While the movie Rain Man helped generate popular interest in people with autism, it has some downsides.
For one, the person with autism portrayed by Dustin Hoffman is a savant. He has off the charts ability in some aspects of math. Many care givers will confess to the urge to kill when responding to something like, “Your kid has autism? Wow! What’s his special ability?”
The other blind spot in the movie is care giving. Most people with autism don’t have Tom Cruise showing up to take them on a road trip to Las Vegas. They live with ever-more-frazzled schlubs who give up on travel, romance, looking good and other such amenities altogether.
So it was a pleasant surprise to step out of my niche (Tim the middle aged male) and read a book marketed as women’s and/or romantic fiction.
A Father’s Prayer has its Cruise like character in the form of a Country/Western singing star who is the long absent father of a young guy with autism. But Linda Wood Rondeau does a great job emphasizing the humanity rather than the celebrity, especially through the down to earth awkwardness of their redeveloped relationship.
The boy with autism is not a savant. He is a more typical example of the sensory, cognitive, social and behavioral challenges (and, in a nice touch of realism , enjoyments) of most people living with autism.
Even better is the portrayal of the primary care giver, the boy’s adult sister who has to function much like a single mother. Care givers will bond with her instantly as she struggles with the well described challenges of autism, “the system,” and her own demons (which are not over the top but the kind that can afflict any of us). As a care giver, I found my emotions engaged by so many of the little touches of reality in this story. There’s the struggle to not wear out the one good sitter you have as appointments pile up and you try to develop a social life; the blessing of a caring employer’s flexibility coupled with the fear of stretching it too far; the sneaky onset of sensitivity to others’ judgments and criticisms of your care giving efforts.
The author has a background in social service and so the interactions of characters in “the system” are realistically stressful without casting any as villains. The challenges and misunderstandings are all there but so is the humanity of each person involved.
The romantic content (I know, I’m risking my man card on this) is warmly humane. The threats to a budding love interest are not melodramatic plot twists, but the believable personal glitches that tend to pull people into their own shells. There’s sensual attraction that doesn’t take the cheap route into soft porn, and there’s there’s the giddy fun of knowing that the other person is feeling what you feel. Rondeau conveys all of this in good balance via a catchy story.
A good novel for pleasure reading and maybe even a gift to someone you hope will better understand more of special needs households and care giving.