A couple of months ago I mentioned that I had read and enjoyed this book, but the publishers wanted the full review to wait until it was in the shops. Great news -- it is, now, so you can go and buy it yourselves. When I was offered the book to review, I hardly hesitated, even though it is not really the sort of book I normally read. Although I have been blessed with healthy children, and although I don't know anyone personally who has an autistic child, I knew enough about this tragic disability to realise that this would be a fascinating and exceptional story. What I did not realise until I started reading was that in the last fifty or so years, the numbers of children developing autism has risen to one in 150 -- epidemic proportions, in other words -- in the US, at least, a child is diagnosed with autism every twenty minutes. Leeann Whiffen did not know this either, and when her second son Clay began to show increasingly disturbing behaviour patterns -- withdrawal, obsessive behaviour, anger, inability to connect with family members -- she was unwilling to admit that he might be autistic. Finally, after a long, deeply unhappy, and unbelievably stressful period, she and her husband were able to confront the reality of the situation. But the reality seemed to include the fact that a cure for Clay's condition was out of the question. However Leeann was, and is, an exceptional young woman and she was absolutely determined to find something that might offer some hope. After many nights scouring the internet, she found a treatment programme that sounded as if it might be the answer. Yes, it involved huge financial costs -- several helpers and qualified supervisors had to be employed to work with Clay for many hours every day -- and the Whiffen's finances were already stretched. But the couple did not hesitate. By means of remortgaging, filling credit cards to the hilt, and sacrificing many of their leisure activities they managed to pay for Clay's treatment. Although progress seemed slow at first, there were enough rewarding signs to keep them going. Finally, nearly two years after Clay's initial diagnosis, their son was reassessed and shown to be completely free from autistic symptoms. Today he continues to be a happy, healthy, normal child.
This in itself is a most inspiring story. It is also fascinating to read of Leeann's intensive research into the possible causes of autism. It seems clear that there is an important physiological component, and Leeann comes to believe that early childhood inoculations and numerous courses of antibiotics made a significant contribution to her son's development of this illness. Indeed, Clay's condition improved greatly when he was put on a wheat- and milk-free diet.
Clay's road back to health and happiness is wonderful to read about. But this book is about more than that. It also depict's Leeann's own journey from an ordinary young wife and mother to a campaigner and recognised expert in her field. And finally, it is a book about love within families and what that can achieve. Here's a moment towards the end of this long journey:
“Clay, you are my star.” I feel my throat close off. He continues looking me in the eyes.
“Mom, you are my triangle.”
I put my hand up to my mouth, trying to contain the laugh. He smiles his crooked smile and tilts his head until it touches his shoulder. His smile morphs into a giggle. Then, simultaneously, we laugh out loud—a deep, feel good laugh right from the belly, and I cry, because I am so full of joy. A joy that is so deep it can only be felt when one has finally emerged from the depths of desperation and discouragement.
I can only say that, whether or not you or anyone you know has been affected by this tragic disorder, you will not regret reading this extraordinary, inspiring and moving book. You can read more about Leeann, see pictures of her beautiful children, read about her campaigns to pass 'Clay's Law' through the US Senate, and follow her blog, here.