., 2008