Like Expecting Adam by Martha Beck and Raising Blaze by Debra Ginsberg, The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy by Priscilla Gilman is a moving memoir by a devoted mother, who also happens to be a thoughtful observer and an excellent writer.
A former English professor who loves the poetry of Romantic poet William Wordsworth, Priscilla Gilman records her experience of raising a special-needs child and leaving academia. Although much of her experience will seem familiar to many parents, especially those who have children with Asperger’s or some form of autism, she infuses her story with details and relates it to her experience of poetry (quoting it throughout) so that a reader doesn’t have to be a parent to be interested.
The author and her husband (who eventually separate) gradually realize that their first child, Benjamin, while an extraordinarily advanced preschooler in some ways, was extremely different from his peers in other ways, especially when dealing with social interactions and coping with disruptions in routine. At age three, Benjamin precociously reads complex material and recites from memory the poetry of Wordsworth and many others, for example, but can’t navigate stairs without help and never answers to his own name. His obsessive reading aloud — of signs, clothing labels, etc. — which his pediatrician and family had fondly thought of as quirky behavior and a sign of his quick intelligence, is finally labeled hyperlexia, a condition which is characterized by advanced word-recognition skills in conjunction with cognitive, social, and linguistic delays or disabilities.
The reader lives through Benjamin’s childhood with the author — from expectations of parenthood, through revision of those expectations, through denial and acceptance, and through many failures and successes as she puzzles out how to be the right kind of mother to Benjamin, as well as to her second son James.
The Anti-Romantic Child should appeal to readers of memoirs and popular books about cognitive science and psychology, such as books by Oliver Sacks.
The Anti-Romantic Child