Phyllis Grilikhes’ Autism’s Stepchild is an insightful book about the author’s friendship with a woman whose daughter, Jean, lived with a condition that we would today recognize as autism. Phyllis Grilikhes is a clinical psychologist, as well as a dancer and tapestry artist, so she speaks from a place of knowledge, but the story is not primarily psychological, but a human story of friendship, learning and perseverance.
Book describes Dora, the mother’s, determined efforts to help her daughter, which included founding an organization for families affected by autism.
Although told with compassion for all characters, the story does not avoid honesty about the difficulty of raising some autistic children. Jean had great difficulty communicating and a terrible temper, and her violent outbursts made the family home chaotic.
Dora and Jean lived through many unsuccessful treatments, the conflicting parenting advice of the 1930s and 1940s, and a miserable time when Jean was confined to a mental hospital. Eventually Dora found flower child art students to come to their home to serve as companions for Jean, which worked well because they accepted her as she was and provided creative outlets. Now, after her parents have passed away, Jean lives within a group home for other women with mental differences, in a community setting where she can have friends and activities.
Autism’s Stepchild is a story of mothers and daughters, of disability and difference, of love and strength. This story is a good starting point for discussion of how society can best care for those who require help to make it in life. And an interesting historical record of how we understood autism over the past century.
Would recommend Autism’s Stepchild for support groups and general book clubs.