How can you not want to hang with that?
Reading Deb Kim’s All I Can Handle: I’m No Mother Teresa (A Life Raising Three Daughters With Autism) is like having a long conversation with your best friend from forever — the one with whom you can be completely honest and not care if you’re PC or appropriate because you’re just saying it the way it is and laughing like crazy the whole time.
Before reading Kim’s book, my experience with autism consisted of two viewings of Rain Man, the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and random musings about various high-functioning, socially awkward geniuses who might be “on the spectrum.” The autistic people in these examples all have issues, sure, but the issues come off as somehow sweet and charming. (I did have a close friend growing up whose brother was severely autistic, but at the time he fell more into the “friend’s annoying little brother” category than anything having to do with his disorder.)
The autism of Kim’s book isn’t sweet and charming. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying her daughters aren’t sweet and charming. They come off as terrific, unique individuals… but individuals facing challenges way bigger than those in Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning role. Kim delivers the straight poop — and I do mean poop — about what their lives are like, and does so with both a wicked sense of humor and a constant outpouring of love. She’s not looking to exploit her daughters, she’s shining a light on a world most of us neither see nor understand. And in doing so, she makes you — or at least she made me — look more closely at many of my beliefs.
Take vaccinations. I must admit, I never gave much credence to the anti-vaccination argument. “Herd immunity” makes strong, logical sense to me. Then I read her (paraphrased) thought, “Herd immunity is great… until it’s your little calf that falls.”
I’m the mother of a little calf. That resonated with me. And while I still believe in vaccines, I learned things from Kim’s book that make me feel there’s plenty of room for improvement in the system.
Similarly, I was smacked in the face by another simple statement she made, after a terrible story about a mother and her troubled-to-the-point-of-violence son: “Little boys with autism turn into men with autism.” If we as a society don’t understand what’s going on with the most deeply affected portion of the autism spectrum, and don’t take steps to address and aid the situation, we’ll be faced with much larger issues down the line.
While I just pointed out two sections that deal with hot political issues, Kim’s book really isn’t about that. Yes, she’s strong in her beliefs, but her book is no manifesto for any one particular way of thinking. She calls it a “Kimoir,” and that’s the real meat of it — this is Kim telling her own life story over coffee and a huge slice of homemade gluten-free, dairy-free cake. Her strong opinions come from specific, real-life experiences, and the things she’s learned from them.
Kim is no tragic figure. Yes, she has an insane amount on her plate, but what shines through the book more than anything is her strength and her happiness. Kim loves her life and her family. She wouldn’t trade her girls for the universe… but just like any parent, she will do whatever she can to make their lives better. By telling her story and bringing awareness to the not-sweet-and-charming part of the autism spectrum, I believe she’ll accomplish just that.
Honestly, I can’t say enough how much I loved this book, and how highly I recommend it. We Debs don’t have a ton of ARCs — we ship one copy around to each one of us in advance of a book’s release. I was heartbroken when I had to pack up Kim’s book and send it along, because reading it was a party — a gutwrenching party at times, but a party nonetheless — and I didn’t want it to end.
One note before I go — Deb Kim herself won’t be reading this post today, because she’s participating in the Global Communication Shutdown. This is an event in which people are shutting themselves out of Facebook and Twitter (and I believe some, like Kim, will in fact go completely offline) for one day. While this is certainly not analogous to the lack of communication faced by many affected with autism, it is meant as both a profound show of empathy, and a wonderful fundraiser, since the social network blocking app is given to those who make at least a minimum donation to a participating autism association.
Kim, I look forward to your thoughts when you get back… but not quite as much as I look forward to getting my very own copy of your book in the mail — it should be here any day now!
As for everyone else out there, what more can I say except buy the book — you will absolutely love it.