Bookmarks Issue: 
Paul Collins

Adventures in Autism

A-NotEvenWrongAlbert Einstein, Andy Warhol, and Isaac Newton probably had forms of autism. So did Collins’s son, Morgan. At age two, he could read the word "endocarditis" and add and subtract, but neither speak nor respond to others. Although clearly gifted, he was diagnosed with autism. This part memoir, part history weaves anecdotes about autistic figures, from the 18th century’s Peter the Wild Boy to the high-functioning Bill Gates, into a personal journey to understand autism. "I feel all alone!" is the first complete sentence that Morgan utters. Not surprisingly, Collins feels alone, too. Yet, as he begins to develop a relationship with his son, he realizes that, "It’s not a tragedy, it’s not a sad story, it’s not a movie of the week. It’s my family."
Bloomsbury. 245 pages. $24.95.

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]he author’s musings reveal a painful and frustrating struggle. … In working to understand his son’s world, partly by revisiting his own family history, Collins also elucidates, with great compassion, what it means to be ‘normal’ and what it means to be human." Carmela Ciuraru

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"With tenderness and grace (if not always logic), Collins juxtaposes his own learning of his son’s disorder—and unique gifts—with tales of curious geniuses. … It is when Collins reflects on his own quiet drama that Not Even Wrong is at its best." Gabrielle Glaser

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Autistic] children will grow up some day to be recluses, or homeless, or they’ll invent new varieties of lasers and computers or figure out the patterns of the weather or other brands of knowledge most of us know nothing about—because we don’t have that kind of knowledge." Carolyn See

Seattle Times 3 of 5 Stars
"Collins is a thinker’s writer, who distills extensive research to its essence and then allows the reader to connect the dots. … I wanted more theory about autism’s connection to evolution, but Collins steers clear of pat answers and turns back to the relationship between him and his son." David Flood

Critical Summary

Once considered rare, autism, which describes many different developmental disorders, affects one out of every 500 to 1,000 children. Here, Collins reveals the pain and frustration of living as an outsider to his own son. It’s a story filled with both sorrow and hope—many autistic children never socialize "normally" but are mathematical and artistic geniuses. Collins asks provoking, if unanswerable, questions: Is autism a "disability"? What is normal? He also offers poignant reflections on his own life. Some scenes, including his encounter with an autistic adult in a coffee shop, will stop you cold; other parts meander. Quirky historical anecdotes put autism in perspective, though the text never becomes overly scientific. As the Washington Post concludes: "Brave man. Brave book."

On the Fictional Side

A-Curious Incident.epsThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time | Mark Haddon (2003): 4 of 5 Stars Selection (Sept/Oct 2003). An autistic teenager sets off to solve a dog homicide, uncovering family secrets along the way.

A-SpeedDark.epsSpeed of Dark | Elizabeth Moon (2003): 4 of 5 Stars Selection (May/June 2003). Should an autistic man try an experimental "cure?"