The Anti-Romantic Child, A Memoir of Unexpected Joy, by Priscilla Gilman, is one of those books that will pull at the heart strings of any parent. Gilman opens the book with thoughts on her idealization of childhood - creative play, art, adventures. She had longed for a child of her own for years, and when she found herself with a new baby reality struck. The motherhood that she had envisioned, somewhat through her devoted readings of Wordsworth, was far from what she experienced. She felt alienated from her child, and didn't feel as though she could interpret his cries.
As her son grows, it becomes clear that he is incredibly precocious. By 14 months, he knows all of his letters (keep in mind, this is when most kids are just start to say Mom or Dad). At 18 months he can tell time digitally, and by 2 1/2 he is reading and quite obsessed with letters and numbers. But Gilman starts to have concerns for Benj in spite of his brilliance. He isn't interested in toys, is regimented and fastidious, and at the age of 2 1/2 is still only eating baby food. Eventually, after touring a preschool and seeing adament differences among his peers, Gilman begans her own research. She discovers that Benj has hyperlexia which is characterized by a precocious ability to read words but a difficulty in understanding verbal language and abnormal social skills. In the DSM, it is a diagnosis that falls under Autism Spectrum Disorders. While Benj is never formally assessed for a specific diagnosis, his behaviors seem to fall closest to the characteristics common to Asperger's.
What unfolds in the memoir is Gilman's struggle to help Benj in his weak areas, while appreciating his strengths, all intermingled with her love and appreciation of the writings by Wordsworth. Through his verse, she seeks to understand herself as a parent and strives to accomodate and accept her child.
I think this book is quite validating for mothers who have struggled in their parenting, and particularly for moms of children with special needs. Any parent who has gone through the quest for evaluations and services for a child will read Gilman's articulations and think, "yes, here is someone who gets me, who knows what I am going through". You'll be impressed with Gilman's devotion to her family and to jumping through whatever hoops necessary to ease the challenges her son faces on a daily basis. It's a beautifully written book, and I enjoyed the excerpts from Wordsworth so much that I found myself in the wee hours of the morning flipping through my old college lit textbook. Even if you don't have a child with special needs, you'll enjoy the humanity of motherhood expressed in this book, and identify with the desire to be the best parent you can be.