Jul 26, 2009

The Sunday Salon: Elijah's Cup

source: Amazon
A Family's Journey into the Community and Culture of High-Functioning Autism and Asperger's Syndrome by Valerie Paradiž

Product DetailsHardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Free Press (March 26, 2002)
Language: English

Where to buy:
How about Amazon?

First impression:

When my little cousin was diagnosed with Autism, the whole family engaged themselves in getting educated on Autism as much as possible. I still remember (though it was years ago) the doubtful glances at the mentioning of a mental disorder. My weak knowledge on psychology wasn’t enough to convince older family members that they are not dealing with any sort of psychosis-and that they weren’t dealing with even half as much as my aunt, a single mother of two at that time.

Short bio:
Valerie Paradiž was born in Colorado. She has lived and worked in Germany and Japan for several years. She holds a Ph.D. in German Literature from City University of New York and has taught German and writing at Bard College, Brooklyn College, and the State University of New York, New Paltz.
Valerie is the cofounder and director of ASPIE, the School for Autistic Strength, Purpose and Independence in Education and sits on the Board of Directors of GRASP, the Global Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership.
Today, she lives with her son in Woodstock, New York, as a freelance writer.

What is it about?
Here is how Valerie puts it-and those are the best possible words to describe the book:

“I like crossing cultural boundaries. I learned from my German family that this is perhaps one of the most daring and meaningful things a person can do in a life. The day I saw Elijah dance with the dragonflies, I knew I wanted to write a book about autism and cultural boundaries. I wanted to dismantle the fear many people feel toward other minds. Now I’m offering this labor of love to my readers in the hope that it is daring and meaningful to them. I hope that what I have learned from Elijah-to think of autism not as a mental illness that absolutely needs a cure, but rather as a way of life that possesses a deep history and a rich culture-makes its way across.” (p. 13)

Valerie’s journey through autism begins when her son Elijah has his first epileptic seizure between the ages of two and three. Going through numerous examinations and trying several different anti-convulsive drugs, all of them with devastating side effects, Val finds herself drawn to her physical and mental limits. She needs to learn how to take care of and understand a little boy who is unable to express his needs in words, needs that dramatically differ from the needs of “neurotypicals”. Her son barely speaks; he screams desperately when there is nothing to keep his mind busy (cartoons, music, crayons) and he doesn’t make eye contact with anyone. Elijah lacks social skills; he leaves the room when there are too many people and he is oversensitive to sound and touch.
A ray of sun enters her life in the form of the nanny, Sharron Montague Loree, an eccentric woman who lives in a van. Sharon is an artist who sees the usual in an unusual way. She is one of the rare people who understand Elijah’s needs-because she herself has the Asperger Syndrome, as she finds out later. Sharron is the author of the cover art, showing Elijah as the Prince of Autistics.
(I have seen three different cover arts, and this one looks best!)
Valerie moves out and divorces her husband. She tries to work on her translation of Kafka and pursue her academic career. Unfortunately, being overall exhausted, Valerie suffers a nervous breakdown.
Along with her recovery, so many more things about Elijah’s autism become clearer. Several of Valerie’s family members showed characteristics of Asperger or Autism, and in a certain way, Valerie has a form of shadow-syndrome, her depressions being a ramification of the same. When Sharon advises them to join the Autreat (an association for autistic people lead by autistics), Valerie and Elijah find new friends and new ways to make things easier for Elijah. Together, they discover new dimensions through drawing, cartoon characters and music. They discover a new culture-the culture and rich world of autism.
We have all seen The Rain Man with Dustin Hoffman. Andy Warhol, Andy Kaufmann and Albert Einstein were autistics.

Read more on ASPIE and GRASP

In conclusion:

As soon as I have read this book, I passed it on to the rest of the family. Unlike many other books we have read in order to understand Autism better, this one was unique and different for its personal touch and Valerie’s beautiful writing. Her references to Else Lasker-Schuler, Ingeborg Bachmann, Franz Kafka, Friedrich Nietzsche and Ludwig Wittgenstein are incorporated in a marvelous way, revealing Valerie’s poetic talent.
I don’t want to make this review an essay on Autism so I won’t provide definitions and stats. There are many other books to do that. Elijah’s Cup stands out for its lyrical descriptions and sincerity of her narrative. It is an ingenious blend of objective, medical approach and the impressions, fears, hopes and unswerving motherly love for her child. Elijah’s Cup is a warm, touching story of a mother who struggles not to make his son adjust to this world, but to show her son how to adjust the world to himself. I admire her stamina and patience because I know what a life with an autistic child looks like, with both its highs and lows. Along with Elijah, she finds out many things about herself. It is okay to be different; it is okay to see things from another point of view. Very often, this certain point is much prettier than our, “normal” one.

Read this book and find out why the average rating on Amazon is 5/5. And check out here what Elijah has been doing lately! It surely made me laugh around my head! Elijah, nice to see you follow your dream!
Side note:
I read the book in German, the copy I own, and it was quite challenging, but for better understanding I quoted from the English version I found on Google Books.
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