by Patricia Stacey
Da Capo Press, 2004
Review by Kevin Purday on Mar 1st 2006
This is a deeply moving book which
had the reviewer in tears on several occasions. It is the true story of a young
mother who has a daughter of four when she gives birth to a boy in rather
traumatic circumstances. The boy very quickly shows signs of abnormal development
-- lack of response to many stimuli, oversensitivity to other stimuli, being mesmerized
by the light pouring through windows, inability to keep down much food, poor
muscle development, etc. Even by the age of six months it was obvious that
something was seriously amiss. A pediatrician warned her that the boy might be
blind or deaf and hinted at the possibility of profound retardation. Luckily
she was in contact with the Massachusetts early intervention program which
provided support for developmentally delayed children -- reach. The director gently said that
the problems seemed to add up to what she called sensory integration disorder.
The wonderful people in this organization were basically one third of what turned
out to be the means of supporting her to help her son to outgrow his
Another third was made up of people
like her nutritionist and an occupational therapist both of whom helped to put
her on the right track. The last third was the famous developmental
psychiatrist Stanley Greenspan at the National Institute of Mental Health. He
called his therapeutic scheme for toddlers suffering from the symptoms of
autism 'd.i.r.' -- the 'developmental,
individual-difference, relationship-based model'. Its nickname was simply 'floor-time'.
This is an intensive bout between parent and child to "entice an impaired
child to perform at increasingly higher levels of attention, cognition, and
motor functioning." (p.126) 'Floor-time' has to be carried out eight or
more times a day and so comes to dominate the life of the mother on whom the
onus mainly lies.
Between them -- the personnel from reach, the nutritionist, the
occupational therapist, and Stanley Greenspan -- they gave so much support and
at the same time demanded so much from the mother both in terms of her time and
her energy (not including the financial costs) that there were times when her
marriage was put under threat. However, the reader will be struck by the
extremely fortunate coincidence of a mother determined not to let her son slip
into full-blown autism on the one hand with, on the other hand, a group of
highly competent, far-seeing and wise professionals. It is true that some of
the doctors she saw were, not to put too fine a point on it, just plain
ignorant and incompetent. However, she was extremely lucky to encounter the
wonderful people who were of such great help.
The book deals with current
thoughts about the causes of autism and speculates as to why it seems to be on
the increase although it acknowledges that the autism spectrum has become a
basket into which a wide variety of conditions is being stashed. There is also
an interesting chapter on brain development which makes one wonder why more
people do not suffer from problems!
The story has a happy ending. The
toddler grows into a very healthy, highly intelligent and emotionally
well-balanced boy thanks to an extraordinarily devoted mother, a very
supportive father and a group of amazing professionals.
This book is going to be of great use
to parents in the same position as the author, as well as professionals in the
field. The subtitle -- 'opening the heart and mind of a child threatened with
autism' -- is most apposite because part of the book's theme is that 'sensory
integration disorder' is normally the prelude to autism, at least somewhere on
the autism spectrum. It is not possible to diagnose autism in a baby or even in
a toddler of a year to eighteen months. However, spotting 'sensory integration
disorder' in time and then using the techniques described in this book can stop
the slide into autism. The message is very upbeat.
The Boy Who Loved Windows
does not pretend to be an academic tome so we would not expect an index or
bibliographical references. It is a heart-warming autobiographical work which
sends out a message of hope to everyone facing a similar problem anywhere in
© 2006 Kevin M. Purday
works at The Modern English School, Cairo, Egypt, and has a Master's degree in the Philosophy & Ethics
of Mental Health from the Philosophy Dept. at the University of Warwick.