One of the best things about summer is finding time to read! During the school year, my reading time is limited to a few minutes before falling asleep at night. But in the summer, busy though I am with lots of chores and activities, I still make it a point to carve out some time each day to read, especially on rainy days which I feel Nature provides specifically for that purpose. Getting lost in an exciting mystery, an inspiring biography, or illuminating historical fact or fiction book clears my head and recharges my batteries. And as much as I relish the escape from work, I do try each summer to read one book related to our field to gain new insights and renewed compassion for people whose lives are very different from mine due to disability. Here are some of the books I’ve read over the past few years that I would strongly recommend. I’m linking the titles to Amazon so you can read more about the books, but encourage you to visit your local library or patronize your local bookseller, both so very worthy of our support!
My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D. This is the brutally honest biographical account of a young, healthy, brilliant neuroscientist who was devastated by a massive stroke. Amazingly, she was able to regain functioning through incredible determination and countless hours of therapies. The account of her eight-year journey to recovery includes her memories of being completely helpless and unable to communicate, yet perceiving the attitudes and emotions of caregivers, even when she could not comprehend their words. I always share this information in my workshops with school staff who deal with students who have significant disabilities. You can view Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED Talk here, but read the book, too!
Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body by Martin Pistorius.
Well, the title pretty much says it all! Martin was a perfectly normal and healthy boy until he was completely debilitated at age 12 by an unknown virus that left him locked in his body for 10 years. I did a review of this book on this blog in 2015; you can read it here. I always include information from this book in my workshops, as the memories of Martin as a profoundly disabled school-age boy are eye-opening and shocking, and serve as a reminder to all educators to always presume competence. Through Martin’s recollections, we also get a glimpse of the effect his condition had on his parents — another important insight that I share. Martin Pistorius also has a TED Talk entitled “How My Mind Came Back to Life — But No One Knew,” but read the book first so you are even more blown away by his recovery.
Two other uplifting come-back stories are “In an Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing” by Lee and Bob Woodruff, which recounts the recovery of this ABC News journalist after a devasting head injury in Iraq, and “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope” by Gabrielle and Mark Giffords, about the US Congresswoman who survived an assassination attempt but was left with lifelong challenges.
A fictional story that I really enjoyed — and would recommend for young teens as well — is “Out of My Mind” by Sharon M. Draper. This is the compelling story of a young girl with CP who is the smartest girl in her school, but is considered by all to be mentally challenged because she is unable to speak. Her determination will warm your heart and change the way you view people with disabilities.
There are scores of books about autism. Any book by Temple Grandin is worth reading, as she generously shares her “insider’s view” of being autistic and offers valuable advice to parents and educators. The writing of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” by Mark Haddon perfectly captures the voice and thoughts of a young man with autism who relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions, who hates to be touched and can’t abide the color yellow.
This immensely popular story was made into a Broadway play. Unlike some of the others I’ve mentioned, this book makes for light reading but will keep you thinking, long after you close the book.
I am currently reading the 560-page tome, “Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity” by Steve Silberman. The author presents a fascinating and sometimes horrific history of autism research and treatment from its earliest days, and spotlights many people on the spectrum who have used their unique talents and perspectives in important, but often invisible, ways (think computer programmers, NASA, etc.). Indeed, he makes the argument that autism and ADHD are not errors of nature but rather natural variations in human development. I’m only half-way through the book, so I’m just about done the section devoted to the history of autism and look forward to reading about the author’s view of the future of neurodiversity.
For a compelling and honest account from a parent’s perspective, I recommend “The Child Who Never Grew” by Pearl S. Buck. Pearl Buck’s daughter, Carol, was born with disabilities at a time when such children were hidden away in institutions to avoid shame on the family. Ms. Buck was determined to provide the very best care for her daughter and others like her, championing the rights and acceptance of people with disabilities. She candidly shares her struggles as a parent in this story that still offers timeless wisdom and encouragement, nearly 70 years after its publication.
These are just some of the books that I have found to be entertaining, enlightening, and thought-provoking. What books would you recommend to your SLP colleagues?