From Publishers Weekly
Stillman's latest volume about autism hovers startlingly close to the edge of reason (or, arguably, abandons reason entirely) and invokes a cosmic cornucopia of ghosts, spirits, angels, miracles and past lives to make the case that "the seemingly sudden and mysterious surge of children identified with autism ...is our Creator's purposeful plan to refocus us on the importance of reverence for all of humanity." Tales of telepathy, direct communication with animals, spirit interaction, mind reading and previous lives abound. This barrage of hokum distracts from the touching stories of connecting with autistic people, and though he writes gently, Stillman, who has Asperger's Syndrome, mixes unsettling and unbelievable stories with summaries of scientific research and clinical studies. Some open-minded readers may value the idiosyncratic point of view, but claims like, "His grandmother's deteriorated physical state, while in the final stages of Alzheimer's here on earth, was of no consequence when it came to contacting Justin" and, "It certainly makes good sense that telepathy is one such mode of communication available to autistic people" strain the author's credibility.
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In certain cultures, people with illnesses affecting the ability to communicate are thought to be visited by spirits. The sufferer may be regarded as a messenger for a deity, an anointed one to be revered and honored. Sadly, Western culture often relegates those diagnosed with autism and related disorders to the ranks of the incurably crippled. Worse, almost everyone, from family members to friends to primary caregivers, too easily writes off the intelligence of a person who has difficulty speaking. So written off, the sufferer is discounted and ignored. Stillman, who has Asperger's syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, speaks out on behalf of the wisdom of considering people with autism as not just intelligent but also highly spiritual. Drawing on testimony from dozens of parents, teachers, and autistic individuals, he builds a solid case in favor of not just his mantra--"always presume intelligence"--but also of thinking that God's most challenged people possess a deep, abiding spirituality. Donna Chavez
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