Friday, August 25, 2017

A Family Memoir Makes the Case That Autism Is Different, Not Less


A Mother, Her Autistic Son, and the Kindness of Machines
By Judith Newman
228 pp. Harper/HarperCollins Publishers. $26.99.
In just the third paragraph of what turns into an uncommonly riotous and moving book, Judith Newman dives headlong into the highly charged debate over whether to replace the term “autistic” with more cautious, politically correct language: “a man with autism, a woman with autism.”
Newman understands the impulse behind such “person-first” nomenclature, but she’s not buying it.
The phrase “person with autism,” she writes, “suggests that autism is something bad that one needs distance from. You’d never say ‘a person with left-handedness’ or ‘a person with Jewishness.’ Then again, you might say a ‘person with cancer.’ … There’s also something about this pseudo-delicacy that is patronizing as hell.”
What follows are 200 pages of powerfully wrought indelicacies about life with Gus, her autistic teenage son, that will make readers squirm and laugh — yes, out loud. Newman will also make them face questions everyone’s ducking (vasectomies for autistic men?) before sweeping them, finally, into a soul-spilling high tide.