I'm writing this while doing my own form of parallel play. Boo and I are side-by-side, each on our respective laptops, each engaged with our own interests. (For Boo, a bowling game. For me, blogging about books.)
Boo, as most readers of this blog know, is my almost 8 year old son who has Asperger's Syndrome. For parents like me, the book we most want to read does not exist. It's the book that tells us that all the hours of floortime and the ABA, all the gluten-free and casein-free and whatever else free diets, all the social stories, all of that stuff that comprises and in many cases defines the life of a family with a child (or children) on the autism spectrum, has worked. That the child, now an adult, is happy, fullfilled, productive.
That he or she is OK. That they made it, whatever and wherever the elusive it may be.
Tim Page's wonderful memoir, Parallel Play: Growing Up with Undiagnosed Asperger's, is not a blueprint for success with the happy ending that such parents like myself seek, but that doesn't matter. This is a book that everyone should read.
It grabbed me before the Prologue, with this quote: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." (Anonymous, but often attributed to Philo of Alexandria)
And then, in the Prologue, it was as if I was reading Boo's autobiography. Tim Page opens his story in the second grade, when he received a stern "SEE ME!" scrawled across his essay about a class field trip to Boston.
"Well, we went to Boston, Massachusetts through the town of Warrenville, Connecticut on Route 44A. It was very pretty and there was a church that reminded me of pictures of Russia from our book that is published by Time-Life. We arrived in Boston at 9:17. At 11 we went on a big tour of Boston on Gray Line 43, made by the Superior Bus Company like School Bus Six, which goes down Hunting Lodge Road where Maria lives and then on to Separatist Road and then to South Eagleville before it comes to our school. We saw lots of good things like the Boston Massacre site. The tour ended at 1:05. Before I knew it we were going home. We went through Warrenville again but it was too dark to see much. A few days later it was Easter. We got a cuckoo clock."
If you've read any of Boo's guest posts here on this blog, you know that this could have just as easily been written by him. Indeed, there are a lot of similiarities between my son and Tim at age 8 - but one stark difference: Tim did not receive his Asperger's diagnosis until he was 45.
As a result, his childhood and young adult years were spent mostly alone, with his books and writings and drawings of maps. His parents were loving and did their best to understand their boy (Page describes his mother as "infinitely openhearted and unwavering in her conviction that any setbacks her children faced could be overcome.")
Early in life, Tim developed a passion for and an encyclopedia knowledge of music that later in life would carry him into a career as a music critic, most recently for The Washington Post. (Another similarity with my Boo, who knows more about music of the 40s than people who lived through that decade.)
In 1963, when Parallel Play opens, Asperger's wasn't recognized the way autism spectrum disorders are today. Kids like Tim were considered quirky, maybe "a bit off" or "a bit touched," simple, strange. How different things are today - and how different, the reader is left to wonder, might Tim's life have been if he knew that Asperger's was the reason behind so much playing on the stage of his life.
We may not know Tim Page himself, but as Parallel Play makes abundantly clear, we all know someone like him - or can identify aspects of his personality within ourselves. (I'm very much like Tim, for example, in my desire to hold onto every person that has entered my life, just as Tim does. I have a very hard time letting go of those I've cared about, and can absolutely relate and understand when Tim writes of still remembering and observing in his own way the birthdays and anniversaries of the deaths of classmates who died dozens of years ago.)
There are times when Parallel Play is not an easy book to read (there's a lengthy part about Tim's descent into the world of drugs) and at times, it is heartwarming and affirming. It is both ends of the spectrum in one book.
And above all, this: a reminder to be kind, for everyone is fighting a great battle ... even if they don't know what it is called.
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